Lewis Harrison never imagined that he would make a career in Wastewater; seven jobs and 44 years later. Last month, Harrison bid adieu to the SFPUC, but not before laying groundwork for others to build on.
“One of the most important things you can do in a leadership role, is learn from mistakes, initiate a leadership role in how you run your organization and invest in your staff. Give them the tools and mentorship they need to work hard and do a good job,” said Harrison, Collection System Division Manager for the SFPUC’s Wastewater Enterprise.
Harrison’s first job in Wastewater was as a Student Engineer Trainer. From there he went to being a Sanitary Engineer Technician to a Wastewater Control Inspector, until the 1989 earthquake hit and his manager made him an acting supervisor.
“I realized how much I enjoyed the work and how important the job I was doing was to the health and safety of San Franciscans,” said Harrison.
Much like Harrison’s first game of golf, he knew that in time, with practice and with the right tools and strategy, he would not only “beat the game” but maximize the potential of Wastewater Management.
“I love this job and I have excellent staff,” Harrison exclaimed.
Rightfully so, as sewer crews continue with their essential work during the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure the sewer system continues to function properly. Five years ago, Harison had a vision: to adopt a quality assurance program that would prove a top to bottom commitment to put quality systems in place that would further emphasize the SFPUC’s commitment to going above and beyond what’s required to protect public health and the environment.
After rigorous oversite and auditing from a third party, the SFPUC’s Wastewater Enterprise became the first utility agency in the country to become ISO 14001 certified. The international standard provides a framework that an organization can follow, rather than establishing environmental performance requirements.
“It’s transparent; you can see every detail, from how we do our work, to the data. The public can be critical,” explained Harrison.
When asked what the biggest challenge was, Harrison says it was getting a group of 108 people to put their personal preferences aside, including getting them out of the habit of saving paper copies of everything.
“I had to share the vision of the day banker boxes would be obsolete. Everything is on the cloud,” said Harrison.
The technology is not only saving time in diagnosing problems but if anything goes wrong with the wastewater equipment, staff can quickly figure out what went wrong, see a workflow and implement corrective actions. Harrison says no matter if he is at the helm or not, that with the management system in place and with the dedication of the staff, the good work will continue.
Harrison says he has a lot to be thankful for, a career in Wastewater, the game of golf and his family. He couldn’t ask for anything more.
“You sell your life to the job,” explains Harrison. “But it takes time out of your prime time. I’m looking forward to spending more time with my wife, grand babies, and family. I wish everyone success in the pursuit of genuine happiness.”