One leader’s watershed career moments in water management 

June 18, 2024

If someone asked you to reflect on the defining moments in your career, what would come to mind?

It could be finding an area of specialization, a mentor, or an organization to grow.

Denisha Anbu has experienced all these moments and more.

As Executive General Manager, Customer Experience, she is an experienced leader of multidisciplinary teams and an Executive who’s navigated her fair share of career rapids.

We spoke with Denisha about her depth of experience as a practicing lawyer, her progression into executive roles, and her experiences as a working parent. She also shares valuable tips for those looking to progress professionally and as leaders.

Discover her ‘watershed’ career moments with Sydney Water, Australia’s largest water utility service provider, below.

Moment 1: An Executive pathway, plus parenthood 

Denisha began her career as a lawyer in private practice. Law, she notes, is a popular career choice for women. However, the demands of practicing law at a senior level can often conflict with the decision to enter parenthood. 

“After spending fifteen years in this space and becoming a mum, it was time for a change. I made the conscious decision to depart from working in a private law firm – as the demands of private practice long-term weren’t going to work for my family circumstances. Moving from private practice to in-house roles can actually be quite competitive. But luckily, I had three in-house roles to choose from at the time. I chose Sydney Water.” 

What inspired her choice? First and foremost, she recognized Sydney Water as a purpose-driven organization with customers and community at its centre, providing an essential service to over 5 million Sydneysiders. 

“It was clear from the get-go that everyone at Sydney Water was passionate about and committed to meeting our customers’ expectations and understood the important role we play in creating a better life with world-class water services, including protecting public health and the environment.”

“In my first few months, I was entrusted to act as the Corporate Secretary, supporting the highest governance body in our organization – the Board. It was an incredible opportunity, which cemented my impression of Sydney Water as a place that would support my growth and development and recognize my potential.” 

That was twelve years ago, and Denisha has gone from strength to strength ever since. 

Moment 2: Progressing in leadership 

Instead of opting for technical specialization, Denisha was open to acting in high-level general management roles as they became available to grow her leadership skills. 

“I eventually gained an Executive role in 2019 and have thoroughly enjoyed the strategic enterprise aspects of Executive leadership, cross-functional collaboration, and empowering ‘leaders of leaders’. Overall, this contributes to our high-performance culture and operational performance at Sydney Water.” 

In her current role as Executive General Manager, Customer Experience, she is accountable for the full customer value chain at Sydney Water. Denisha’s role as an executive covers everything from customer accounts and billing to resolving network faults and complaints. 

She also leads a team of five senior leaders, with over one thousand team members across the business responsible for the entire customer value chain, creating seamless customer interactions, driving customer-focused innovation, and building lasting customer relationships.

“It’s a very broad portfolio, so I love learning from and working with a range of professionals and subject-matter experts. Customer service personnel, network technicians, scientists, innovators, production officers, claims officers – you name it, I probably have that skill set in my team! I also really enjoy working with great leaders, committed to creating a high-performance culture.” 

Denisha started in this new role in April this year after four years in a different executive role as General Manager, Governance and Assurance. While Denisha’s prior executive role covered legal, governance, and assurance functions and was more closely aligned with her professional training as a lawyer, Denisha is loving the challenge of leading large operational teams at the heart of Sydney Water’s connection to its customers.

Reaching this point in her career, she is grateful for the supportive mentors who recognized her leadership abilities and inspired her trajectory.  

“I’m forever grateful to those leaders who encouraged, supported, and inspired me to take on leadership roles, as well as the great opportunities I’ve received to grow and develop as a leader along the way.” 

How can Sydney Water support your career growth and development?

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Moment 3: Leveraging feedback and support 

On this note, Denisha touts the value of leadership advice, mentorship, and feedback. 

“Often, people see something in you that you might not see in yourself (yet). Moments when I received recognition and feedback from leaders were defining points for me, helping me gain confidence in my abilities. 

“Whether it’s feedback about an area of strength or one for development – embrace it. Of course, take some time to reflect and decide on its value. If it’s unwarranted or unhelpful, park it or move on. If it’s meaningful, grab that piece of gold! And use it to make yourself a better professional or leader.” 

For Denisha, one watershed career moment was when a leader advised her:

“You’re here at the table for more than your legal expertise. You’re here for your broad experience leading teams, improving performance, and mitigating risk. So, remember to share your voice and perspective, not only for your technical expertise but for your diversity of thought as a human.” 

“That’s something that has stuck with me to this day. It’s made me braver and bolder in strategic conversations and more.” 

Moment 4: The benefits and initiatives that make a difference 

Considering the benefits and initiatives available at Sydney Water, it’s no wonder Denisha has remained in the organization for more than twelve years. 

“I’m extremely proud of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Plan. It includes a meaningful mix of enterprise-led initiatives and employee-led networks that recognize the value of creating a workplace where everyone can thrive and feel like they belong.” 

Denisha is a proud executive sponsor of Women of Water (WoW). This employee-led network creates a connection and support forum for women in the organization to develop and thrive. 

“WoW has organized various internal and external events dedicated to empowering women (such as fundraisers for Dress for Success). We also recognize the achievements of women in STEM through events such as International Women’s Day and International Day of Women and Girls in Science.” 

Denisha is also passionate about Sydney Water’s sponsorship of WaterAid Australia, an international non-profit organization of which she is a non-executive Director. WaterAid Australia recognizes that approximately 750 million people around the world still live without access to clean water close to home. Its vision is a world where everyone, everywhere, has access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. 

“It predominantly focuses on women and girls who have to walk up to four hours a day to collect drinking water for their families. So, the work done by WaterAid around the world, sponsored by organizations like Sydney Water, supports them. It enables them to change their lives for the better by spending less time collecting water, and more time attending school and work. It creates positive and powerful systemic change.” 

Last but not least, she is grateful for Sydney Water’s support for working parents in making childcare more accessible, as a mother of three children herself.

Sydney Water’s childcare allowance has been particularly helpful in managing the cost of childcare for my first two children. It’s not something that I believe many organizations offer to their employees, so Sydney Water is leading the way in supporting working families to manage the rising cost of childcare.” 

This range of benefits and initiatives has enabled Denisha to grow in her career and capacity as a leader.  

Final lessons in leadership

In reflecting on the collection of defining moments of her career, Denisha shares her favorite leadership quote: 

“If serving is below you, then leadership is beyond you.” 

“Why this quote? It recognizes that leadership is all about service. Leadership means inspiring people – it’s all about your team, not yourself. Leadership means not viewing your team as ‘working for you’ but how you work for your team. It’s about making people’s lives better, empowering them, and having a lasting impact, even without your direct presence.” 

She promotes the value of stepping outside your comfort zone, for others looking to progress in leadership. 

“You don’t grow by being comfortable. Challenges, struggles, and setbacks are often the foundation of career progression. They test you and encourage you to lean on others and show vulnerability – which I also think makes you a more authentic leader.” 

And her final piece of excellent advice:

“Back yourself. Go for opportunities that come your way, or seek them out! You may think something is a stretch for you. But even if you discover it’s not your preferred pathway – you’ll gain something from the experience.”

Keen to discover what career opportunities Sydney Water could offer you? 

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About the Author

With a professional background in careers education, employability, and psychology, Elaine Chennatt has worked with many individuals from all walks of life to find their path. Following a career pivot, she now utilizes her passion for words to help inspire, motivate, and guide audiences as they pursue career growth and purpose. As the Global Content Writer & Editor for WORK180, Elaine is passionate about uncovering the stories that matter to help our community find where they can thrive.

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