As this year’s Young Professional (YP) Committee Chair for the Hawaii Water Environment Association (HWEA) and AWWA Hawaii Section, HWEA sponsored me to attend this year’s YP Summit in Austin, Texas. This year’s summit preceded the Utility Management Conference, and it brought together young professionals from around the country from both the public and private sectors, including many involved with utility operations.
The speakers at the summit included George Hawkins, General Manager of DC Water and Sewer Authority; Kurt Vause, Engineering Division Director of Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility; Doug Bean, Director of Utility Services at Raftelis; and Glenda Dunn of the City of Waco and a former AWWA Vice-President. While the speakers provided great insight into the water industry, their passion and charisma were their greatest means of conveying their messages to the YPs.
George Hawkins kicked off the summit with a high-energy talk about unlocking innovation. He listed his steps to doing this, which included reaching out to students, operators, financial people, vendors, utilities, and the media. Mr. Hawkins also spoke of a personal experience which he described as both the worst and best day on the job. A large storm had flooded the sewer system, causing sewage to back up into peoples’ homes, and Mr. Hawkins had to address the public about what had happened. Although he had to face angry homeowners, he was also able to explain to them why this occurred and the importance of upgrading the aging sewer system. By the end of it, he was able to get the public on his side, which helped to facilitate the subsequent construction.
Kurt Vause discussed the keys of success in public water sector management. His six keys to success included 1) it’s all about the people, 2) always work your boss – priorities first, 3) differentiate public vs. private, 4) creation of the culture, 5) process vs. policy, and 6) check your ego but not your passion. Mr. Vause also impressed upon us the importance of interpersonal and group skills and how we must identify our strengths and weaknesses. He said that we need to be able to trust the people we work with and also be prepared to tell the boss “no,” if necessary. He also relayed to us that there’s a trick called “2793,” where you have 27 words and 9 seconds to make 3 points.
Doug Bean spoke to the group after lunch, and kept everyone’s full attention during his presentation about the commoditization of water. He described public health as encompassing community, environment, and the collective benefit to society, and if the collective good helps public health, why shouldn’t the pricing also be a shared price? Mr. Bean described the differences in measuring value for public versus private organizations. Public organizations rely on public value, mission achievement, and public trust, and private organizations are measured by shareholder value, profitability, and customer loyalty. He stressed the importance of knowing who you’re working for and what its value is measured by.
The last speaker of the summit was Glenda Dunn, who spoke to us about professionalism. She stressed that emotional intelligence (EQ) is greater than IQ. Nowadays, there are four generations in the workplace, and it is a challenge to deal with the different perceptions of loyalty and work/life balance. She also discussed the various types of power: role power-authority; skills and knowledge; and relationship power. To bring the summit to a close, Ms. Dunn encouraged the YPs to “follow your bliss.” She wanted to the YPs to know that while work plays a huge role in our lives, we need to make sure that we enjoy our lives outside of work too.
The YP Summit included roundtable discussions following each presentation, and it spurred discussion about creating a positive culture within the office, what attributes make a great public utility, and how do you capture knowledge from the aging/experienced workforce before they retire.
Overall, the YP Summit was a great learning experience that allowed me to meet YPs and leaders with various backgrounds in the water industry, and I thank HWEA for giving me this invaluable opportunity to attend.