Is it possible to make your voice heard around important issues of our day, like healthcare, water resource management and climate resiliency? Our guest, Susan Leal, has done just that in both the public and private sectors.
She's worked as a lawyer for the US House Energy and Commerce Committee, been an elected official, and been a founding leader in a successful health care startup. She then became an expert in water management and now consults on water and waste water issues related to climate change, resiliency and sustainability. Her career has been curvy!
In our conversation, Susan connects the dots between the many curvy moves she’s made. She also shares how she moved into areas that were completely new to her. Her story is interesting, inspiring and a great example of the positive impact one person can make on the world.
Susan Leal, Principal & Founder, Urban Water Works, is a water utility expert and author specializing in identifying realistic and creative solutions to the water-related challenges.
Currently, she is Principal and founder of Urban Water Works a consultancy firm that advises public and private sector clients on water and waste water issues related to climate change, resiliency and sustainability. She also is an Associate with Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. In that appointment, she is concluding an innovative water conservation project in the Middle East. She recently concluded three years as the Chief Strategy Officer and Senior Vice President for Water, the Americas at AECOM.
Previously, she was a two-year Senior Fellow at Harvard University. As part of her fellowship, she co-authored Running Out of Water, a proactive book focused on solutions to our looming water crisis. She is currently under contract with Harvard University Press for another water related book. The focus of the upcoming book will on the food, water and climate change nexus: how to feed 9.5 billion people by 2050. She is a member of the advisory board of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley, where she also received her BA and JD.
As former General Manager of San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission, Susan led the charge for a dramatic upgrade of the Bay Area’s water system and outdated wastewater system. She previously served two terms as the elected Treasurer of the City and County of San Francisco and as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
As a recognized thought leader on water issues, Leal speaks regularly at water, sustainability, investment and infrastructure conferences. She is interviewed and mentioned in print and online articles including Bloomberg News, the New York Times, Boston Globe, Foreign Affairs, San Francisco Chronicle, Harvard Gazette and Wall Street Journal.
Follow this link to find Susan’s book on Amazon. You can probably find it at Barnes & Noble or your local library, too.
Beth Davies, host: Welcome to Season 2 of Career Curves, where we bring you interesting stories of real careers told by the people who have lived them. I'm your host Beth Davies, and for this season I've interviewed guests from fashion, government, media, engineering, entertainment, education, and more.
What I love about all the stories is how the insights and advice each guest shares transcends their specific field or industry. You may do something completely different yet I know you'll leave each episode with inspiration and ideas to help you maneuver through the curves in your own career.
With that, let's get started.
Beth: Is it possible to make your voice heard around important issues of our day, like health care, water resource management, and climate resiliency? Our guest today, Susan Leal has done just that and it's taken her into government offices and executive boardrooms across the United States.
Susan studied economics and law and then became an attorney for the U S House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
She then came back to California to work in both the public and private sectors. She founded and ran a health care company. She was both appointed and elected to government positions for the City and County of San Francisco. And she's been a consultant. She's also been a research associate at Harvard and co-wrote the book Running Out of Water.
Susan is currently the principal at Urban Water Works, a consulting firm based in San Francisco. In our conversation, Susan connects the dots between the many curvy moves she's made.
Susan Leal, guest: Glad to be here.
Beth: So Susan, your work today focuses on helping public and private utilities, agencies and corporations identify creative solutions to water-related challenges. Your ultimate goal is to promote climate resiliency and sustainability. This is really important work. I'd like to talk about how you got here – how you built your career, the steps you took, the challenges you faced, and what you've learned about yourself along the way.
So let's start at the beginning. Tell me about your childhood and how this influenced your career.
Susan: Born and raised in San Francisco, which is an exciting place to grow up. Was given, in many ways, a lot of freedom and in other ways, parents who really stressed education. Neither one of my parents had completed high school, so it was a big thing. School was a big deal.
Beth: So you got strong messages from your parents about education?
Beth: Did you also get strong messages about what type of work you should be doing or what work should be in your life?
