CFO’s leadership was crucial in growth of pioneering utility

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Stacey Bright is proud of the fact that her employer, Bristol Virginia Utilities (BVU), was the first municipal utility in the country to offer phone, cable and broadband over an all-fiber-optic network. “We lobbied the General Assembly, and it changed the law,” she says. “We’ve pioneered a lot of things.”

Today, that network, OptiNet, extends more than 900 miles, providing broadband and phone services to eight rural Southwest Virginia counties in addition to Bristol.

Bright’s leadership as executive vice president and chief financial officer has been a major factor in the success and expansion of BVU. Since 2004 BVU’s revenue has more than doubled.

Bright believes in leading by example. She has a strong work ethic and a fact-finding mindset. “You have to understand the details behind the numbers,” she says.

A native of St. Paul, Va., and the daughter of a coal miner, Bright has spent her entire career in utility accounting, which has given her a keen understanding of regulatory matters. “There are a lot of industry-specific mandates, and you have to be specialized in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Federal Communication Commission accounting standards,” she says.

Shortly after joining BVU in 2003 as vice president of accounting, she served as a key player in the company’s development. Her testimony before the Virginia State Corporation Commission helped prove that BVU was not subsidizing its cable and phone services with revenue from its electric services. BVU ultimately prevailed in a three-year battle with telecommunications companies.

In 2007, Bright helped BVU start a new business. It serves as a consulting, management and operations department for other municipal agencies eager to launch broadband networks. She acknowledges that working with broadband can be challenging because of its competitive nature. “You have to make sure you have the operating margins needed to be a success in that business,” she says.

On July 1, BVU became an independent utility authority. Legislation signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell in March allows BVU to borrow money, manage its own finances and set some rates.

BVU also has received a $36.2 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to extend its trunk system for broadband into several underserved communities in Virginia. Bright will manage the money, which will pay for construction that will be completed in the next 36 months.

JoAnne Nolte, attorney and president of The Nolte Law Firm in Richmond, says Bright is a unique individual. “She is a very detailed CFO. She is able to take complex accounting issues and reduce them into terms people can respond to.”
During the past two years, Bright has helped BVU and the Bristol community win numerous awards including the 2010 Smart21 List of Intelligent Communities of the Year by the Intelligent Community Forum, the 2009 Community Broad Fiber Network of the Year from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, and the 2008 Virginia Governor’s Technology Award.

Away from the office, Bright, who is the mother of two young children, serves on the boards of Virginia Highlands Community College, Bristol Regional Medical Center, United Way of Washington County and the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.  “I work with a lot of CFOs in the industry, and she is a remarkable balance of work and life,” Nolte said. “She excels at both.” 

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