Senior Vice President
Location: St. Louis, MO
Industry: Investor-owned Water and Wastewater Utility
When Todd Thomas looks back on his career, he says one of the most important risks he took was joining a startup (Central States Water Resources [CSWR]) as employee number four.
“The most important risk I have taken is joining a startup as employee number 4,” he said. “With four young children at home, I approached my wife Meg with my desire to leave the safety of a comfortable position to pursue the challenge of helping build a regulated water and wastewater utility,” he recalled.
Six years later, he describes that move as the “most fulfilling and rewarding professional experience” he could ever imagine.
When Thomas took the leap, nothing was a sure thing. The goal was to acquire struggling and distressed utilities, rebuild them and operate them to provide safe, reliable and environmentally sustainable water services.
But there were many uncertainties ahead. Could they acquire facilities, secure adequate funding and gain regulatory approval? Could they successfully rebuild the plants and operate them with all the customer service features expected in a utility?
Thomas joined CSWR on January 1, 2017. At the time, the company had fewer than 1,000 customers and operated solely in the state of Missouri. By the end of 2022, it was serving more than 200,000 customers in 10 states, making CSWR the single largest owner-operator of wastewater systems in the U.S. And by the end of 2023, CSWR will have plants in two more states. So did it overcome those uncertainties? The answer is a resounding “yes.”
“Leaders need to be confident enough to make decisions and take risks while at the same time gathering information and listening to others to develop ideal approaches and strategies,” he said.
Water utilities serving less than 2,500 people make up only 10% of all water utilities in the U.S., but they make up 80% of the EPA’s acute human health violations. Those small communities face unique challenges and significant investment barriers. For many, the water service is so distressed that it can’t even be used for laundry, much less for drinking or bathing.
That’s the problem CSWR has set out to address, serving predominantly smaller, underserved communities across its footprint. The company has a track record for taking systems that have been out of compliance with numerous EPA regulations for years and bringing them back into compliance, thus driving community development and investment.
“The utility business is heavily regulated, and the acquisition and rate making process is arduous. Todd’s leadership in our business development, engineering and operations areas has literally set the bar for the small water company acquisition process,” said his nominator.
“However, it’s not just knowledge, experience and results that make Todd a titan. He’s passionate about developing the people he leads and with the overall health of the organization,” his nominator said. “Over and over again through the years, I have watched Todd roll up his sleeves and get ‘into the weeds’ with his team. It is truly a gifted leader who is as comfortable operating at the C-suite level as they are with digging in with their teams to help problem-solve.”
Todd is an avid outdoorsman and loves to hunt and fish. I have never seen it myself, but evidently he and his wife Meg are quite the pickleball duo. He loves funny movies and if you ever need to quote Christmas Vacation, he is your guy.