Susan: It was more about supporting yourself. There was no stress about, "Oh, you'll get married and you'll be taken care of." It was more about, "We're very lucky to be in the United States and it's a great country. There's all this opportunity here. Make sure you take advantage of it."
Beth: Did that message cause you to get any early jobs?
Susan: Just before I finished high school, I went to go work for the phone company. Was an operator and I met a lot of wonderful women. They were all women. That gave me a message, which was unless I wanted to be doing that for 30 years, I better go to college and do well.
Beth: So tell me what you studied.
Susan: Ended up at graduating from Berkeley, which was a crazy experience. Decided to do economics because, again, I hear my parents' voice when I'm picking that major. I really loved art history, but economics was more…
Susan: …Practical, steady. So that was what drove me to that. But I enjoyed it and it was fun.
Beth: And then, I know you went to law school. Did you go straight from undergrad to law school or did you work?
Susan: I took off a year. I worked, so I didn't really take off a year, it was a year from school, and I worked for a little bit. It was more an odd jobs kind of thing. I had worked when I was in school many summers and during the year for EF Hutton. Remember that?
Beth: I do. "When EF Hutton speaks, people listen."
Susan: Right. And I worked for them and I really enjoyed it. It was very different. You were, at one point, a hippie and then the other side of you is in a brokerage firm. So it was an interesting contrast. So yes, I took a year off from school.
Beth: And what made you decide to go to law school?
Susan: Well, It was two things. One, I realized I couldn't go very far with an undergraduate degree, even back then. And second, who didn't like Perry Mason growing up? So it was that and my visions of being a Perry Mason.
Beth: So you finished law school?
Beth: And tell me about the job. What did you do for a job afterwards?
Susan: Well, I did take a very short stint, less than a year, right after law school. It was with a corporate counsel. Lovely people. But I knew it was just not driving me, motivating me. So I had been assigned in this corporate counsel to an office near Washington on a stint. I thought that would motivate me more, but instead I met up with a lot of former colleagues who were working around the Hill or in government agencies, and I got an opportunity to go work for an investigations committee of the House Oversight and Investigation subcommittee. And that was really exciting.
Beth: What was it that you were hearing in that opportunity?
Susan: Well, it was going to be less money, so that wasn't thrilling, but I met some people that really seemed excited about what they were doing. And first when I got there, I was the new kid. They had no women. They had one woman who was like an office manager and then they had someone that was sort of a part time lawyer, but mainly you worked in a big war room with a bunch of guys, that used a bunch of terms for me – lovingly, as I found out when we got to know each other – which today there's no way they would've gotten away with half the nicknames they gave me, but I've still remained friends with several guys. I don't see them as often as I'd like, but they were very cool people.
Beth: You mentioned before that your parents had said to you, "Take advantage of the opportunities that are here."
Beth: And you're at a corporate job that was paying more, as you just said. Was it hard for your parents to accept that you were taking a job that was going to be less money? And if so, how did you broach this and handle this?
Susan: It wasn't an easy phone call. I called my mother and I told her. My father was very hard of hearing, so I didn't call him and tell him, but I told my mother.
Beth: You let her do that piece.
Susan: No, no, no. She was much tougher than he was so it probably would've been easier to call him because he would've said, "Oh honey, do what you want. Do what you want." And my mother, she was not happy because she knew I was getting paid good money. She knew that this company, I think there were still defined benefit plans. So for her it was like, 'Wow, what are you doing?"
Beth: So what made you stick with your decision and move forward with this anyway, even though you weren't, at that point, having the approval of your mother?
Susan: Because I knew I had to motivate myself to go to work every day and if I was dreading going there, I knew I wouldn't do well and I wanted to do well.
Beth: So you move then into the U S House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Susan: You said it right. I've mangled it before.
Beth: Oh, I'm so happy to hear you've mangled it because I'm reading it and I'm mangling it.
And you were there for six years.
