Charmaine Quick is the Executive General Manager, Service Delivery at Melbourne Water. She was recently recognised as one of Victoria’s Top 50 Public Sector Women, and we caught up with her to discuss her career in the utility sector.
I grew up on a farm near Horsham and had an understanding of the importance of water from an early age. Access to reliable, quality water means survival and success on a farm.
At the same time, I was also good at maths and sciences. I went along to an information session about engineering held by the local council one day, and despite being the only woman in the room, I decided then and there that I would be an engineer.
In 1991 I joined Melbourne Water in the waterways and drainage area, undertaking floodplain modelling.
My first job was modelling the 100-year flood maps for the Yarra River. I then moved into various roles until I landed my first leadership role, supervising the Sewage Transfer Operations Team.
I then moved into Asset Management and developed a strong and immediate interest in maintenance and lifecycle planning of assets.
From here I went on to manage Melbourne Water’s Eastern Treatment Plant, before being appointed General Manager of all wholesale services activities, and then finally Executive General Manager, Service Delivery.
I would sum up my career as taking on new challenges approximately every three years and covering all products (water, sewage, waterways and drainage) and areas from operations, Maintenance and planning.
Can you tell us about your current role?
My current role sees me ultimately responsible for leading a large workforce of over 700 operational, professional and contract staff.
The Service Delivery Group is responsible for delivering customer value through the provision of water, sewage, waterways, drainage and recycled water services.
I rely heavily on great managers across all of my teams to help me ensure we are delivering for the community.
I’m proud to be the first woman to lead the organisation’s service delivery group, and have been very pleased to be able to utilise this position to champion efforts to make our water systems more sustainable and to continuously improve customer value in water and sewerage service provision through better asset management and operations.
There are few jobs in the water sector where you get to work with big mechanical assets like the Eastern and Western treatment plants, major dams like the Thomson, and natural assets like the Yarra River, which all contribute to making Melbourne one of the most liveable cities in the world.
Can you tell us a bit more about a recent project you’ve worked on – what are your key responsibilities, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced on this project so far and how have you successfully overcome these?
As the Executive General Manager of Service Delivery I am responsible for the delivery of strategies following their development.
A good example of this would be the delivery of our Flood Management Strategy for Port Phillip and Westernport.
Melbourne Water prepared the strategy by consulting widely with those involved in delivering flood management, and people affected by floods. Consultation included discussions and workshops with many stakeholders including state government departments, councils, emergency services, and communities.
This strategy reflects the effort and activities of all organisations contributing to floodplain management across the region.
My challenge was to take this strategy into the implementation phase, ensuring we worked collaboratively with our stakeholders and customers through this process and then measuring and reporting on our milestones and ensuring we were meeting our projected delivery timeframes.
To bring important new initiatives, like a plan to better protect Melbourne from the impacts of flooding, to fruition, it’s immensely satisfying.
How did you get your start in the utility sector?
Being passionate about water from an early age as above. I also did vacation work at the then Board of Works at the end of the third year of my engineering degree.
What are the main things you enjoy about working in the utility sector?
I get to do a kind of engineering which has real community benefits. In my personal travels to developing countries and my farming background, I have got a real appreciation for how water is the lifeblood of a community.
It is highly rewarding and very people-focused, which I’m sure is not something everyone associates with engineering traditionally.
What are some of the main challenges facing utilities at the moment? What opportunities will arise from these challenges?
Significant population growth in a city like Melbourne, combined with the increasing impacts of climate change and the need to upgrade or replace aging infrastructure, present major challenges for us, but they also provide opportunities.
The evolution of Integrated Water Management, and how we use all forms of water, including recycled and stormwater, are some of the ways we are seeking to meet these challenges.
It is a particularly exciting time to work in the sector, as water security worldwide becomes an increasingly critical issue.
Can you tell us about some of the mentors you’ve had throughout your career?
I have had some wonderful mentors throughout my career, both male and female.
I am pleased to be able to acknowledge some people who have made a difference to my career over the years, in particular Ken Ely, Phil Neville, Grant Wilson and Lucia Cade.
Ken Ely was one of my first managers who provided me with my first opportunity to lead a group, and who also made me spend some time in the strategic planning side of the business.
Grant Wilson gave me my first role reporting directly to a General Manager and looking after asset information when I did not even know what GIS was, and then had the trust in me to take on asset management (be careful what you wish for!).
I worked for Phil Neville briefly as a graduate, and we went on to become equals in a structural sense. He was invaluable to bounce ideas off.
Lucia Cade, the Chair of South East Water, has been a different type of mentor, as we are similar in age and experience, and have come through the water sector together.
Our informal lunchtime chats were invaluable for me thinking about my career – Lucia was always much more planned about her career and it helped me to consider my own career strategy in a broader sense.
Can you tell us about some of the women who’ve inspired you by their work in the utility sector?
Nancy Millis was an outstanding individual and an acclaimed scientist across a range of disciplines. Nancy served on the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works when I was in my 20s.
I had to present in front of her and was so nervous, but she made me feel so comfortable. I was also amazed at her intellect and her no nonsense talking.
Another inspirational women is Cheryl Batagol, who has served as the Chair of Melbourne Water and now the Chair of the EPA.
Cheryl is a fine example of how you can make a difference within an organisation through her passion for building culture and her work in the industry to improve the environment in which we live.
Can you give us some insight into your experience working in such male-dominated sectors – have there been any particular challenges that you have had to overcome?
I tend to look at the positives of working in the male-dominated field of engineering.
I have been provided enormous opportunities in my field because I am a female. In my early days, I got involved in national conference committees because they wanted diversity, which also got me exposure across the industry.
The thing that disappoints me the most is that I was accused of only getting my first promotion because I am a female, and I still hear people say that today.
Melbourne Water is committed to diversity and inclusion, and there are many other great utilities and public sector organisations here in Victoria with the same commitment, so I’m confident of positive change in that regard.
Do you see yourself continuing to work in the utility sector?
I cannot imagine working in an industry that does not contribute to the broader community, which the utility sector provides.
That is one of the great drivers for me, being able to actively contribute to community and environmental health through the work we do and working in an organisation like Melbourne Water in the utility sector allows me to do that.
Can you provide a bit of background on your life outside of work – any hobbies or interests you care to mention? Any activities you enjoy to balance the demands of a challenging professional life?
One of my great loves is adventure travel. I’m very grateful that I work for an employer who has allowed me the flexibility to pursue this interest, and I usually head overseas at least once per year on a major hiking or kayaking trip or to just generally be outdoors.
I played netball all my life, until my knees gave way, so I am now a keen supporter of the Vixens and Diamonds netball teams.