Emma Maxey, Golden State Water Company
Emma Maxey could hardly have imagined that a simple walk along Los Angeles’ Wilshire Blvd. one day in June 1979 would turn into a 40-year journey.
Maxey had relocated to Los Angeles from Indianapolis the previous year. When she arrived, the practical side of her said to find a job working for a large bank, something she had done back home. But in her heart, she yearned to travel, perhaps she’d even become a flight attendant. After all, it was wanderlust that had drawn her to California, but then fate intervened.
Her walk landed her in front of the corporate headquarters of the Southern California Water Company, which would later become Golden State Water. At the time, the company was hiring and, on a whim, she applied. A telephone message was waiting for her by the time she arrived home. Two days later, she started as an entry-level engineer clerk.
“When I joined Southern California Water, I knew nothing about water except that it came out of a faucet!” admitted Maxey, who retires from Golden State Water in July. “But what I did know is that there was a wide range of job opportunities available at the corporate office. It’s why I’ve stayed with the company this long.” And she took advantage of every opportunity to learn more about the “business” of water.
A Thirst for More
Maxey served seven years in her first position, which required her to process reams of blueprints, tax code area maps and property documents. It was a tedious, manual process but it introduced her to other departments in the company, including design, engineering and drafting. This sparked an interest in mechanical drawings which led to her studying to become a draftsman.
With an unquenchable thirst for a challenge, Maxey, in 1986, took a new position assisting the utility’s sanitary engineer. Again, studying on her own time, she became a certified water distribution operator, which gave her a broader understanding of the fundamentals of water supply operations. Two years later, she was named the utility’s new business administrator and in 1990, she was promoted to new business manager.
In those roles, she worked with developers and their representatives, city planners, fire departments and permitting agencies to ensure that all proposed projects in the utility’s service area included adequate water service for domestic use and fire protection.
A 2001 company reorganization eliminated the position of new business manager and landed her in a new role as a contract administrator. In 2004, fate again intervened when she was asked to oversee supplier diversity, which was a new function for the utility.
A New World for Supplier Diversity
In 2003, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) began requiring investor-owned water utilities to establish programs for and begin reporting their purchasing from women-, minority-, and disabled veteran-owned enterprises. (It was later expanded to include LGBTQ-owned businesses.) Seven water companies joined to form the California Water Association’s inaugural Utility Supplier Diversity Program (USDP) Committee: California American Water, California Water, Golden State Water, Liberty Utilities, San Gabriel Valley Water, San Jose Water and Suburban Water Systems. With Maxey as chair, a position she held for five years, the committee developed a supplier diversity program that met the CPUC’s 21.5 percent diverse purchasing requirement and laid the foundation for an industry-wide supplier diversity initiative.
Her role as committee chair provided the ideal platform to help shape supplier diversity policy for the state’s water industry. It also provided the opportunity to channel a passion for helping diverse suppliers. And she succeeded in both, a consensus shared by fellow committee members Jack Hawks, California Water Association; Charmaine Jackson, then at San Jose Water and Keith Switzer, Golden State Water.
“I love this job,” said Maxey. “I feel rewarded just knowing that many of the vendors I’ve met have become certified and have won new business from us. But that doesn’t happen without the commitment of senior management. Our supplier diversity efforts wouldn’t be nearly as successful without the support of a wonderful procurement team and our CEO, who encourages us to far exceed the CPUC’s goals.” The utility now purchases nearly one-third of all its goods and services from diverse suppliers.
In April, Maxey won Diversity Professional Magazine’s Women of Excellence Legacy Award for her contributions to supplier diversity and service to numerous organizations, including the Asian Business Association, Black Business Association, California Chamber of Commerce and the Native American Chamber of Commerce. Despite those achievements, Maxey, a single mother, considers her son, Paul Roberson, as her greatest accomplishment. She instilled in him a similar drive for success; he earned an undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and both a juris doctor and master’s degree in international criminal law and justice from the University of New Hampshire School of Law.
Looking back at her four-decade-long career, Maxey said, “Supplier diversity has been the most rewarding position of my working career because I feel as though I’ve done something special and made a real difference. I’m going to miss that feeling and I’m going to miss many of the people I’ve had the chance to work with. It’s hard saying goodbye.’