Water and Power Board Commissioner Susana Reyes shares her personal history and version of Pinoy pride

Los Angeles Celebrates Filipino American History Month in October

Board of Water and Power Commissioner Susana Reyes

Susana Reyes retired from LADWP in April 2019 following 32 years of City and LADWP service. She was most recently the director of the LADWP’s Low Income Customer Access program in Customer Service but had worn many hats before then having worked in the General Manager’s Office, Human Resources, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Department of General Services. The long-time public servant was excited to finally jump into retirement when she received a call from the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti just three days after officially retiring. It was a call of duty, but nothing like any of the calls she had taken previously from bosses and mentors. She was asked to serve the ratepayers of the LADWP with a seat on the Board of Water and Power commission.

The Filipino Americans at LADWP gathered to share a proud moment with Commissioner Susana Reyes, in celebration of Filipino American History Month in October. Photo by Chris Corsmeier.

“I hadn’t even had a minute to settle into retirement,” the commissioner laughingly recalls. “But how can I say no to the Mayor, and the unique opportunity to be the first LADWP retiree and Filipino American to serve on the board?” Since her first commission meeting on June 12, 2019, Commissioner Reyes has made her presence on the Board known and felt, asking tough questions of staff and pushing the envelope to advance many LADWP initiatives including those related to sustainability and equity.

But the Board meeting on October 8th was special to her. During her opening remarks, the commissioner proudly spotlighted her cultural roots and announced that October is Filipino American History Month.  The month-long holiday has been observed in California since 2009 through a resolution passed by California State Senator Leland Yee. Today, Los Angeles is home to the largest Filipino population outside of the Philippines, and Historic Filipino town just outside of Downtown is the first official geographic designation honoring the contributions of Filipinos in America. It is a special time to celebrate Filipino Americans who work hard every day to contribute to the nation’s second largest city as well as the entire United States. Among those are the approximately 600 who are part of the LADWP workforce and the thousands of others working for the City of Los Angeles. Addressing the Filipino-Americas present at the Board meeting, Commissioner Reyes said, “Representation is very important for the Filipino American community. To all my fellow Filipino Americans, this is a time and opportunity to reflect upon your achievements and highlight your diverse contributions to our national history and culture. I am excited to celebrate with all of you.”

Photo credit: @mayorofLA on Instagram

Towards the end of October after taking a commemorative photo with nearly 150 LADWP employees who identify as Filipino American, Commissioner Reyes settled into her office on the top floor of the LADWP Headquarters. Looking to the iconic Los Angeles City Hall she said, “Later this week, City Hall will be lit like the colors of the Philippine flag. It will be quite a sight and the Mayor’s Office will be hosting a celebration of Filipino American leaders especially the ‘Pinay’ (female Filipinos, a colloquial shortened version of Filipinas) visionaries.” Sure enough, the Mayor’s Instagram page captured the landmark lit up in the colors of the Philippine flag on October 25th.

A Pinay visionary herself, Susana Reyes has quite a personal history that was built on strong family support and a character she describes as “non-conforming” that she carried with her all these years. Born and raised in the Philippine capital of Manila, she is the second in a family of 3 girls and one boy. Her mother was also a civil servant but left public service in the Philippines to be a full-time mom when her father’s legal career representing the aeronautics industry brought the entire family to Hawaii, California and later back to Manila. Commissioner Reyes recalls that she and her siblings grew up with what she describes as a diverse view of the world. “I eat anything. I make friends anywhere,” she shares. “Having gone to different places growing up, I developed openness to everyone around me, and I’ve always found it strange, even at a young age, to experience other people who may not be as welcoming of other cultures and backgrounds as I was raised to be.”

She looks back to her college days back in Manila. Amidst political turmoil during the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos, the younger Susana produced and directed radical plays in college that criticized corruption, waste, pollution, and rampart poverty. She took her plays to different barrios in Manila and joined protest marches, inspiring and empowering the disadvantaged but not without the threat of arrest. “My mom used to watch the news all the time hoping she wouldn’t see me getting arrested by the police,” she says. “While I’m sure it was difficult for them at the time, my parents allowed me to thrive, never questioning my activism.”  In return, Reyes continued to make her parents proud by completing her education with the highest honors.

Having experienced the third world struggles with water shortage, regular “brownouts” or power interruptions, and flooding because of poor infrastructure, Commissioner Reyes had many reasons to be spurred to activism. Seeing calamities and natural disasters, her perspective set earlier in her life led to a passion for the environment manifested in significant ways including launching and overseeing the City of Los Angeles’ Facilities Recycling Program, holding the Vice President post on the Sierra Club’s Board and executive committee, and taking the role of Senior Sustainability Analyst in the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.  “Such experiences gave me the courage to look at the world through a different lens, and maybe, even, to polish those views for others, “ Reyes stated.

