In April 2020, City West Water announced that Maree Lang, who had been acting in the Managing Director role since November 2019, would step up to the role permanently. Entering a new role can be daunting at the best of times, let alone during a time of extreme global upheaval, but Ms Lang is unwavering in her commitment to putting City West Water customers first.
Ms Lang described her first six months in the role as challenging and unpredictable, but very rewarding.
“I feel incredibly privileged to be able to lead such a fantastic organisation that is committed to the diverse communities we service across Melbourne’s CBD and rapidly growing western suburbs,” Ms Lang said.
“As a leader, I have been proud of our people who have stepped up to meet the challenges brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic to continue to safely deliver essential water and sewerage services to our customers, even in the most difficult circumstances.
“Through all this, we’ve continued to deliver on some fantastic initiatives, from investing in the future of our communities through our major infrastructure projects, to partnering with organisations on stormwater initiatives to help create greener and more liveable spaces across the city and the west for the long term.”
A true test of leadership, Ms Lang was appointed as Managing Director at the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Coronavirus created a number of unanticipated challenges which required us to redefine the way we operate on a daily basis – we’ve had to completely change the way we work, live and deliver our services,” Ms Lang said.
“Our focus has always been to keep services running reliably, with the safety of our people, delivery partners and community our highest priority.”
City West Water established an enhanced hardship team to assist customers impacted by the pandemic, and the utility has increased its support through additional grants, tailored payment extensions and flexible payment plans for households and businesses.
City West Water’s field teams have continued essential repair and maintenance work, with safety as the number one priority – physical distancing and increased hygiene, along with personal protective equipment and community signage, have all been implemented as necessary steps to protect crews and the communities in which they operate.
“From a workforce perspective, we quickly pivoted to working remotely with nearly all our office-based staff, including our customer services teams, encouraged to do so as early as March,” Ms Lang said.
“I’m particularly proud of the support shown for our staff’s health and well-being at this time. With the provision of special leave, we have made sure that those with caring or homeschooling responsibilities were able to do so.
“We acknowledge everyone has a different set of circumstances and deals with things differently, and we will continue to support everyone to thrive at City West Water.
“We’ve shifted our approach from crisis management to a more sustainable model – not business as usual – but creating a ‘new normal’ that retains flexibility so we can seamlessly continue to fulfil our commitments to our people, customers and the community.”
Raising awareness of the value of water
Ms Lang has been working in the water industry for about eight years, and three of those years have been at City West Water working in senior leadership roles across strategy, operational and delivery teams.
Before City West Water, she worked at Melbourne Water for four years where she led the transformation of its services for urban growth and renewal, and worked in various management roles across customer solutions, sustainability and innovation.
Before shifting to the water sector, Ms Lang held leadership consulting and executive roles working across manufacturing, resources, research, government and industry associations.
When asked about her greatest career accomplishment, Ms Lang said that the opportunity to take up the leadership of City West Water, across a time of significant global and local challenge, had been an immense privilege.
“My accomplishments are all part of a team effort, so perhaps my greatest accomplishment is my determined focus on culture, leadership, inclusion and well-being across teams,” Ms Lang said.
“I’m very motivated by the opportunities ahead for our people, and our communities, customers and partners across the west, and the role City West Water will play in recovery and resilience.
“Our future accomplishments will only be enabled if our people are thriving, purposeful and able to deeply connect with our customers and communities, so I’m excited about how we will continue to engage with our people into the future.”
According to Ms Lang, there are some big challenges ahead – not just for City West Water, but the industry in general.
“Population growth, a drier climate and sustainable management of our assets require us to collaborate with partners more than ever before and think about new ways to solve the challenges we face together. With these challenges comes opportunity,” Ms Lang said.
“As a sector, we can also collaborate and engage with our communities to secure our precious water resources, respect and value First Nations peoples, histories and cultures, enable local liveability, and create inclusive and innovative workplaces.
“Technology plays an important role for us now, and augmented reality and digital metering are just some examples of how we are using innovation and collaboration now to meet our shared challenges.
“City West Water is here to support and benefit our customers and all communities across Melbourne and the growing west.
“We are continuing to adapt and evolve to ensure we meet our customers changing needs and expectations, and we are committed to listening and continuously improving the way we deliver our services.”
City West Water services Melbourne’s CBD and western suburbs, which features 446,000 residential properties, 42,000 non-residential properties and a population of more than one million people.
A key strategy for ensuring water resource security for the region is engaging with customers to raise community awareness of the value of water.
“We know that a growing population, along with a warming drying climate, presents us with real and growing challenges to protect our water supply for years to come. We also know it requires action from all of us,” Ms Lang said.
“If we each save a little bit of water, we all save a lot and contribute to our water security. From brushing your teeth with the tap off, to shaving one minute off your shower time and sorting out water leaks, we all have a role to play to support our city’s water security.
“We support our community to take action through our education program in schools and through campaigns such as Choose Tap and Make Every Drop Count, to raise awareness of the role water plays in enhancing our waterways and local environments, creating greener and liveable suburbs, and the immensely important role of water for First Nations people.
“We also collaborate with South East Water, Yarra Valley Water and Melbourne Water every year to publish Melbourne’s Annual Water Outlook, which sets out our water security position and actions over the coming year.
“We will continue to commit to a range of projects and initiatives to secure our water supply, including delivering water efficiency campaigns and developing schemes to supply recycled water to commercial, industrial and residential customers and for the irrigation of open spaces.”
Partnering for success
Ms Lang said it’s important to have strong partnerships across the community to achieve the best outcomes for customers.
“We have a commitment to our customers and community to continuously explore ways we can improve liveability and well-being in our service area,” Ms Lang said.
“We partner with other organisations such as local councils, delivery partners and industry to improve green quality open space for all to enjoy. In working with partners on shared outcomes, we all benefit.
“For example, by partnering on stormwater harvesting projects, we provide water for irrigating parklands and recreation reserves while reducing reliance on precious drinking water, and by partnering with other water corporations, we have launched campaigns to increase household action and reduce water use.
“We will only be successful through partnering where we can positively contribute to the lives of our customers, the communities we serve and our industry.”
This focus on collaboration is what Ms Lang enjoys most about working in the utility industry.
“As an essential service, our work is very tangible and people rely on our services 24/7. At the same time, across the water sector we are working on increasingly complex challenges such as post-pandemic recovery, climate change and water security,” Ms Lang said.
“For me, this means that utilities, and especially the water sector, deliver a great combination of purpose, people and outcomes.
“I am able to work in an asset and infrastructure environment, and combine that with delivering community outcomes, innovation and workplace culture.
“I also value that our sector recognises the importance of the role we play in well-being and inclusion. This extends from the safe, inclusive environments we ensure every day in our businesses, to creating exciting partnerships that enhance community well-being and resilience.”
Outside of work, Ms Lang balances the demands of a challenging professional life with a passion for sport and caring for the newest additions to her household – two nine-month-old cats.
“Sport is a big part of my life. It has taught me so many important leadership lessons and learnings about myself. I love playing sport, watching sport, talking about sport and I love seeing a team win,” Ms Lang said.
“My current sport, karate, is something I took up a little later in life and that I continue to learn so much from – it isn’t a team sport as such but a great personal challenge.
“I also love spending time with our cats. They joined our house just recently, and they’re continuous fun, and I am sure they are really enjoying us working from home.”