AWWA Articles

New AWWA president grounded in principles of people, technology, leadership

Jim Williams literally learned the mechanics of water supply from the ground up by helping drill wells and pulling and setting pumping equipment as a field hand during high school and college in his home state of Indiana.

Jim Williams“I grew fascinated by the technology associated with water supply systems,” said Williams (pictured right), the newly-installed president of the American Water Works Association.

Williams also had family ties to the water sector; his father helped found Peerless-Midwest in the early 1970s near Mishawaka, where young Jim and his five siblings grew up. In 1997, Williams was appointed President and CEO at Peerless-Midwest. He managed the company’s sale and acquisition to SUEZ in 2016 and continues to serve as general manager.

Developing as a leader

Williams began his water sector career by completing a bachelor’s degree in business management at Indiana University, then taking a job with Floway, a manufacturer of turbine pumps.

“I was exposed to large-scale water treatment projects all over the country,” he said. “Once I was able to understand the significant impact the water industry has on public health, I was hooked for life.”

Williams also was inspired by reading about successful business and sports leaders like Lee Iacocca, Vince Lombardi, John Wooden and Phil Jackson.

“I learned that no matter how brilliant you may think your business model is, it all comes down to the people,” he said. “Hire the best and brightest, take good care of them, and treat them with respect.”

He has applied these principles to his own distinguished career in the water industry while embracing the resources and opportunities offered by AWWA.

“Jim is first and foremost a connector – he’s always looking to bring people together, so their skills and interests merge into something larger and better than before,” said Melissa Elliott, AWWA’s president-elect. “It’s that big-picture leadership that makes me so excited to work with Jim as he begins his term as AWWA president.”

Growth through AWWA

Williams became involved with AWWA’s Indiana Section more than 30 years ago to meet people and network. “It didn’t take long before I was volunteering for committee work, going through the district chairs and then the Section-level chairs,” he said. "When I served as director and got an understanding of all that goes on at the Association level, I wanted to be a bigger part of that.”

He went on to sit on AWWA’s Water Utility Council and received several water industry awards, including the Kenneth J. Miller Founders’ Award, the Hoosier Water Award and the George Warren Fuller Award.

“There is a lot of intrinsic satisfaction from volunteering for AWWA,” he said.Jim Williams and David Rager at gavel passing

David Rager (pictured right with Williams), AWWA’s past president, said, “Having been very active in the Indiana Section, Jim appreciates the important role the sections have in the success of AWWA and successfully serving the water industry.  I look forward to working with Jim, knowing that the AWWA Board and Association are in good hands.”

Williams’ passion for people, combined with his love of motorcycles, drew him to the Water Buffalos – motorcycle riders who raise money for nonprofits that provide safe drinking water, sanitation services and environmental stewardship to communities in need.

“When I found out I could support the great work of Water For People while riding to ACE with the Buffalos, it was a match made in heaven,” he said.

His support for Water For People extended to serving on the board of directors from 2009 to 2015, during which he had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia, Honduras and IndiaJim on motorcycle. “I was deeply moved by the transformative work being done to provide safe water and sanitation around the world,” he said.

“Jim’s years serving on the Water for People Board have given him a unique perspective on the challenges of providing a safe reliable supply of water to people in challenging environments,” Rager said. “I have particularly appreciated and valued Jim’s ability to bring the service provider perspective to our discussions as presidential officers.” (Pictured right, Jim leaving to join the Water Buffalos for ACE)

Looking forward as AWWA president

Proud to be the first well and pump contractor to serve as AWWA president, Jim brings to the role his strong appreciation for the people within an organization.

“I continue to be impressed every day by the caliber of the thousands of volunteers who help make this such a strong and effective organization,” he said. Commending the efforts of past AWWA presidents Rager and Brenda Lennox, Williams added, “We will continue to focus on member value to further enhance our membership.”

Fellow board member Elliott supports Williams’ focus on membership. “Jim has tasked the presidential officer team with looking at membership in a different way. His vision of sharing AWWA with more water professionals and growing our membership with those who touch our industry is motivating,” she said.

Williams acknowledged recent successes in addressing the water sector’s financial challenges, including renewed funding through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), the State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs, and the conservation title in the 2018 farm bill.

“There is, however, much more work to be done to ensure water systems are sustainable and resilient,” he said. “It’s time for a concerted effort to stop our infrastructure problems from getting passed on to future generations.”

He added, “Most of the challenges are local in nature where our elected officials need to have the political courage to insist on rates that allow proper management of our utilities. Many communities are accomplishing this while maintaining sensitivity to affordability issues for those in need.”