As robust as her career has been, Commissioner Reyes is also a mother and she, like many women in the workforce, balanced both responsibilities. As she raised her four children, she also made sure she imparted to them Filipino values and culture, fostering in them the same passion for the community and providing the strong family support she had while growing up. Her eyes light up talking about her family.

“It’s important to me that my kids know who they are and understand their roots. I’ve shared with my kids our family’s history including old World War II stories from my grandparents. They grew up here but they speak and eat Filipino. I even scolded them in Filipino when they were little, just so no one else understood what I was saying,” she says laughing.  “But I’m very proud of the fact that all my children are gainfully employed, raising their families and giving back to the community. I think that’s the test to see if I’ve been doing it right.” she says.

Recently, one of Commissioner Reyes’ twins decided that instead of having a birthday party, she would gather her friends and have them help put together backpacks for foster children. The backpacks each had a blanket, teddy bear, a pajama set, food and snacks, helping the children in foster care have something constant in their lives should they need to move from house to house. Her other daughter who co-owns Coolhaus Ice Cream Sandwiches donated inventory to air passengers when Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast and cut off power to their New York warehouse. Instead of wasting perfectly good ice cream sandwiches, Coolhaus helped stock airlines that had limited food supplies also as a result of the disaster.

“I’ve told my children that they are privileged and as such, they need to step up,” Commissioner Reyes said. “They get it. And I’m proud to see that they are visible, contributing and they make a difference.”

When asked about what makes her proudest to be Filipino, Commissioner Reyes points out how Filipinos make easy friends. She says, “Filipinos usually treat everyone else like family, calling family friends ‘Tito’ (uncle) or ‘Tita’ (aunt). We are inclusive and welcoming of others.” By building her network, Commissioner Reyes herself found it easier to be mentored professionally and to mentor in return. She credits previous supervisors who challenged her to take on different assignments and apply for positions as she progressed through her LADWP career. Over the years as she took on supervisory roles, she mentored many others both Filipino Americans and otherwise. “When I recognized talent, I gave stretch assignments and challenged my staff so they can grow even more in their profession. It’s my way of giving back and I’m proud to see many whom I’ve helped grow into management and supervisory roles.”

She adds, “Another thing I’m proud about as a Filipino is that we are a hardworking people. You’ll see that Filipinos throw themselves at their work and are very willing to finish assignments. And that hard work is driven by ambition and love for family. Filipinos are committed to providing for their families, planning for their kids’ future, pushing to get them an education and a career. And while we make sure we find ways to provide for our children, we are also thinking of ways to support extended family in need.”

She observes that despite being hardworking, many Filipino Americans unknowingly tend to be submissive to other cultures in the workplace, and that this may be attributed to the more than 300 years of colonization of the Philippines by Spain and another 40 by the United States. “This is what we call colonial mentality, and that’s just not right. Being a Filipino American means being a change maker. The only way that change can be transformative is if you’re really there, boots in the ground, understanding and stepping in, and making sense out of what needs to be change. I want our kababayans (fellow Filipinos or countrymen) to be more outspoken, to claim our place in front and center. We work hard and we deserve to let our voices be heard.”

She on the other hand does not have a hard time being heard. The change maker in Susana Reyes is a force to be reckoned with. Even more so in the month of October when she represents her cultural community. “I hope Filipinos can see that with my post on the Board, I am speaking not only for them but for our ratepayers for the benefit of LADWP,” she says. “As a commissioner, I am proud to represent, I can make controversial decisions and I’m not afraid of it.” And for Filipino Americans at LADWP and the City of Los Angeles who know her, Commissioner Reyes inspires Pinoy pride and empowerment. Mabuhay ka, Susana at ang lahat ng ating mga kababayan!

# # #

 

 

 




Woman in purple suit standing in front of wall with LADWP seal

Q & A with Reiko A. Kerr – LADWP’s First Woman to Lead Power System

Interview By Carol Tucker

Reiko Kerr became the first woman to lead LADWP’s Power System when she joined the Department in 2016. From Day 1, she took it as a personal responsibility to create mentoring opportunities to support emerging women engineers and new programs to promote and recruit women in LADWP’s workforce. In recognition of her commitment to advancing women in the electric power industry, Reiko recently received the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Spark Award, which honors individuals who have contributed to the advancement of women by mentoring those around them.