Beth: You just mentioned that it was really important to keep yourself motivated. When you're in a role for an extended time like that, how do you keep the job interesting and how do you keep yourself motivated?
Susan: Oh my goodness, it was hard not to be motivated in that position. When you got to the point where you actually doing an investigation, and then you would see some of your colleagues conduct an investigation, and then be at a hearing and watch them in first hearings. It was really quite heady. You'd be 26 years old. You were sitting next to the Chairman of the committee. You'd have someone in front of you who was subpoenaed to come to the committee and you got to ask the questions after the Chairman. That was pretty cool.
Beth: Yes, absolutely.
Susan: And we did some very cool investigations that were, I thought, really fighting for the people, fighting for right things.
Beth: And this was the late 70s, early 80s?
Susan: Yes. And, first, I started out in the Energy group. They were looking at oil and gas issues. But then I got put into the health care thing and that was sort of crazy how I got there.
Beth: Tell me about that.
Susan: Well, someone had to serve subpoenas, on hospitals, in Queens, in August. Who do you think they're going to pick? They're going to pick the new little kid.
Beth: Also because you were a woman? With health care?
Susan: I had no health care background. I was a young lawyer.
Beth: I just didn't know if there was maybe the stereotype of health care = nurse = woman, therefore that type of nurturing.
Susan: No, no, no. There was an epidemiologist on staff, doctorate in epidemiology. There was a White House Fellow on the staff; he was a physician. There was another lawyer that worked with them. But who is going to serve subpoenas in Queens in August? Okay. "I'll do it. I'll do it. Oh, okay."
Beth: We sometimes think of the importance of paying our dues and doing something like that because we're going to pay our dues. Do you think that's still important today?
Susan: Well, yes. Pay our dues. Show that you're a team member. You're willing to contribute.
It was tough serving those subpoenas because we got a lot of pushback. I had a stand up my full 5'4" or 5'5", if I lie about it, and say, "No, this subpoena says 'forthwith,' so I'm going to sit in the lobby and I've brought a physician with me who will review the documents. So I'll sit in the lobby and wait for the documents to be pulled." So that was kinda cool.
Beth: Did you know that you had that gumption and that perseverance or was it a skill you needed to develop in this moment to do this job?
Susan: Oh, I think I knew I could do it.
Beth: So it was actually even a comfortable place for you to be?
Susan: It's never comfortable to stand up to people that have much more power. And the worst feeling was, you'd go in there and people would say, "Oh, I'm sorry. You're going to have to talk to our lawyers." And in fact they got their lawyers quickly on the phone in many of these types of deals, but I knew I could do it. But it is still a little scary.
Beth: So you were doing health care as part of your government position and then decided to move to the State Assembly and come to California. Tell me about the transition from working from the U S House Energy and Commerce subcommittee to moving to California to join the State Assembly here. Why did you make that move?
Susan: I would say the biggest driver is that my mom had heart trouble and I wanted to be closer to home. She ended up living to be 90, which was fabulous, but she was in her early 60s and was starting to have significant heart trouble and I started wanting to be closer to home.
And then also, after you work on the Hill for four or five years… I didn't want to be someone who was there for 30 years beause I think you risk losing the freshness and the intensity.
Beth: It sounds like you're saying that you have to recognize that there's a point that is an inflection point of you're now going to be a lifer or you're going to be more versatile, and now is the time to be making that decision.
Beth: And so those two things together.
Susan: Yeah, and this was an opportunity to take some of the things – we not only did investigation, but we did some legislation as well – and it was to take some of those things back to California. So it was very lucky for me to be connected up with somebody in the State Assembly. Ended up working for the Ways and Means Committee and then the Subcommittee on Health Care, which meant I put together the health care budget for the state of California on the Assembly side.
One of the provisions we put in at the Federal level was one that I wanted to see that the state would adopt. And it did.
Beth: What was that provision?
Susan: It's a provision that I think changed health care and that was the Prudent Buyer Provision, which allowed states to apply for a waiver and to negotiate for their Medi-Cal, or Medicaid, or as we call it in California, your Medi-Cal recipients with hospitals and doctors.
