With a wealth of experience across a number of executive roles and senior leadership positions, Terri Benson was an obvious choice for the role of Managing Director at South East Water. She only joined the utility midway through 2017 but is already making her mark by ensuring technology and innovation remain at the forefront of South East Water’s operations.
A highly experienced Chief Executive Officer, Ms Benson has held a range of both executive and non-executive director roles in government, utilities and private infrastructure sectors.
She is a former CEO of Seqwater and a former Managing Director of Essential Energy, responsible for the delivery of electricity services across 95 per cent of New South Wales. Ms Benson has held leadership roles in Essential Energy’s predecessor organisations, working at an executive level in most operational areas over a 14-year career.
Ms Benson’s non-executive director roles have included directorships at CBHS Health Fund, DUET, the Energy Networks Association and Gas Market Company. She is also a former Chair of the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW.
Ms Benson said she got her start in the utility industry when she moved to the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales.
“I started my career at Chartered Accountants Deloittes. My husband worked as a policeman and was transferred a couple of times to country towns. Whilst living in a small town called Moulamein, I worked with the local Rural Lands Protection Board,” Ms Benson said.
“We later moved to Lithgow where I acquired my first role in utilities; an accounting role with Advance Energy. It was one of those situations where I was in the right place at the right time to take on a role which has led me to work in several executive positions across the energy and water sectors in New South Wales and Queensland, and now here at South East Water.”
Prior to joining South East Water, Ms Benson was also the Managing Director of Birdon, a diversified engineering and services business providing innovative solutions to the military and marine industries with operations across Australia, USA and Europe. She led the Australian business through a period of significant growth and change.
Smart water use in action
Ms Benson said she found the opportunity to lead South East Water compelling for many reasons, particularly as it combines skills she has developed across a variety of roles into a single position.
“It drew on my experience as Chief Executive Officer at Seqwater, where we managed over $12 billion in assets, while enabling me to build on my experience in the electricity sector and as Chair of the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW, which was focused around customer experience and fairness,” Ms Benson said.
“It’s also such exciting time to join South East Water. It has two ground-breaking projects, both the result of extensive collaboration, planning and innovation.”
With the release of the Fishermans Bend Draft Framework, South East Water’s integrated water management proposal will become a catalyst project in the largest urban redevelopment in Australia, helping Fishermans Bend to achieve new levels of sustainability and liveability in high density urban living.
In addition, the Aquarevo housing estate, located on the site of a former water purification plant in Melbourne’s south-east, is on track to become Australia’s most water efficient residential urban development. The collaboration between South East Water and Villawood Properties aims to show there’s a better way to use water in the home, with Aquarevo houses featuring a range of unprecedented water saving features.
Each property will be plumbed with three types of water: drinking water, recycled water and rainwater, helping to reduce demand on drinking water supplies. Rainwater tanks will be fitted with technology that receives weather forecasts, releasing water before heavy rainfall to minimise overflows or flooding in local waterways, and a OneBox® device will control the water technology in each home and remotely monitor water and energy use.
Of the 190 lots released for sale so far, all have now sold, and civil construction works are well underway. The Victorian branch of the Urban Development Institute of Australia has also recognised Aquarevo with six leaf accreditation for its sustainable initiatives in the areas of water, ecosystems, community, waste, materials and energy.
“These are both great examples of how South East Water is delivering on its commitment to create liveable communities, and one of the reasons working here is so rewarding,” Ms Benson said.
Responding to industry challenges
While South East Water prides itself on the adoption of emerging technologies to create a more efficient and intelligent water network, there are a number of external challenges still to address.
Ms Benson said the most obvious challenges the industry faces are around climate change and population growth, especially with Victoria’s population set to double by 2051.
“Responding to these challenges won’t just be about building new infrastructure, it will be about using our existing investments more efficiently, and taking advantage of emerging technologies to optimise asset use. Network digitisation is a great example, enabling utilities to reduce leaks, increase network reliability and create a safer working environment,” Ms Benson said.
Ms Benson said it is also important for water companies to continue to work with customers to better understand their needs and expectations.
“For example, as part of our pricing submission for the 2018-2023 regulatory period, our customers told us they expect us to use digitisation to deliver the same benefits that other providers have delivered – efficient service delivery, greater control and bill certainty, and better customer experience.
“We’ve learned we must continually engage with our customers, and ensure our services continue to reflect their diversity of needs,” Ms Benson said.
Implementing future-proof solutions
Ms Benson said she wants to continue to be a part of an organisation that values its relationship with its customers and communities, and provides the best available solutions to customers at an affordable price.
“While our world is changing in terms of population growth, technology and climate change, it is essential that we remember our purpose is to provide the best possible solutions to our customers,” Ms Benson said.
“The solutions that we will provide in the future will be very different to the solutions traditionally provided. As all utilities are going through similar changes, with heavy infrastructure solutions being increasingly challenged, I see South East Water as being a crucial part of the solution, and as a trusted water partner to our customers.”
Ms Benson said a big part of her role is to create an environment where people can collaborate, think big, and one where anyone can contribute.
“We have some truly amazing talent working hard on innovative concepts, products and services to solve water challenges. A key measure of their work is the success of our iota Services team, which takes South East Water’s innovations, and commercialises them for the benefit of the broader industry. Through iota Services, South East Water-developed technology is already being deployed elsewhere in Victoria, interstate and overseas,” Ms Benson said.
“It’s an inherently innovative culture, and I want to make sure we keep trying new things and keep looking for better approaches.”