In some families, the path to a career in water and wastewater is not always direct.
Just ask Randy Hamlett. When his now 91-year-old father, Bruce, relocated his family to Michigan in 1970 to launch a water and wastewater equipment business, Randy had little reason to think that he, much less his yet-to-be born daughter, might one day follow in his father’s footsteps.
“Obviously, as a kid growing up, you only pay so much attention,” said Randy, who initially bypassed a career in wastewater to sell robotic equipment to Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, Mich.). “As involved as my dad was with his work, I didn’t take the time to understand what he did. I thought, wastewater? How technical could that be?”
Entering the family business
It took years for Bruce to convince Randy that his engineering background and passion for technical sales made him a great fit for the family business. In 1988, Randy saw the light and joined Hamlett Engineering Sales Co. (Warren, Mich.), where the two worked together until Bruce’s retirement less than 4 years later.
Randy said those years working side by side were life-changing.
“I really got to see my father for the great mentor he was and recognized the respect that people in the business had for him,” he said.
History repeated itself three years later when, in 1995, Randy and his wife, Sue, founded their own company with a slightly more technological bent. Hamlett Environmental Technologies Co. (Howell, Mich.) focuses on selling process equipment for water and wastewater treatment. As his father had done for him, Randy hoped to interest his daughter, Jennifer Zelski, in the business.
During high school and college, Randy hired Jennifer to work as a receptionist and, later, as a sales representative. Following graduation, she decided to stick with the water business — but not at her parents’ company. During the next 6 years she became an expert in pumps, valves, and controls before, at her father’s urging, returning to the family business in 2013.
Today, Jennifer spends her days helping Michigan municipalities solve water and wastewater process issues. “I have always been interested in working with people and offering them solutions,” she said.
WEF leadership: a common link
All three members of the Hamlett family have been active in the water sector, taking leadership roles in the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) and in the Michigan Water Environment Association (WEA).
Bruce’s participation dates back to the days when WEF was known as the Water Pollution Control Federation. Randy has chaired the Joint Expo committee, and has both founded and chaired the Michigan WEA’s Decision-Makers Seminar Planning committee.
As the newest WEF member in the family, Jennifer is busy creating her own legacy. As chair of the Michigan WEA’s Industry Recruitment Task Force, she is helping to create a new website, http://h2omich.org, where readers will be able to learn more about water sector careers.
Jennifer believes she is working in a sector that flies largely under the radar of many job-seeking professionals. “The water industry provides an invaluable service, the people are fantastic, and the work is challenging and rewarding,” she said. “Plus, you can have a successful career, but still have a work-life balance.”
She also values coming from a family whose history is deeply rooted in water and WEF.
“Our family’s participation in WEF has been a big source of pride for us, especially for me,” Jennifer said. “As a young and new professional, it is exciting to run into people who had experience with my grandfather and dad, and to see the impact they had. It’s an honor to follow in their footsteps.”
Randy agrees. “Working with my father during the final years before his retirement gave me the chance to learn and develop into the person I am today.”
— Mary Bufe, WEF Highlights
WEF Highlights Presents My Water Legacy Families
The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) is bringing attention to the value of membership and tradition of working in the water sector.
The #MyWaterLegacy social media campaign and WEF Highlights articles feature the accomplishments and contributions of members who have passed down the tradition of actively participating in WEF and working in the water sector. The WEF Legacy Family will appear in an ongoing WEF Highlights series. Read the series by searching for the keyword MyWaterLegacy.
Know of a family with multiple generations of WEF members and water sector professionals? Contact Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.