Gilbert Ivey: Water, Water Everywhere
When Gilbert Ivey (Class of ’75, B.A., Business Administration) began his 35-year career at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWDSC) as a high school intern, he was assigned to the engineering department. However, his actual duties included chauffeuring female employees who were not allowed to drive the company cars while on their rounds. Now, as MWDSC’s chief administrative officer, he works to encourage underrepresented employees in the industry.
“Back in the 1970s, women and minorities had the challenge of being accepted, of having to prove themselves,” says Ivey. “For the first ten years of my career, there was a battle to make the traditionally white male, conservative majority understand that we were people with aspirations, and that we could do the job. As women and minorities came in, I would personally mentor them, telling them, ‘Look, if all you’re doing is sweeping the sidewalk, be the best at it. They can be mad about your color, or your gender, but they can’t take away your performance.’ As I rose higher in my career, I still carried the theme of bringing everybody up in my speeches. I attribute that to Dominguez Hills, because you see it there too. You see people striving and hoping to make it.”
The Compton native and Centennial High graduate went to Lake Forest College in Chicago for two years before returning to Southern California. He transferred to CSUDH to complete his degree, and MWDSC hired him on a full-time basis to work in the Reprographics office. His interest in the water industry continued to develop as he worked his way up through the ranks.
“In the beginning, it was just a job to support my family,” he admits. “The salaries here were higher than what my friends were making, and the benefits were excellent. But the more I learned about water, the more interested I became.
“When I started at Metropolitan, all I knew was that you turned on the tap, and there was water, no big deal. But I became conscious of what a precious resource it is. I learned how hard it is to bring water to Southern California, since we don’t have a natural water supply for this many people. It’s an essential industry, something I decided to dedicate my life to.”
Ivey served as interim chief executive officer during the agency’s five-month search for a permanent replacement in 2005. Currently, he is the chief liaison between management and the 37-member board of directors, which represents the 300 cities and 18 million people of the MWDSC.
“Our board members represent the area from Ventura, all the way to the Mexican border,” he says. “Everybody has their own idea of what is the right thing to do, so I’m always on a balance beam, working with the general manager and staff, to make them understand that their role is to implement the policy, not set the policy.”
Other milestones of Ivey’s career include various positions in finance, right-of-way and land, operations, human resources and executive offices. He negotiated several major transactions such as the lease for the District's former headquarters at California Plaza for below-market rates, and favorable above-market sale transactions for the District's former Sunset Boulevard headquarters and its Bolsa Chica property. He was also project director in charge of development and construction of MWDSC’s current headquarters at Union Station, delivering the $135 million facility two months ahead of schedule and under budget. Since the building’s official opening in 1998, his team and the project have garnered many accolades and won several awards, including the Energy Star and recognition by the Building Operators and Managers Association for an outstanding government building in Los Angeles.
“Each part of our organization is like a company unto itself,” Ivey says of his rich and varied professional experiences. “Even though I’ve been at the same company for 35 years, I’ve worked at several different companies within it.”
Ivey has made significant contributions to his community by serving in leadership positions on numerous boards and commissions, including cultural commissioner for the city of Compton, utilities commissioner for the city of Rialto, and a seat on the executive boards of the Los Angeles Central City Association, the American Association of Blacks in Energy, and the University of Southern California's Minority Real Estate Program. He is a member of San Diego's Catfish Club, and both the Greater San Diego and Greater Los Angeles Area Chambers of Commerce.
In 2004, Ivey received the Tom Bradley Equal Opportunity Award from the Los Angeles Metro Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration for promoting equal opportunity in the workplace and community, and in 2005, received special recognition from the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce.
Ivey strives to give back to today’s students what he was given. He shares his professional experience in a volunteer capacity, such as speaking to plumbing classes at El Camino Community College. He recalls that his education at CSU Dominguez Hills included significant encouragement and mentoring from instructors.
“There was an emphasis that they put on learning, telling us, ‘You can do it if you really try,’” he says. “With the way they approached learning, you had to perform.”
“I remember having to take quantitative analysis,” he recalls. “That was a nightmare. I remember one class, where the instructor called me to the board to do an equation, and I didn’t think I understood anything about it. I went to the board and actually got the problem correct. I was very impressed, that was one of the defining moments in my life.”
- Joanie Harmon-Whetmore