Beth: And that's something that's in existence still today. That's got some legacy?
Susan: That's the PPO. The first PPO in California was not Blue Cross. Was not Blue Shield. Was not United Healthcare. It was Medi-Cal.
I took a break when I was at the Assembly to go work for the Governor's Office. Jerry Brown, first time around. He set up an Office of Health Care Negotiation and we were able to take that provision. They wanted to cut the budget by $1 billion for Medi-Cal recipients and we said maybe we could do that if we were able to lower the hospital cost. And we did. So I thought it was kind of cool.
Beth: It's very cool. To do that kind of work, I would imagine you have to be quite passionate about health care. How did you discover that that was a passion of yours? Was it just that you fell into it during the job in Washington or was there…?
Susan: I fell into it. Number one, I fell into it, and then I realized… I think we all know how important health care is. But when you are there with physicians reviewing issues of unnecessary surgeries, and you start looking at what we allow done to people for money, and how much we charge people… You know, I remember one investigation we looked at is the one on infant formulas, where the infant formula company forgot to put in salt and what that did to children's brains. Or a case where you get charged $5 for a slice of bread in a hospital and what that means. Or you do a surgery on somebody because you just do surgeries. So you do four tonsillectomies because there's four kids in the family. I mean, stuff like that. And you're like going, wait a minute.
Beth: And it's an income source, not because there's a medical need for a tonsillectomy.
Susan: Right, and you're going, "What?" And so it was that sort of thing. So, how could you not become passionate about that? Well, I guess some people could be, but I was.
Beth: But it really becomes that human interest side. There's a human involved in this. This isn't just a business and business decisions, there are real humans and real human lives and this stuff matters.
Beth: So I want to touch on how you got the job at the State Assembly. You skimmed over it pretty quickly, but it sounded like you got that because of a connection. You said that you had met somebody. Have connections played an important role in your career?
Susan: Well, there's two things. There's connections and people will open a door or window. I think the thing I can probably pat myself on the back for if anything in life, is that people have opened a door and a window and sometimes I go, "Well, I don't know," but I often have walked through it. People say, "Oh, you worked really hard," and I said, "Yeah, I'm also real lucky."
Beth: So you spend a couple of years doing State Assembly and then left government work and went into enterprise. Tell me about that transition.
Susan: Well, part of it was that group of people that did that first health care negotiation, we said, "Let's take this to private employers. Let's take this to union trust funds." I was the first fourth person that joined the company. We'd worked in this Health Care Negotiation unit for the Governor. And then we formed this company about a year later. And it was very it was a natural progression.
Beth: You did that for about about nine years?
Beth: And what made you decide to step away from that?
Susan: One, I was fortunate that the company was bought by a publicly traded company. We had a decision to make. We had expanded the company from four of us to a couple hundred people. And then it a started to get a national presence. Then the logical thing was either we become publicly traded or we merge with a publicly traded company. And we merged with a publicly traded company.
So the nature of the company started to change. Also I was traveling. I was traveling three weeks out of four. The guy who was the original founder, he used to have this recurring nightmare, which was I would say, Yeah, I'll see in Washington," and then he'd wake up and he'd think, "Was that Seattle?" because we had business in Seattle or was it in Washington, DC? And it really was crazy. And so I just said, "I gotta take a break."
Beth: So in that sense, the timing of the decision to sell was personally perfect. It was time to take a break. It was getting crazy.
Susan: Yes. We were starting to get our options and all that kind of wonderful stuff. And I thought, "Okay, I've got a little bit of change, I can take a break."
Beth: So as you were taking the break, did you do some self reflection there and really say what is it that I want to do next?
You're shaking your head "no."
Susan: No, I went to the gym a lot. When you're traveling three weeks out of four, two things happen. You get upgraded to first class all the time, and you eat and drink, and you're tired. So you have a cocktail and you eat. I was thinner than I am now because I was young…
Beth: But you weren't taking care of yourself.
