A California native, Ann Lewis, chief customer enablement officer at American Water, crossed the country last year to find her home and her passion. After living her entire life on the West Coast, she wound up settling down near Philadelphia.
At Pacific Gas & Electric in San Francisco, Ann had been responsible for information technology programs and initiatives. Today, she knows she could have had a job anywhere — but she feels she belongs with the technology and innovation team at American Water, where she helps provide drinking water to 15 million people in 46 states and Ontario, Canada.
While Ann calls water the essence of life, she’s answering a greater cause by providing technology to invent the future — at the company and in the industry.
What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of your job or company?
We love what we do here at American Water. The company has a purpose — to provide clean, safe, reliable, and affordable water and serve as environmental steward — and I want to work somewhere with a purpose. As one of four leaders supporting the chief technology and innovation officer, I oversee efforts to innovate and optimize applications for enterprise functions including finance, supply chain, human resources and legal as well as corporate and regional divisions. I am also establishing a center of excellence for the software platform SAP, the “brains” of our business, which will exploit its value to reduce operational costs and enhance business processes.
What’s something you think most people — maybe even current employees — don’t know about your company that you think they should?
It’s that Chief Executive Officer Susan Story is completely transparent as a leader. She walks the walk, practicing fair and inclusive corporate culture that drives better business outcomes. A great example includes the monthly breakfasts held at our corporate location that celebrate employees’ birthdays, which a member of our executive team attends. Susan came to the January event, because it’s her birthday month, too. The CEO greeted everyone by name and, the great thing is, Susan will share everything she can about the company.
What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day?
Most people go through their email in the morning and then plan their days. My first task is a “huddle” with the 11 leaders in my group. We meet at 8 a.m. and quickly review our work for the day and whether I can help dissolve any roadblocks. That’s why I have a big wall-mounted monitor in my office, to see each of my leads around the country.
From what I have seen and heard, we usually get the most done in the morning because that’s when we’re far more productive. Also, I have found the best communication method is face-to-face, second is the telephone, third is texting — that’s the world we live in — and email is last. When I was setting up email systems at companies, I disliked the concept. People find it easier to hide behind emails. So, I look over my email in the afternoon, near the end of my day, to make a list of topics to address the next morning and keep that cadence going with my leads.
What’s something you’re especially good at?
Changing the culture through innovation and design thinking, and leading new ways to deliver solutions to the company — both with internal contributors and business partners. When you walk into a team meeting and can see everyone participating in discussion and planning — and can’t tell who’s with a business function and who’s with Technology & Innovation — that is when you know you have great collaboration that will generate results.
What’s your favorite mistake?
Any that has produced an improvement. American Water is NOT a typical company. In T&I, we follow the mantra of “Fail fast, iterate faster.” It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you brush it off. My boss understands and just says, “What do we have to do now to make up for it?” We learn from our mistakes, not only at work but in life, too.
What excites you the most about where American Water is headed?
We’re growing, expanding our footprint throughout the United States. Locally, we’re consolidating four offices in South Jersey into a new corporate headquarters on the waterfront in Camden, N.J., across the river from Philadelphia. Camden is a city rebuilding, attracting businesses and renovating neighborhoods. Since I’m from Compton, California, I identify with urban areas struggling to rebound. When American Water moves into its new corporate headquarters later this year, we will help Camden by offering its residents the potential of higher paying professional jobs in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That satisfaction will help me realize my purpose in life.
What colleagues motivate you and why?
Susan Story is definitely an inspiration, along with all female leaders at American Water. Nearly half the members of the executive leadership team are women, including chief financial officer, controller, senior vice president of human resources, vice president of communications and president of our market-based business. When you sit down on a steering committee for an initiative, nothing resonates more for me than seeing all these women at the table. I have never served with so many female leaders. Plus, four of the eight directors on the American Water board are women.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women hunting jobs right now?
Be fearless, curious and try anything and everything. Don’t limit yourself or don’t question yourself — you may surprise yourself with the answer.
What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?
I always listen to jazz softly in my office. As for reading, I’ve got at least two books going now, “The Heart-Led Leader” by Tommy Spaulding and “How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg.
What are you trying to improve on?
I am heeding the advice from one of the books I’m reading by leading from the heart. American Water helps me understand why I’m here: to mentor, change the community and spread technology to as many people as possible. If I am walking that path, my company is making it reality.
What’s the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?
The best boss is one who makes everyone feel, “I care about you and your life.” It’s that outlook that leads to a better company, better community and better world.
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