Leadership

Building a Sustainable Legacy with George Hawkins

July 3, 2024

Building a Sustainable Legacy with George Hawkins

George Hawkins

Founder and CEO of Moonshot Missions and Former CEO of DC Water

Willy took a trip down memory lane with George Hawkins as they discussed the incredible turnaround at DC Water when Willy was Chairman of the Board and George was General Manager. Under their leadership, they took one of the most problematic public utilities in the country, The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, and turned it into one of the most innovative, customer-driven, environmentally friendly utilities on earth.

Building a sustainable legacy with George Hawkins

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with George Hawkins, the CEO and founder of Moonshot Missions, a non-profit focused on providing the support to help transform public utilities to help shape communities.  Before his work at Moonshot Missions, George and I worked together at the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority. He worked as the General Manager, and I was the Chairman of the Board. Together, we were able to turn one of the most problematic public utilities in the country into one of the most innovative, customer-driven, and environmentally friendly agencies.

Early days at DC Water

When George and I joined the team at DC Water, formerly known as DC Water and Sewer Authority (“DC WASA”), our work was cut out for us. The prior leadership left DC WASA in a very vulnerable position, as one of the government organizations in DC with the worst customer service, as well as a lead crisis that had not been adequately communicated to the community. The fact that the crisis was not communicated to the people of DC led to a bit of a scandal, with a huge story in the Washington Post being published on the lead scare. As you might guess, this put us in quite the predicament from the very beginning.

What set George apart?

George was a rather unconventional hire as the General Manager of a Water and Sewer provider. When I was hiring for the role, I was looking for someone with experience in running Water and Sewer operations. However, the Mayor urged me to consider George, who was a lawyer by trade. Looking back now, I realize that hiring George was one of the best decisions I made during my tenure at DC WASA. Overall, the utility was running perfectly fine from a technical standpoint; the issue we faced pertained to public perception, customer service, and communication. As a lawyer with excellent communication skills and an extensive history of dealing with DC WASA, George was the perfect person for the job.

Listening to feedback and providing solutions

One of the steps that George took to right the ship was holding town hall meetings where citizens of DC could interface with him and some other members of the team. At first, these meetings were more or less George and the team being crucified by angry customers, but they slowly evolved into sessions where George gathered important information from customers, and used it to implement solutions to the largest problems the department was facing. Over time, this built rapport between George and the people of DC and his team at DC Water.

Want more?

George exemplifies the kind of leadership that uses private sector innovation and strategy to help public utilities build a sustainable future. I regularly talk with the most brilliant minds of our time, like George, who are solving some of the biggest challenges we face today. To see our list of upcoming guests, subscribe to the Walker Webcast.

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