Two of our Young Utility Leaders attended the WSAA Members Meeting and Dinner in February. Anna Reeves, Coliban Water and Morgan Pauly, Sydney Water share their reflections following the events and sought advice from the leaders they heard from over the days in Sydney.

As newbies to the utility sector and to our aspirational leadership careers, we headed along to our second WSAA Members Dinner and Meeting with much excitement. The guest speakers again left us with so much to think about and so much energy.

We have had the privilege to listen and learn from leaders at the very top of our industry. We’ve both been surprised by just how valuable their insights have been at this early point in our careers. So we thought we’d push our luck and take things one step further, reaching out to a few of them directly for some insider tips!

At the dinner we witnessed a great fireside chat with Liv Garfield, Chief Executive of Severn Trent Water in the UK. Liv had the whole room enthralled and left us wanting to hear more. Even with jetlag and after a day of meetings, Liv energetically and expertly navigated topics on everything from the challenges for low socio-economic customers to leak management through to customer expectations.

By the end of that evening, it seemed like half the Australian water industry were dusting off their resumes and booking flights to the UK. So what qualities does Liv look for in a future leader?

The next day at the WSAA Members Meeting we heard about challenges that would impact our communities in the near and distant future. The challenges were translatable across all parts of the country - even internationally - and all relatable. We are all facing challenges at various levels and velocity. We have population growth, ageing infrastructure, climate change and varying investment from government and funding to address all this.  

But as we all know, with challenge comes opportunity, if you look in the right places.

To give some context, Sydney’s population growth was the key focus of three of our presenters, Amanda Jones - COO and Deputy CEO Infrastructure NSW, Sarah Hill - CEO of the Greater Sydney Commission and Sian Leydon - General Manager Customer, Strategy and Regulation at Sydney Water.

Over the next 36 years, Sydney's population is set to rise from 4.7 to 6.4 million, requiring around 725,000 new dwellings. The idea of trying to fit another 1.7 million people into the already overcrowded commute is quite scary. What does growth at this scale mean for our infrastructure? Or more selfishly, what does it mean for our lifestyle? The Greater Sydney Commission entered the scene in 2016 to tackle this challenge and shape metropolitan planning through Regional and District plans.  

The resulting vision is not of one city but three – the Eastern Harbour City (what we’ve traditionally thought of as Sydney), the Central River City (the newly emerging hub of Parramatta) and the Western Parkland City (currently fields of green pasture).

Have you picked up on the key theme woven through those names? Water.

The Western Parkland City will see a city the size of Adelaide and Canberra combined emerge in Sydney’s west. But this is also the region where climate change is having the biggest impact, with on average half the annual rainfall and seven times the number of hot days (above 35°C) compared to the east. This disparity is only set to grow.

Water will play a central role and provide natural cooling and amenity for the region. Start with the water, preserve the green spaces, overlay the infrastructure and introduce an integrated landscape and urban design. We have a blank canvas to shape a liveable, productive and a sustainable community. It sounds simple. It’s not.

The changing approach to planning means that the role of the modern water utility is also changing. Delivering this vision means moving away from the traditional focus on efficiency, compliance and transactions. Place-based outcomes will be key, delivered through collaboration and partnerships across Government department, agencies and organisations.

This means a shift in mindset across organisations and all layers of government. Water has so often been an afterthought in the planning process. But if we want to create truly water sensitive cities that are resilient, sustainable and liveable cities, water must be an integral part of the planning process - right from the start! It time for us to step out of the shadows and take a seat at the broader planning table.

So with these big picture challenges ahead of us, what is our role as Young Leaders within the urban water industry?

We wanted to learn more about the challenges of the industry and also more about the inspirational leaders we heard from and their insights on leadership. They are leaders taking on huge things. We should learn from them. Smart move we thought to ourselves. High five!  

When we reached out to the speakers we could hardly believe our eyes when our inboxes were filled with kind responses and bucket loads of insight and wisdom. Lesson one: Leaders will support you, just reach out and ask.

“Don’t worry about trying to necessarily work on or solve the overarching challenges. Instead focus on making great progress on issues in your sphere of influence.” - Liv Garfield

“So, put your hand up and get involved! At a personal level, I encourage you to be proactive in finding solutions, not just citing the problems or being deterred at barriers to progress.”  - Sarah Hill

"Stand up for what you believe is right, what you can show through your research and analysis and customer engagement and be prepared to challenge what you disagree with. ”  - Sarah Hill

"Success doesn’t come to those who are the brightest but comes to those who are most resilient, lead teams better than others and create their own luck through hard work.” - Liv Garfield

"Say yes to opportunities even if they scare you back yourself and seek the support of mentors.” - Amanda Jones

"Be kind – it costs nothing, and you never know where or when you might meet that person again.” - Amanda Jones

Finally, we reached out to Kevin Young, after his last WSAA Members Meeting as Managing Director, Sydney Water. Curiously being Managing Director was never part of Kevin’s plan, so how did it come to pass?

Early in his career, Kevin committed himself to focus on “...a future of lifelong learning. I wanted to experience all of the different technical challenges but increasingly came to the conclusion that while technical capability is important, it is always about the people and leadership.” Kevin felt key skills to practice are communication and storytelling, negotiation and influencing. Well it has paid off - “I enjoyed every element and then found myself in a wonderful position to become a CEO of an amazing company.”

Kevin feels that “the future is all about leadership and doing water differently and better.”

And his advice for young leaders?

Wow, after all that amazing insight and advice we feel inspired and a little bit overwhelmed! Time for a Panadol and a lay down!

25 Mar 2019

Morgan Pauly

Morgan Pauly

Strategy and City Shaping Analyst