From the President: Like Chocolate for Water

February 15, 2019


Thomas Kunetz, WEF President 2018–2019

Thomas Kunetz, WEF President 2018–2019

I have chocolate in my blood.

It’s not from eating a lot of chocolate (which I do), but because I grew up in “Chocolatetown, U.S.A.,” also known as Hershey, Pa. My family house was a stone’s throw from The Hershey Co., the largest chocolate factory in the world. My grandparents worked in the chocolate factory. My father worked in the factory as a researcher, developing new chocolate products. Often, my brothers, sisters, and I were taste-testers of my father’s latest concoctions. And I worked in the factory during my summer vacations. Chocolate put a roof over my family’s head and food on the table.

The town of Hershey was an idyllic place to grow up, and not because of all those vats of chocolate in the middle of the town. Hershey was a great place to live because of the town’s character. It offered nearly endless entertainment and amenities in a safe and serene environment. As kids we walked or rode our bicycles everywhere — to school, the swimming pool, the library, the rec center, the playground, the soda fountain, the amusement park, and the ice-skating arena. Asking our parents to shuttle us everywhere, as many children do today, would have been an affront to our freedom.

The town didn’t grow this way by happenstance; it manifested from the vision of Milton Hershey, founder of the chocolate company and the town. Milton Hershey was an industrialist and an entrepreneur, but he believed strongly in the value of family. His vision was to create a safe, affordable, and prosperous community where his employees could live. Decades before his death, he turned his entire fortune into a trust for a school to house children from disadvantaged circumstances which still exists today. At the Milton Hershey School there is a statue of its founder with an inscription on the pedestal that reads: “His deeds are his monument, his life is our inspiration.”

Milton Hershey’s vision inspired me to choose my hometown for the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Board of Trustees retreat. The theme of our retreat was “Leadership with Vision.” Even though he has been gone for more than 70 years, Milton Hershey’s vision remains ensconced throughout the community and the school he created; lessons for the taking.

Leadership with vision is not about having the power to see into the future. While having the ability to analyze and capitalize on trends is part of it, vision means creating an inspiring image of destination. Vision fuels a desire to progress. It feeds a sense of purpose.  It can offer glimpses of what can be, which gives meaning to one’s efforts.

Vision is at once an internal compass and the engine that propels the body. For a vision to become reality, there must be a known destination plus the ambition to get there. Vision must never be confused with ambition, but they go hand-in-hand. Vision without ambition is stagnation; ambition without vision is chaos. As the Roman philosopher Seneca said, “To the person who does not know where he wants to go, there is no favorable wind.”

WEF has a Vision Statement that tells us what we as an organization endeavor to be: “A community of empowered professionals creating a healthy global water environment.” These words were carefully selected when creating this statement, so I want to consider them for a moment.

“Community” is a group of people who function in collaboration for a common purpose. No one can get there alone; we go together.

“Empowered” means we have the ability to take action. We are not passive, waiting to be told what to do; we act.

“Professional” is an educated, knowledgeable and experienced individual in his or her field. We are the water professionals. It is our duty to remain professionals, even in the assault of poseurs.

“A healthy global water environment” is outcome we desire – our purpose, our nirvana. These words were chosen to provide the reader with a vivid mental image of our destination.

Knowing an organization’s vision can help us focus on the prize and not get sidetracked by the mundane distractions. It clarifies our “why.” For more about WEF’s “why,” see my Highlights column, “From the President: Why Do You Do What You Do?

In the book The Alchemist by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, the hero of the story, a poor shepherd, changed his fortune when he declared, “I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure.”

WEF’s treasure is a healthy global water environment. You are the adventurers.

Chocolate built a prosperous community in the 20th century. Let’s make water the chocolate of the 21st century.

Thomas Kunetz, WEF President 2018–2019

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