Reiko, who is Senior Assistant General Manager of Power System Engineering, Planning, and Technical Services, co-leads the Power System with Andrew C. Kendall, Senior Assistant General Manager of Power System Construction, Maintenance, and Operations. Reiko manages all aspects of the Power System’s critical engineering and planning functions including: generation, transmission, and distribution engineering; business development, renewable energy programs, Clean Grid LA, regulatory compliance, and contract administration. One of her biggest responsibilities is to lead the Power System’s transition to a clean energy future, including participation in the Energy Imbalance Market (EIM).

Intake had the opportunity to talk with Reiko recently about being a woman in a traditionally male profession, her vision for L.A.’s energy future, and other topics.

****

When you first came on board, there was a lot of discussion at the executive level and at the Board of Water and Power Commissioners regarding gender equity at LADWP. Have you seen much progress in this area?

Women make up approximately 35 percent of LADWP’s Power System. But if you remove women in clerical, customer services, and administrative positions, it is quite different. Clearly, these positions are critical to LADWP’s success, but women should also have access to the non-traditional roles that have historically been occupied predominately by men. In 2018, we promoted six women to management-level positions, which represented a 600 percent increase. In 2019, for first time, we now have female Electrical Services Managers assigned to the field.

This isn’t a situation unique to LADWP. The industry as a whole must do better. Mayor (Eric) Garcetti issued Executive Directive No. 11 regarding Gender Equity in City Operations to ensure the City’s governance is inclusionary and non-discriminatory for populations that have historically been underrepresented.

What is it like to be a woman in a non-traditional field?

I think it’s important to remember that we need our male supporters and mentors. It’s a very different message when I talk about the importance of gender diversity versus when Andy Kendall does it. Either way, it’s the right thing to do, but the message is different when it is supported by men. When I look at other successful women in the industry, without fail, each has been supported and mentored by male colleagues. As an organization, we must ensure that all employees, including women have equal opportunities in the workplace. It is also important that we confront our individual implicit biases. We all have them and it’s important to recognize them and work hard to overcome them.

When the faces of our employees match the communities we serve, we will know we have been successful. We have work to do so that we ensure our workforce reflects the communities we serve. Anything less is unacceptable.

There is a lot of institutional stereotyping that is changing over time, but it’s still not there. You see more diversity on the vendor side, but not so much in the institutional utilities. What’s nice to see is that in the industry, conferences are putting more of a focus on having diverse panels.

How do you navigate the challenge of being in charge of a largely male organization such as the LADWP Power System?

As the new member of the team, I build consensus as I build my team. I earn their respect. When I come into a workplace, I don’t make wholesale changes – I want to learn the lay of the land first. Here, I think I’ve done a good job of coming in and gaining the respect of my team, recognizing their strengths and weaknesses, and acknowledging contributions from our team members. That’s the key: it’s the team, it’s not me. I also recognize you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. So to be successful, surround yourself with successful, hard-working, technically capable people, and the sky’s the limit.

You are a role model for women here at LADWP as well as younger women who aspire to careers in STEM. What advice do you have for women either starting out in their careers or working to advance to higher levels in management at their organizations?

Be flexible. Don’t map out your career path. Be flexible in your career path and your career choices. If I had mapped out my path when I started, I’d be completely wrong. And I hear that from women all over. I am a finance person, I’m a CPA, and here I am in the Power System. Recognize that skill sets are transferable. So I say get your name out there, get your face out there. Raise your hand and volunteer. But then if you do, don’t let them down. Meet your commitments, go above and beyond.

Attitude. Is. Everything. Your attitude is contagious – good or bad. You set an example. Are you open to new ideas? Critical of new ideas? Supportive of your team members? Do you figure out a way to get to Yes? Do you support your colleagues? Do you celebrate other’s success (even if that person was your competition)? Are you angry? Are you critical?  Do you continually point out problems, or do you identify problems and offer up solutions? Are you grounded in other’s perception of you and does that align with your perception of yourself? Be aware of opportunities that exist. Continue to enhance your skill sets. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Know your value proposition. What value do you bring to the table?

What are the biggest challenges for LADWP’s Power System?

First – personnel. We need to ensure we have the right work force and skill set for our future utility business needs. As we move to adopting advance technology and smart grid, we need data scientists and statistical analysts to help make informed decisions. We need cyber security expertise and computer science engineers. We need people with the right core competencies and updated recruiting tools to give LADWP a competitive advantage.

There are also challenges created by the silver tsunami, with a high number of personnel retiring. Considering the time required to train new personnel, and the challenge of retaining them, this can create quite a knowledge gap. We need to be able to retain staff in critical classifications to ensure appropriate operations of our system.

