September 2020: Susan Schumann
Congratulations on your new role with Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) as Public Relations and External Affairs Manager. What are your responsibilities and goals for this new opportunity?
Thank you. I’m so excited about this opportunity! I’ve been with FMPA for 22 years, and my responsibilities over time have spread across the entire Agency, including Member Services, Project Development, Environmental Regulatory and Policy Management, Regulatory Affairs, External Affairs, and Solar Project Development and Management. Obviously, I love variety and I love a challenge, and I’m lucky that FMPA has provided so many rewarding opportunities for me. In my new role, I have the pleasure of leading an experienced and talented team, overseeing internal and external communications activities for the Agency, including public and media relations, external and member communications, stakeholder engagement, and Agency advocacy. My team’s goal will be to bring all these elements together to promote the Agency and our Members in a positive manner, highlighting the value that municipal electric utilities provide in our communities. There are so many ways we can achieve this, and I look forward to being a part of elevating the Agency’s communications to the next level. Also, since FMPA is a lean, streamlined organization, I get to wear several hats, including the roles of Environmental Policy and Solar Project Management.
FMPA is not an association but it has member companies. Could you provide some understanding of the overall role and mission of FMPA please?
I’m always happy to talk about our organization! FMPA is a project-oriented joint action agency, comprised of 31 municipal electric utilities located throughout the state, and our mission is to provide low-cost, reliable and clean power, plus value-added services to our members. The FMPA Team takes our role and our mission very seriously, and it’s our pleasure to serve our members. Our most important goal is to provide the members affordable electricity, but we also take extreme pride in responding to individual needs of each of our members and providing additional services as needed. Our members are so diverse, and that makes it a fun challenge to be able to work with them and provide quality service. FMPA’s members range from Blountstown, in the panhandle, all the way to Key West at the southernmost point of the state, with everything in-between. The absolute best part of my job is interacting with the members and providing expertise, support and assistance on the various projects, opportunities and initiatives available in our dynamic industry.
Based upon your own personal experiences in your profession, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced or lesson you have learned?
I have always welcomed challenges personally and professionally. I consider them to be opportunities for growth and learning. It’s easy to succeed, grow and learn during the good times, but the best and most important lessons are learned during the difficult times. My biggest challenges have always resulted in my most rewarding accomplishments. Probably the most important lesson I have learned was to speak up and advocate for myself, even though it goes against my personality and my nature. Once I felt confident enough to be my own advocate, I gained strength from the ability to have better control over my future, success and happiness.
In your role, communication and ability to form trust and credibility are critical. What advice do you give to young professionals about networking and collegiality?
First, never, ever, ever make an assumption or judgment about who you are communicating with. It’s critically important to treat all your colleagues and contacts in your network with the same respect because you never know who that person really is or when your paths will cross again. The people we meet contribute to and define every single one of our experiences, so be open and accepting to what each one has to offer. Second, and I can’t stress this enough, maintain a sense of humor. Be able to laugh at yourself and at the situations that life and your career put you through. But be careful, because not everybody will laugh at the same things you do! Finally, always be positive. A former colleague once advised me that whenever somebody asks, “How are you doing?” always respond with an enthusiastic, “Great!” no matter what your mood is. When you say “Great!” your face naturally smiles, and the other person is almost compelled to respond in a positive and enthusiastic manner! You’ve set the mood for a good outcome to any conversation.
What advice would you give to a 2nd year college student deciding on a career path?
Interesting question because I’m a mother to a second-year college student as well as a high school senior. Career paths aren’t always linear, and I’m a walking, talking example of that! My formal education includes an undergraduate degree in behavioral sciences and a master’s degree in public administration, and somehow I’ve ended up managing a wide range of unrelated disciplines. My career path looks more like a scribble than a line, and I cherish the roles I’ve played in this industry. My advice: “Never say ‘no’” when presented with a potential new responsibility or a career challenge because there is no limit to the opportunities that are out there, the fun you can have and the success you can achieve. Take on new responsibilities with enthusiasm, even if you end up way out of your comfort zone. I would also advise young professionals to develop a professional network early in their career. Relationships are so
important, and our industry is full of accomplished, amazing professionals who have so much advice to offer and wisdom to share. Soak up as much information and advice as you can handle. Knowledge is a powerful tool! I wish I had taken advantage of this much sooner!