SA Water is one of Australia’s largest water utilities, operating the longest water network in the country to deliver services to more than 1.7 million customers spread from Mount Gambier in the south-east, to Leigh Creek in the north and over to Ceduna on the far west coast. Following the departure of previous CEO Roch Cheroux in August 2019, it was announced that experienced water industry executive, David Ryan, would be taking the top spot. Utility Editor, Charlotte Pordage, caught up with SA Water’s new Chief Executive to find out more about his vision for the organisation.

Mr. Ryan said that a lot of work has been done on establishing SA Water’s strategic direction and he is looking forward to building on the strong foundations already in place.

“I think SA Water has a really sound direction. In terms of what I think is important from an internal perspective, I want to have an organisation that works collaboratively with a really strong focus on achievement,” Mr Ryan said.

“My vision will also be around having an incredibly strong culture with our customers really at the heart of that.

So everything we do, whether it’s how we manage our assets, whether it’s our focus on safety, whether it’s our focus on financial performance or affordability, ultimately it all comes back to providing excellent services for our customers.

“Externally, I recognise that SA Water has a really important role to play in terms of the South Australian community and the South Australian economy.

It’s my vision that we’re an organisation that works really well with a whole range of South Australian partners, whether government or private industry, but equally we also look beyond South Australia to bring in expertise where required, for the benefit of our customers.

“My leadership style is very much around leadership in context. What that means is being able to lead with a whole variety of styles and skills based on the context and situation. My preference is certainly to be more collaborative and engaging, but equally it just needs to be in context.”

Servicing a diverse customer base

Mr Ryan was previously Managing Director at City West Water, which 1QAA12Azaprovides water and sewerage services to residents and businesses in Melbourne’s CBD, inner and western suburbs.

When asked how this compares to delivering water and wastewater services to an entire state, he explained that while there are some similarities, there are also key differences.

“Both organisations, for instance, have a strong focus on customers, safety and affordability, as well as mitigating the impacts of climate change and improving the way assets are managed. Those challenges aren’t unique or specific to one organisation, they’re right across the whole sector,” Mr Ryan said.

“While there are a lot of similarities, there are also some big differences. As an example, City West Water is looking after some of the fastest growing areas within Australia.

Whereas SA Water has such a breadth of responsibilities and distance to cover, including regional and remote communities, in addition to looking after the Adelaide CBD, which is obviously similar to the CBD of Melbourne.

“What’s very clear having just joined SA Water, and is the same at City West Water, is that you’ve got really committed people who are working in this sector because it really matters to them.”

Mr Ryan commented that he absolutely loved his time at City West Water and has a strong connection with the organisation.

In terms of what motivated him to move to SA Water, he couldn’t pass up an incredible opportunity to manage a utility with a statewide focus and such a varied customer base.

“It’s also an organisation that has really started to make some great gains around innovation, having a strong culture and is committed to continuously improving its customer service.

I was really excited about moving to South Australia and learning more about this amazing state – even in the short time I’ve been here, getting to know the area has been incredible.”

Having attended university as a mature age student enrolled in environmental science, Mr Ryan said he was blessed to get a short-term job at Barwon Water, followed by a range of roles, most notably Executive General Manager, Service Delivery, at Melbourne Water.

“My time at Melbourne Water was really important to me and I worked in a whole range of roles there. Then I was once again blessed to be selected as the Managing Director of City West Water. So all up, I’ve been in the water sector for about 16 years,” Mr Ryan said.

“I’m enormously proud of the work that we did around culture at City West Water, and really enjoyed seeing the whole organisation embrace a strong focus on an achievement culture and the benefits of that for people, not just in their work lives, but also in their lives outside of work.

I’m not sure whether it’s an accomplishment, but I definitely get a little kick out of seeing people that I’ve worked with go on and achieve their career aspirations.”

Stronger together

Mr Ryan balances the demands of a challenging professional life by prioritising time with his family, maintaining his health through running and exercising, and following Carlton Football Club in the AFL.

“It’s actually better for me following a Victorian team, rather than one of the South Australian teams, because that way I don’t disappoint any of my staff!”

For Mr Ryan, one of the things he loves most about working in the water industry is the people.

“I think it’s an industry that has real meaning for people. I find it really easy to connect the things that I do and what they mean to communities and customers,” Mr Ryan said.

“It’s also an incredibly collaborative sector. There’s no problem picking up the phone and talking to someone from another state or another water business around how we can improve the services we’re offering, or whatever the issue may be.

It’s incredibly collaborative and sharing, because ultimately we’re all in this sector to make the lives of our customers and communities better.

“The biggest challenge facing the industry is really around the changing climate and its impact on water supply. At the same time, we need to think about how we can create more liveable communities and improve services for our customers.

“Those challenges are not unique to SA Water. Some of them we’re just a little more focused on, or they’re more extreme for us, given the dry climate, and the remoteness of some of the services that we provide in South Australia. But right across the sector, we’re all facing similar challenges.

“To go right back to the start in terms of my vision for SA Water, I think it’s so important that we’re all working together for our customers.

That means whether it’s others within the water sector, other South Australian government organisations or private businesses, it’s crucial that we are working collaboratively to try and find solutions for some of these big challenges facing our sector.”

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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