Second—infrastructure. We are working to modernize our 100-year-old infrastructure to enable advanced technology and an electric system that will last for the next century while maintaining the same level of reliability.  The investments we make today need to meet our future customers’ needs.

What are you most excited about?

I’m very excited to see staff’s engagement regarding LA100 – the 100 Percent Renewable Study, launched in fall 2017, as well as the Clean Grid LA efforts. This has been a very robust process led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory with a diverse citizen-based Advisory Group representing multiple interests. We expect to see preliminary results by the end of 2019. Ultimately, the study will provide a roadmap for achieving 100 percent renewables or 100 percent carbon free supply. I think we’re on the right path.




In Memoriam: August 2019

LADWP extends its condolences to the families and friends of current and former employees who have recently passed.  Visit the Water and Power Retired Employees’ Retirement Plan website to view and download monthly notices of retirees and active employees who have passed away.

As of August 2019

Warren H. Ash, 96 Power Design and Construction
Rudolph F. Barbosa, 87 Power Distribution
Norma J. Bates, 83 Power Distribution
Joseph G. Brooks Jr., 72 Power  Distribution
Francis D. Busser, 86 Accounting
Raymond Corley Jr., 83 Water Engineering
Laroy A. Dameron, 89 Water Operating Division
George G. Daniel, 95 General Services
Eleanor P. Dudley, 94 Management Information Services
Alexander Godfrey, 69 Customer Service Division
Jerry F. Harrington, 86 Power Distribution
William Y. Ishibashi, 84 Fleet Services
Sharon F. Janis, 75 Customer Service Division
Claude E. Jeffreys, 86 General Services
David L. Jensen, 74 Power Distribution Executive
Richard T. Kimura, 86 General Services
Shige Kishiyama, 92 General Services
Harold L. Lewis, 83 Power Transmission and Distribution
Gary D. Lyles, 77 Administrative
Manlio A. Manzano, 80 General Services
Leslie J. Mazug, 87 Power Operating and Maintenance
Cliff P. Meyer, 74 Water Quality and Distribution Pumping
Perry L. Morgan Jr., 95 Power Operating and Maintenance
Jane S. Nishimura, 99 Commercial Services
William Rodriguez, 88 Power Design and Construction
John F. Roser, 88 Water Operating
George R. Spencer, 78 Conservation and Planning
Edward Sturtevant, 87 General Services
Henry J. Valdez, 84 Asset Management
Clifford L. Williams, 78 Power  Distribution

 

*Late Notice




Retirements: October 2019

We extend sincere congratulations to all the employees who, after many years of dedicated service, are joining the ranks of LADWP retirees. For a complete archive  and the latest month of retirement listings, visit the Water and Power Employees Retirement Plan website.

October 2019

Alexander, David F. Information Technology Services
Bridges, Montgomery A. Water Distribution
Collado, Renate B. Power Planning, Development and Engineering
Congrove, Kathleen A. Water Quality
Cruz, Rolando Integrated Support Services
Davis, Damon C. Water Distribution
De Weese, Rex S. Integrated Support Services
Dominguez, Miguel Y. Power Transmission and Distribution
Gonzalez, Jaime H. Power Supply Operations
Hardy, Nancy A. Supply Chain Services
Haynes, Robin J. Customer Service Division
Hogan, Timothy M. Power Operating and Maintenance
Kung, Gregory K. Information Technology Services
Lim, George M. Water Engineering
Liu, Nelson Integrated Support Services
Lovato, Lawrence J. Integrated Support Services
Lukjaniec, Rhoda K. Supply Chain Services
Mitchell, Jeffrey C. Integrated Support Services
Munis, Michael E. Water Operations
Nesby, Brenda S. Accounting and Financial Reporting
Ramirez, Madeline R. Finance And Risk Control
Rangel, Raul Power Transmission and Distribution
Reyes, Yvonne M. Power Transmission and Distribution
Rios, Maria J. Business Support Services
Rugar, Paul J. Water Engineering
Sedwick-Griffin, Karen D. Water Distribution
Sherrill, Rebecca J. Power New Business
Silva, Enrique Customer Service Division
Smythe, Stephen M. Facilities Management / JFB
Sneed, Pamela D. Customer Service Division
Swinkles, Mark J. Water Distribution
Toledo, Henry E. Water Distribution
Wolf, Andrew W. Fleet Services
Wong, Raymond K. Retirement Plan Office
Yoshinaga, Bert M. Water Distribution