Talking with Todd Telesz

Todd Telesz
Todd Telesz, Basin Electric chief executive officer and general manager

Todd Telesz joined Basin Electric on Sept, 1, 2021, making him the cooperative’s sixth-ever CEO & general manager. We asked him a few questions so we can get to know Basin Electric’s newest leader.

When you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?

I spent a lot of time with my grandfather growing up. He had a small farm, about 40 acres, where we always had a couple of beef cattle we were raising. I actually didn’t have store-bought meat until I went to college. We always had horses or ponies as well, and that influenced me because I wanted to be a horse trainer or horse breeder growing up.

You grew up the son of a union dad. How has that shaped your perspective of co-ops and electrical workers?

If I think about the union aspect and the electrical side of things, it was probably the fact that when people come together, they can have an increased amount of power, leverage, and influence overall on their lives and outsized impact on their colleagues, company, and community. That’s no different from what we do as a cooperative community.

My dad recognized the value of hard work and showing up every day. He had a blue collar job and I think a lot of days were déjà vu for him, but he did it and never complained. Growing up, his normal shift was 6 a.m.-2 p.m., but some days he’d go in at 4 a.m. so he could get off at noon and attend one of my ball games. Over the course of nine years, he never missed a game. That streak continued as a grandfather as he and my mom were at the vast majority of my kids’ sporting and school events. My mother was similar in her role as a registered nurse in the operating room. That work ethic and devotion to family was hugely influential in how I try to live my life.

I think it is disappointing and unfortunate when people forget where they are from. My parents helped me learn not to get too big for my britches. Job position shouldn’t matter a whole lot; it’s how you treat people and how hard you work. That’s just who I am, and I’m honestly proud of where I came from. It’s foundational to who
I am.

What makes the energy industry the right fit for you?

There are three things that I really enjoy.

The people. I get to work with talented, smart, industrious, committed people across the energy industry.

The importance of the energy industry to each and every one of us. Energy is a basic necessity and necessary to elevate quality of life across the globe. No matter where we are on the planet, people seek out electricity as one of the first things to improve their quality of life. The ability to be part of something that is this important is a lot of fun. Also energy drives not only quality of life but also economic prosperity and resiliency in communities, particularly in rural America where we live and serve. It’s critically important for us to maintain being a reliable, affordable, and responsible electricity provider to all of our members. We’re critical to the communities we serve and operate in.

The final piece is that I enjoy being challenged and forced to solve issues with a team. The energy industry is one that is always rapidly changing, and I like that aspect. If we look at the front page of the newspaper or watch the evening news and can’t recognize that almost every story touches what we do in some way, we may not be thinking really hard about what we do. Whether it’s from an economic perspective, a climate perspective, Middle East geopolitics or OPEC strategies, technologies being developed, commodity prices in rural America – all those things can impact what we do and can have an influence on the decisions we need to make. Then to think about how those developments influence the challenges and opportunities we’re going to face in the next decade-plus; I find that stimulating. It’s something that drives me.

Before joining Basin Electric, you were already familiar with many of our members. How has that prepared you for your role as CEO & general manager?

From a big-picture perspective, understanding the values of members and a cooperative, as well as our importance in rural America, are probably the most critical factors. Being part of a cooperative, the best business model in my opinion, allows us to focus on one thing and one thing alone: the member at the end of the line. Focusing on that helps frame every decision we make.

The relationships I have across the G&T, rural electric cooperatives, and financial sectors will also be an advantage. The ability to discuss the different challenges and opportunities that we’re all facing and to share and gather insights will help me in this role.

Tell us something that most people wouldn’t know about you?

I played basketball in high school and I could dunk a basketball, even as short as I am. I also held the three-point record in my high school for almost 20 years.

Something my family likes to tease me about is that I was a pool boy in college. In order to help get me through college, my parents helped me a lot, as much as they could, but I borrowed the rest of the money. I actually borrowed more money for college than my parents spent for the house I grew up in. To put myself through college, I had anywhere from two to four jobs. I was an usher at a theater on campus, I worked at a retail store, I tutored students – generally in finance, but most importantly I cleaned pools on the Main Line of Philadelphia. That’s a very exclusive area, like Beverly Hills, with 150-200-year-old homes. These are very wealthy families with acres of land. But the best part of the job was it was flexible. There were times I was cleaning someone’s pool at 5 a.m., and it allowed me to get back to school or get to my next job in the summer. And it got me outside and away from the city of Philadelphia a bit. It was a fun way to start a lot of days and helped put some money in the bank to get me through college. But my family still likes to joke, “You were just a pool boy.”