Reader Profile: Deborah Degillio

Feb. 20, 2018

Deborah Degillio is president of American Water Enterprises, the market-based products and services division of American Water. She also is a mother of two boys, ages 7 and 9. “They tell me, ‘The water we drink in our house is from you,’” she says. Degillio is not only pleased that her sons appreciate what she does for a living, but is also pleased to be part of the multi-pronged effort it takes to transmit water to customers throughout the US via the nation’s largest publicly-traded water and wastewater utility company.

Degillio oversees American Water’s three market-based business units providing services in the US and Canada. The contract services and military services groups provide design, construction, operation, and management of water and wastewater systems. The homeowner services group, operating as American Water Resources LLC, provides water and wastewater service line and in-home plumbing protection programs to homeowners. The company’s market-based businesses complement American Water’s core competencies and focus on emerging technologies such as water reuse/recycling, desalination, and water-energy innovations. American Water President and CEO Susan Story credits Degillio for having a proven track record in financial planning, budgeting, achieving business goals, and being a key leader in the company’s overall performance and financial success.

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What She Does Day to Day
Degillio’s days normally entail many meetings, but she says her favorite days are the ones where she gets out into the field to be with employees. Listening to and learning from them on how they are serving customers is her job’s most rewarding aspect, she says. “As an executive, I spend a lot of time thinking about our strategic direction—what we can do to help deliver clean water to our customers and services across the US,” she adds.

What Led Her Into This Line of Work
Degillio waited tables to help finance her studies at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. Every weekend, a woman would sit with her children in Degillio’s section. That woman was a Dairyland Power Cooperative executive where Degillio would eventually secure an internship, which planted a seed for a career in the utility industry. “In the mid-1990s, everybody was excited about the dot coms,” she says. “Utilities weren’t that exciting, but I always found them interesting, so I’ve stayed my entire career in utilities.” Degillio earned a B.S. in math/statistics and finance from the university and an MBA from the University of Michigan. Her more than 20 years of experience in the utility and energy sectors began with two consulting firms, CSC Planmetrics and MCR Performance Solutions. Degillio joined American Water in 2007 as director of financial planning and analysis. She was named vice president of the eastern division finance team in 2009, where she was responsible for financial analysis and planning as well as rates strategy and execution for nine states in American Water’s regulated operations. She also served on the company’s executive management team as vice president of finance, responsible for business strategy, long-term planning, forecasting, management reporting, and driving financial performance.

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What She Likes Best About Her Work
Degillio says she likes American Water so much, she hopes it’s the company from which she retires. “I feel very fortunate. I’m inspired,” she says. “I feel like what we do matters. The best part for me is to see employees who are dedicated, care about our customers, and are passionate about water quality and serving customers. It’s contagious and fun to be around.”

Her Greatest Challenge “What is most challenging in a competitive space is how we educate customers and potential customers on the value we bring,” notes Degillio, adding that industry change is dynamic. “Ten years ago, nobody really understood what it takes to get water delivered to their house. You turn on the tap, it comes out, and you’re happy. Unlike electricity where everybody across the nation understands that they are served by an industrial utility regulated by the public utility commissions, water is very different. People don’t understand it as much.” That takes significant public education as well as industry introspection into how water utility leaders will shape the industry going forward, she says; “The service we provide, people ingest, and that’s a very serious responsibility.”
About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.