Susan Carstensen is a 5th generation Montanan, graduate of Montana State University (MSU), and most recently spent 12 years as the Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of Customer Experience at RightNow Technologies (RNOW). RNOW grew from a startup in Bozeman to a public company with over 1,000 employees worldwide and was acquired by Oracle in 2012 for $1.5B. Prior to that she served as CFO at Powerhouse Technologies, Manager of Accounting at Lockheed Martin and Manager at EY. She currently is involved in a variety of capacities (mostly board roles) with WorkFront, Socrata, Foundant, PFL, D.A.Davidson, Frontier Angel Fund II, Openview Venture Partners, Bridger Ski Foundation, MSU Board of Governors, MSU College of Business, Women’s Foundation of Montana, EarlyEdge and various startups.
Wicked smart, tough minded, confident and deeply compassionate about social issues, Susan Carstensen, a fifth generation Montana woman, is all these things and more. I have wanted to know her since I moved to Montana, as she was the only female senior level executive at RightNow Technologies in Bozeman. It was a company that I was watching and its trajectory of growth and exit is a catalytic event for the Montana high tech economy. Susan played a pivotal role in making RightNow Technologies a success story.
Susan’s dad was a lawyer and her mom a full time homemaker for many years until returning to work to help fund college for her children. Her mom and dad grew up in Helena and both sides of the family were early settlers in Montana. Her mom’s family started out in the Holland Lake area and her dad’s family was instrumental in homesteading Seeley Lake which is named after her great, great grandfather, Jasper Seely.
Growing up in Billings in a large (5 siblings), vocal, active family, dinner conversations were often about politics, social justice, sports and the latest book being read. Susan grew up early knowing that if she wanted something, it was up to her to get it. If that meant working more hours to be able to afford something like skiing, so be it. If that meant putting up her hand to be editor of the newspaper, she did it. When Susan graduated from high school, she applied and was accepted to Stanford and Denver University. She decided that she didn’t have and didn’t want to borrow that kind of money and instead chose to attend Montana State University (MSU), breaking tradition with her dad who attended and played basketball for the University of Montana.
Susan loved her entire experience at MSU (and Bridger Bowl) and met her future life partner and husband Larry Haferman during her first year at MSU. Susan graduated with degrees in Political Science and Business and sat for the CPA exam. She was hired by Ernst & Young and she and Larry moved to Denver to begin her career. After six years at Ernst & Young, she went to work for Lockheed Martin, who had been a client. Susan and Larry decided to get married in Denver once they determined they wanted to have children. They gave family and a few friends a weeks’ notice and got married on a Friday afternoon in Washington Park. Once their son Eric was born and she was pregnant with their daughter Tara, both she and her husband started wanting to return to Montana. Susan applied for various positions in Montana and the new chief financial officer (CFO) at Powerhouse Technologies (who Susan worked with at Ernst & Young) offered her a job and to relocate her to Bozeman. She went on to become the CFO at Powerhouse Technologies until it was sold to Anchor Gaming in 1999.
Susan then joined RightNow Technologies as CFO and 62nd employee. She remained there for 13 years, arranging for the first rounds of venture funding, taking the company public, taking on the Chief Operating Officer role and later leading the Customer Experience organization until the company was sold to Oracle. She was active with the Bridger Ski Foundation (as both children became competitive ski racers), with the MSU College of Business Advisory Board and TechRanch Board.
Since the sale of RightNow Technologies in 2012, Susan has become deeply involved in supporting the growing entrepreneurial community in Bozeman and Montana. She is the most sought after financial modeler in town and has participated in judging recent Startup Weekends. She sits on the board of D.A. Davidson, Socrata, WorkFront, Foundant, PFL, and Ignite Feedback and has recently joined forces with two other RightNow alums to form Yellowstone Growth Partners, a growth advisory firm. She is on the executive committee for Frontier Fund 2 and continues to do individual investing in Montana startups. She is also involved in supporting many nonprofits including the Montana Women’s Foundation, Bridger Ski Foundation, Thrive, Planned Parenthood, Gallatin Valley Foodbank; sits on the Board of the MSU Alumni Foundation; and has been known to support various political causes (like Early Childhood Education). As I write this, Susan and her daughter are summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.
Susan is laser focused on achieving results and living her values. Her greatest strengths are her confidence and the ability to get a team working together on solving a problem – in part by making sure all the ego’s get checked at the door. She explained to me that her guiding values come are 1) stand for what is right, 2) work hard, and 3) share.
Montana woman, this is the kind of strength that is the foundation for our future. Work hard, stay focused, think big and get the job done. That’s Susan Carstensen. I finally got to meet her and am just beginning to know the depth of her abilities and her passions. She is a great Montana mentor.
October 11, 2015