By Philip Reed
On Nov. 21, 2021, Kerry Whitford officially joined WAPA as the organization's chief strategy officer. Whitford brings decades' worth of experience in strategic planning, performance measurement, enterprise risk management and stakeholder relations to the role.
“As our chief strategy officer, Kerry will champion employee engagement and build and maintain relationships with customers, industry leaders and Department of Energy representatives," said Administrator and CEO Tracey LeBeau in her announcement. “She will also lead the advancement of performance measurement, continuous process improvement and change management initiatives."
Prior to joining WAPA, Whitford had been with the Bureau of Reclamation for 23 years. After so much time, many people would be in the mood for a change. Whitford, however, was in the mood for this specific change.
“I had been with Reclamation since 1999, and in my most recent position since 2017, and was looking for the next challenge," Whitford said. “I was job hunting, but nothing seemed to fit. When I saw the job announcement for the chief strategy officer position, I thought, 'This is it!' Not only did the job requirements fit my experience to a T, but so did WAPA's mission."
She explained that her experience at Reclamation had given her a solid understanding of the important issues surrounding water and hydropower in the West. She also developed an understanding of WAPA's power marketing mission, which helps her to understand the context in which the organization's strategy is developed.
To her, a transition to WAPA seemed like a natural next step.
“I was so excited about the opportunity that I began working on my application that night," she said. “In fact, my manager, who was supporting me in my search, saw the announcement as well, and personally texted me and said, 'If you don't apply for this job, you're crazy!'"
Whitford's interest in the field started early. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Conservation from the University of Colorado Boulder and a Master of Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
“I started my career at the Environmental Protection Agency in Denver in 1991 as the State Assistance Program manager," she explained. “My duties included facilitating the development of performance partnership agreements between the EPA and states and Tribes for millions of grant dollars. This role instilled in me the importance of collaboration between the federal government and its stakeholders to achieve mutual goals."
Once Whitford moved to Reclamation, she received an even more thorough education.
“Although my position as strategic planner at the Bureau of Reclamation was not necessarily considered a 'main mission' job, the position was like a graduate school degree in Reclamation's mission and programs," she said. “I worked with office deputy directors and program subject matter experts to define program goals, objectives and performance measures across the spectrum of Reclamation's programs. In a short amount of time, I found myself knowing more people and more programs than other employees and even leadership team members who had worked there much longer than I had."
It was a crash course that provided Whitford with a significant understanding of many complicated concepts and responsibilities. It also positioned her to understand WAPA's evolving role in the industry.
“My biggest takeaway from my experience at Reclamation was that water is the life blood of the West, and water issues are extremely complex," explained Whitford. “There is no silver bullet to solving western water issues and there will forever be a constant tug and pull to balance competing priorities. Solving them is only possible through collaboration and innovation."
Her time at Reclamation was eye opening in many ways, and while her work with them was challenging, she is quick to let others know that it was also rewarding.
Some of her most cherished memories from those 23 years are flying in a tiny plane over the Grand Coulee Dam, acting as chief of staff during the change in Administration in 2020 and participating in a hands-on workshop on Columbia River operational issues on a houseboat tour of the river with representatives from states, Tribes, environmental groups and other federal agencies.
“I also learned a great deal from others about what it means to be a dedicated employee," she said. “They are incredibly smart, passionate about their subject matter and hard working. Although being a federal government worker often gets a bad rap in the public eye, working at Reclamation made me extremely proud to call myself a fed."
Whitford is optimistic that she can leverage her experience to help WAPA strategically evolve in a way that best positions the organization to meet the challenges and opportunities to come.
“First and foremost, I believe I'm a natural strategist," she said. “It's in my DNA and my Myers-Briggs Type. I am always thinking about the future end goal and the steps needed to get there. I have also been known for my abilities to bring different groups together to accomplish a significant deliverable. I like to learn new things and be challenged."
She went on to discuss her philosophy in regard to strategic planning.
“I believe strategic planning is just as much about the journey as it is the destination," she said. “My goal is to facilitate a strategic planning process that is inclusive, stimulates organizational learning and improvement and brings WAPA together around common goals and themes. Ultimately, I hope the strategic plan priorities and goals resonate with our leadership, employees and stakeholders alike, and become the organizing framework to which all programs can align their work activities and resources."
In her free time, Whitford describes herself as being an “outdoors lover and adrenaline junkie."
“One a of my favorite activities is to discover a new mountain bike trail," she said. “I recently rode 21 miles of the Palisades Plunge, a newly designed trail from the top of the Grand Mesa into Palisades. It was one of the most beautiful and dangerous trails I have ever ridden. My adrenaline was definitely pumping!"
She is also a lover of the arts and a former thespian. What's more, it seems to run in the family.
“Both of my daughters go to Denver School of the Arts and I so enjoy watching my youngest perform in her vocal choir and my eldest produce visual artworks," she said. “Also, I love a good concert, especially if it's at Red Rocks."
Whitford is excited to apply her knowledge and skills to her new role, and is particularly happy about meeting and working with her new colleagues.
“WAPA has an amazing reputation as a great place to work," Whitford concluded. “I'm looking forward to getting to know the WAPA community and learning from everyone."
Note: Reed is a public affairs specialist.