Susan: I wasn't taking care of myself. So I just said, "Okay, I'm going to get myself in shape. I'm going to feel good." And then this friend of a friend, a guy I'd met at Berkeley 2 million years ago, he said to this close friend of mine, "Hey, would Susan be interested in going on the Board of Supervisors?"
And I'm going, "Hmm, well I love the city. Why wouldn't I want to do something for the city?" And so we met with people and I got appointed by somebody I didn't even support. I didn't support Frank Jordan for election. I supported his opponent.
Beth: And he was the mayor of San Francisco at the time?
Susan: Yes, and he appointed me and I was like, "Oh, okay."
Beth: For those who aren't from San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors is the equivalent of say a City Council.
Susan: Because San Francisco is a city and a county. Like say L.A. will have a city council as well as a County Board of Supervisors. San Francisco, it's the same body, so we combine it into the Board of Supervisors, which is 11 members. A crazy group. Never a dull moment. Wacky but fun.
Beth: So it's interesting because I think somebody reading your profile would say, "Well clearly, she was driven by government and was probably even looking to be in government all along, starting in Washington and then working in the state government, and even went to local probably now to build her own career as a politician." But that's not what I'm hearing was your major drive.
Susan: No, I love the city and I thought, "Okay well yeah, I probably could do a good job at this. I've got a brain."
I remember when I was sworn in, my father kept wandering around and people would walk up to him and say, "Oh congratulations." And my father's consistent response to almost everyone was, "You know, she used to have a good job."
Beth: Now, she's on the Board of Supervisors.
Beth: And so talk to me about your time in city and county government. What was that experience like for you? What were you learning about yourself? How did you grow as an individual?
Susan: It was like drinking out of a fire hose, because every day something else comes at you. Also we were city-wide, so that was pretty exciting.
Probably the toughest time was when the mayor who appointed me vetoed a piece of legislation. The Board of Supervisors had taken a position against Proposition 187, which was a piece of legislation which would have allowed – in fact required – schools and health care providers to ask about the immigration status. I thought that was so appalling. I was probably a moderate to left leaning member and one of the more moderate members of the Board was also a Chinese American. And so the Chinese American supervisor and this Mexican American supervisor…
Beth: Which was you?
Susan: Yes. We led this legislation and, of course, the whole Board joined us because they felt it was the right thing. And then the mayor called me in and said, "I'm going to veto this." Called the other supervisor – Hsieh was his name –called him in and said, "I'm going to veto it." And then Tom and I caucused afterwards and we both said, "No, we got to do this." And we led to the mayor's – the mayor that appointed me – his first veto override; it was on this. So that was kind of crazy.
And then I went onto the Budget Committee, chair to the Budget Committee, and that was very fascinating, of course.
Beth: So you did five years on the Board of Supervisors and then ran for election as Treasurer.
Susan: Right. After five years on the Board, the Board was switching… Two things were happening. The Board was switching to "district" and the district I lived in, I did very, very strongly. So it wasn't an issue of like, "Oh, I wouldn't get reelected to my district," but I also liked working in other districts and I didn't want to be limited that way. And then an opportunity emerged. The current City and County Treasurer was retiring and I went down and met with her and said, "Will you support me?" And she said yes. So I ran for her position.
Beth: And then how many years were you Treasurer?
Susan: Gosh, was elected twice. I guess about seven years. Yeah.
Beth: And the previous person you just said was in the position until retirement. Why was that not your goal? Or maybe it was your goal.
Susan: It was great. I feel I modernized the office. Really did some good things there. Elected once, been reelected with about 87% of the vote. So, you know, I could have been there like my predecessor. She was there for 19 years. I could've kept going, but I had this crazy thing happen.
Beth: Tell me.
Susan: Well, the Chief of Staff to the current Mayor came to me and he said, "We want an a new General Manager for the Public Utilities Commission."
