Severn Trent has announced major plans to protect the water supply to Birmingham and Solihull with the construction of a second pipe to complement the historic Elan Valley Aqueduct.
Chief executive Liv Garfield described the plans as “the biggest and most exciting engineering challenge Severn Trent Water has ever taken on”.
The 40-year-old mother-of-two from Yorkshire, who became the youngest woman ever to lead a FTSE 100 company when she was appointed to the top job at Severn Trent 18 months ago, told the Birmingham Post why the £100 million scheme was so important.
She also revealed how she dealt with being one of a handful of women to have made it to the top in business.
“We’re responsible for supplying water to our customers today, and for making sure it’s there in the future,” she said.
“For these reasons we consistently check on the condition of our infrastructure and we think now is the right time to invest in some of our biggest supply pipes – those bringing clean water to our customers in Birmingham, Solihull and the rest of the region we serve."
“I’m not sure all the people in Birmingham know about their water supply. They’ve got the most beautiful water that comes right the way down from Wales along this gravity-fed, beautifully built piece of Victorian legacy architecture – the Elan Valley Aqueduct (EVA).
“It has been bringing water to Birmingham for 100 years. It has served our customers well, but our regular checks are showing it’s time for some modernisation and refurbishment.
“To allow us to do more substantive maintenance we need to supply water to Birmingham from another source, so we’re planning to build an extra pipeline to take water from a new place on the River Severn.
“This will give us a back-up supply of water to Birmingham during the refurbishment work on the EVA and in the future in case of emergency.
“There were 50,000 people that worked on the EVA when it was opened in 1904. We will have 500 people to build the secondary pipe. “We will carry out the £100 million scheme with no extra cost to customers.
“There’s the opportunity here for us to provide the love, the care and attention just in time when it needs it now – rather than wait for a future moment. Also the cost of debt is cheaper now.”
Mrs Garfield’s appointment at Severn Trent attracted a lot of interest as she became one of just four female bosses in the FTSE 100 – the appointment of Veronique Laury as CEO at Kingfisher, the owner of B&Q, in January made it five.
Despite her success, she has kept her feet firmly on the ground.
“I don’t think anybody wakes up and thinks, ‘Gosh, I would love to be a chief exec’. Certainly, I didn’t,” she said.
“What I really wanted to be was a Blue Peter presenter – that was my dream job. Then I wanted to be the Everton football manager. Oh, I would love to have done that job. My grandad was a groundsman there.
“So when those jobs didn’t transpire, then I took a graduate job at Accenture (a management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company).
“I moved out of consultancy and into industry because I didn’t want to give advice – I wanted to make change happen and make it more real.
“It’s incredibly flattering when anybody gives you a compliment about your career. I think at the same time I just avoid paying any attention to it. I try to come to work every day and try to do a good job.
“Everything else is irrelevant really.
“I’ve worked with some great role models in my time, both women and men. I try to be a good role model, but I think that is all you can do is be a genuinely nice person at work.
“People come to work trying to do their best and all we can do is try to create an environment from where people can try to do that.”
Family life is important to Mrs Garfield, who cited her mother and father, Susan and Arthur Burgess, as her role models.
She said: “They set up their own engineering business. My dad had a good 35-year career. They had lots of long-standing staff working for them.
“That’s what you want, to have people that are loyal to your business that you are loyal to.
“I think that is one of the lovely things about Severn Trent. I get the opportunity in a couple of weeks to present the long service awards.
“We’ve got tens of people coming up for the 10, 15, 25 and 40-year awards. That’s the once chance in the calendar to say thanks to these people.”
She also revealed how she balances being a mother with her work at Severn Trent.
“I’ve got two little boys aged six and seven. It’s always difficult trying to give tips to other people, because other people’s circumstances are different.
“The way I try to get it to work is whatever I am doing I am 100 per cent into it. When I am at work I adore my job. When I’m hanging out with the kids, then I put all my heart and soul into that. I try to see them at one end of the day or the other.
“The reality of the both isn’t there. For me to be happy I need to see the kids every day that’s like my little thing.”
Mrs Garfield also explained why being a “positive sole” was so important to her.
“Like many people across the country, I enjoyed the loveliest moment recently on the Great British Bake Off and shed a tear when Nadiya won.
“She was just the most worthy winner. She gave the most delightful answer saying: ‘I’m never going to box myself in again and think that I can’t achieve.’ I think that’s the key thing.
“The world has no limits. That’s what I’ve been lucky enough to see – that if you work hard enough and really care about customers, then anything is achievable and that is why we want to do the scheme.
“We really genuinely care as a company about our customers.
“That won’t mean that there are readers of yours who won’t have an issue with us.
“But if they do, we want to know about it.
“We want every single customer to be happy with our service. We’ve got the lowest water bills in the land and we are quite proud of that and we are committed to the lowest bills in the land for the next five years.”
- In partnership with Severn Trent