Former president and CEO of American Water gives back to Auburn Engineering

Published: Jul 21, 2021 11:20 AM

By Lauren Winton

"To create a great company culture, everything comes back to the issue of respect for every single person,” said Susan Story, former president and CEO of American Water, the largest water utility in the United States. “I believe listening is a great sign of respect, and as a leader, I always made it a priority to listen.”

With hundreds of American Water sites across the nation, Story made it a priority to visit as many as she could every year — including visiting 45 different locations in her first six months as CEO. She always shared her top priority of their safety, and listened to her employees talk about what they needed to do their jobs most safely. Then she implemented new processes and procedures to ensure that each of her employees made it home to their families from work every day in as good of shape or better than when they left home.

“The work that we do can be dangerous. By visiting the sites, listening to those working there, implementing their recommendations, and letting them know we really cared about them, we were able to reduce injuries by up to 80 percent,” Story said. “If people feel safe when they come to work and know that they are our first priority, they feel valued and are fully engaged.”

Under Story’s leadership, American Water’s safety record was exceptional. She created a culture of confidence and, most importantly, a safe environment for all of her employees. 

She is most proud of the fact that while the company kept its employees safe and engaged, it also was a nationally and internationally recognized leader in ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) commitment and execution, while also tripling the company’s stock price in the six years she was president and CEO.  She believes strongly that companies can “do good while doing well.”

At the time Story was CEO and president of American Water, she was one among only 23 women serving as CEOs of S&P 500 companies. She said her education was a big catalyst for her success.

“I was the first one in my family to go to college,” Story said. “But even though my parents did not have the opportunity to go to college, they were extremely hard working and always encouraged me to live my dreams.”

Rising to the top in any field is no easy feat. Some say it takes a dash of competitiveness – perhaps even the sporting kind.

“One of my favorite memories at Auburn is playing intramural softball,” Story said. “There were several other women studying engineering like me who played on the team, which was interesting given there weren’t that many women in engineering in the early 1980s.  We were all highly competitive, and our team won the intramural league championship one year. 

“It’s interesting that many top women executives played sports growing up, as well as several of the few women CEOs share an engineering undergraduate degree.”

Whether it was her degree in industrial engineering, or her propensity for competitive sports, Story was never one to back down from a challenge.

Susan Story

Story was the keynote speaker in 2018 at Auburn University’s spring graduation, and she told the story of her first supervisor, who didn’t think women should be engineers, and the obstacles she faced from him — and overcome. In her address, she wanted students to take away one point from that story: “Others don’t decide your future. You do.” 

With her degree in industrial engineering, Story has made great change in industry as well as at Auburn. In addition to her commencement address, Story has given back tremendously to the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. She has created a substantial endowed scholarship, supported students through both 100+ Women Strong and the Engineering Academic Excellence program, and has given to other areas across campus. Through her service to Auburn, Story continues to inspire the next generation of engineers.

"I have lived the American Dream. When I graduated from Auburn, I wanted to truly make a difference in the world.  My goal through my career was to show that companies can be financially successful while also fully respecting and engaging employees, taking care of our environment, and making communities stronger because our companies are there. 

“Because I was willing to work hard and get a great education at Auburn Engineering, I had life opportunities that I never could have imagined,” Story said.

Story hopes her own journey makes one thing clear: students have the power to harness their abilities, to reach their greatest potential and decide their own futures in engineering or wherever their careers may take them.


Media Contact: Lauren Winton,, 334.844.5519
Susan Story

Susan Story

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