And I'm going, I know about their finances mainly because Treasurer also manages all the short term money, and the bond, and the all the public debt. But it was like, "What did I know about water?" Ran down hill, right?
So I said, "No, I'm not suitable for this position." And he kept bugging me about it and bugging me about it.
He said, "Can we go to lunch?"
I said, "I know what you're going to talk about. No."
And then he said, "No, well at least go to lunch," and then he ended up, of course, talking about it.
But then I said, "I don't really know," and he said, "Okay, I'm going to send you over some management consultant reports that have been done about the agency."
And the agency had trouble. They were under attack from their wholesale customers. They had had four general managers in five years. It was managing water for about two and a half million people. They were under a nine year rate freeze for sewer rates and seven year rate freeze for water rates. They were in trouble. And other cities were making a move to try to take some of the power away from this large utility from the city. And I'm like, "Okay, now I want to step up for that?"
And then when I looked at the management consulting reports, it wasn't that they didn't have enough scientists and engineers and water people because they did water, power and sewer. It wasn't that they didn't have enough of the pieces in terms of the science. It was, they needed financial help…
Beth: Hence your treasury background.
Susan: Yes. And they needed political help and they needed management help. And I thought I was a very good manager of people and I understood money. And I understood the politics of the city by that time. So crazy me, I said, "Sure."
Beth: Yes, because at this point you're understanding that the reason you were being asked wasn't because of your knowledge about water and other public utilities. You are being asked because of these other things that you were bringing.
Susan: More management, finance, understanding how you can move the levers of the city.
Beth: Running large organizations.
Susan: Right. I mean this was going from running an organization with a couple of hundred people to running an organization close to 3000 people. And a budget that was many times the size of the one I was running. So it was kind of wild.
Beth: So you step into this role and what did you do at that point to get yourself up to speed on the pieces you thought were you were missing?
Susan: Well I did two things when I became treasurer and when I became head of the PUC. I did a party for the staff. Can't do it out of government money, so both cases I did with my own money. I know it sounds simple and self-serving, but it was the best thing. I know when I did it when I was treasurer, it just became this party atmosphere. People would work like heck and then I'd start to hear the rumblings, "Are you going to do your Cinco de Mayo party this year? And are we going to have our big holiday buffet this year?"
So, it was those connections that you start. The most important thing, I believe, is make the connection with people.
Beth: It sounds like you came in and said, "Relationships first." Because I asked you about knowledge first and your answer was, "No, I went relationships first."
Susan: Yeah, because you knew they knew their stuff and you knew that you'd be able to ask them enough questions to figure out whether they knew things. I mean, one of the things I always used to say to people who would come in and say, "Well this is very complicated engineering," and I'd say, "You know, I'm not stupid. So if you understand it well enough, you can explain it to me."
So that was always… Even when I got some people pushing back, like, "Oh, she doesn't understand water. She doesn't understand engineering. She doesn't understand all these things." But, it was relationships.
Beth: Fast forwarding to today, you're doing work still in the water resource space as a consultant for Urban Water. Did you find a home and a passion for yourself with the PUC that you just didn't even know you had? Because I can see that you've carried it through. So what did you discover during this time about yourself?
Susan: It was a passion for something that is such a vital resource and I can see how much it meant. And also passion for infrastructure. Building stuff or making stuff work and the people that do that work. And I just fell in love with the folks, whether it was a plumber, whether it was somebody that was going to go down in a sewer or whether they were scientists testing the water quality or doing conservation. All very cool stuff.
Beth: So you were with the PUC for about four years.
Beth: And so just tell me what you did afterwards.
Susan: I was fortunate to get a at Harvard right after that and I did that fellowship for two years and then I did some work for an engineering firm. And…
Beth: It seems like after you left the the Public Utilities Commission that you took some freedom to put together a variety of things that interested you. So being able to be at Harvard as a Fellow, did some advising again, some legal advising, some consulting. At this point, was that part of what your thinking was, that "I've afforded myself the time in my career that I can now play in the different fields of interest that I have?" Or what was going on for you then?
Susan: Well, I was in what you would call "the water space" and I had moved into that. Ended up writing a book with a professor at Harvard.
Beth: You could have left the water space though too. Why not?
Susan: There was a lot going on.
Beth: One of the things I find interesting as I hear different stories is, while people might be curving through their careers, what are some through lines? And what I'm hearing as a through line in your story – and I'm wondering if I'm hearing this correctly – isn't necessarily that you, from a young age, were passionate about health care, or from a young age, were passionate about water or the environment, but that you are passionate about real issues of the day and getting them solved because real lives are at stake in all of these things that we're doing. Is that a fair assessment?
Susan: I hope it is. I hope it's a fair assessment because I believe in solutions. That was the one thing when we went to write the book. He was saying, "Well, we could talk about this, this and this."
I said, "No, we have to talk about solutions. We have to give people hope. We have to give people case studies that they can replicate."
In other words, it's one thing to go in and say, "A hospital is charging $5 for a slice of bread," and just get a big splash in that. You get your picture in the paper. Washington Post. A little thing in the New York Times. Great, but then what are you going to do about it? So that's why we pass legislation, which would allow state governments and employers to negotiate a more all-inclusive rate with a hospital. So that the solution.
Beth: Yeah, right. And then same thing with the book. We're not just going to say, "Here's what the problems are around water and water today, but here's case studies of solutions and let's help people find solutions.
Susan: Right, this is how people can fix it.
Beth: Great. And what are you doing now?
Susan: I'm working actually a little bit with my old utility. The current general manager of the utility likes to joke, "Well, you see Susan here because, you know, this problem was around when she was here and she didn't fix it while she was here, so we brought her back to fix it." That's his ongoing joke and I don't mind him telling the joke.
Beth: Thank you for your story. I've got some final questions that I like to ask everybody.
Beth: All right. What would you say is the smartest career move that you made, whether intentionally or accidentally?
Susan : I think one, the Treasurer's office and the other was taking that position in the PUC.
Beth: And why is that?
Susan: It opened a whole world for me that I am still very excited about. I'm even doing work in the Middle East on water because of that door that opened many years ago.
Beth: Oh, I love that, especially because I had asked the question of intentionally or accidentally, and I know you shared that story of that you fought that position, right? You had to be so talked into that position and yet that's the one that you say was the smartest.
Susan: I don't want to use expletives on your podcast, but that's what my first reaction is. "Are you out of your _ mind?
Beth: If you could have one do-over in your career, what would it be and why?
Susan: Oh wow. When I got the opportunity to help found a company from day one, not after six months or after three months, I probably should have taken that chance. I should have taken that risk. And I think that was probably more my background than my brain.
Beth: Your background making you feel risk averse?
Beth: And what part of your background do you think?
Susan: Well, I never wanted to be… I always wanted to be financially independent.
Beth: So that message early on from your parents still.
Beth: What's one piece of career advice that you wish you could have given your younger self?
Susan: Use your voice and learn that you have a voice. Even though I was an elected official and I gave a lot of campaign speeches, I don't think I found my voice until I was running the water utility. I realized at that point, even though I'd run a government office, it wasn't until I got to running such a large water utility – and it was one of the larger water utilities the country – that it dawned on me, you've got what it takes. And then I started to find my own voice.
So one of the messages I often give to, especially women, is you're just as smart as the guys, and remember you have a voice, and use it. So find your own voice early on.
Beth: Last question, how do you define success?
Susan: I don't know. I'm still trying to go for it. And maybe… I don't know, maybe I could call myself successful. Close.
Beth: Constant work in progress.
Susan: Absolutely a work in progress.
Beth: All right, well, thank you for today. It's been a pleasure.
Susan: Thank you, Beth.
Beth: A quick epilogue. We've put a link to Susan's book, Running Out of Water, The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Precious Resource, on our website, careercurves.com.
While there, check out past episodes and other resources we've posted to help you in your career.
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That's it for this episode. As always, thanks for listening.