Alan Shubert (far rt) with EPWater crew | Photo courtesy EPWater

EP Water’s VP Shubert retiring; Reflects on utility, City career

Vice President Alan Shubert’s greatest contributions to El Paso Water will be appreciated long after he retires, thanks to the many talented employees he groomed for promotion.

“Alan’s biggest contribution is the people – people that he brought in and people who he nurtured,” said President and CEO John Balliew. “In both Operations and Technical Services, he leaves a big depth of bench so that we have roles covered. If somebody leaves, we have many people – not just one person – who are suited to fill available slots.”

Shubert relishes his role in mentoring and cross-training employees, all the while developing well-rounded leaders to future-proof the utility’s workforce.

“I always felt like my skill was more being a coach than being on the field,” Shubert said. “Staff had always considered cross-training as punishment. To gain people’s trust, you have to sit down and listen. What I was trying to accomplish was to create a generation of leaders that can fill my job easily.”

Several of his EPWater mentees benefited from Shubert’s mentorship and said their careers grew because of it.

“Leadership – that is what he’s about,” said Irazema Rojas, Acting Chief Technical Officer. “When Alan brought me over from Operations as the Capital Improvements Program Administrator, he only explained the problem and left me to figure it out. He supported me and advised me but never micromanaged me. That allowed me to grow and explore areas outside my profession that I would have never imagined. I am greatly thankful for that.”

“I’m grateful for Mr. Shubert’s leadership these past few years,” said Veronica Galindo, Water Production Manager. “I have learned from him that the best solution to a problem is most often the simplest one. I remember a TxDOT project where we didn’t have any room to relocate a water line. There was room along an irrigation canal, but we initially rejected this location, thinking the irrigation district would never let us put a water line along the canal. Mr. Shubert helped us coordinate with the district to ultimately construct the line along the canal.”

Fresh off a successful 18-year stint at the City culminating in the construction of the El Paso Chihuahuas stadium, Shubert came to EPWater in 2014 ready for a new challenge.

“I hadn’t been involved in the water and wastewater piece in El Paso, and I thought it was a critically important mission,” Shubert said, adding that he wanted to improve the relationship between the City and the utility. “El Paso Water is a very well-respected organization, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Soon after, EPWater had a new Construction Outreach Program, employees from the utility’s Operations and Technical sides were integrated and cross-trained, and a robust Capital Improvements Program was developed.

“When I became president, we would do about $80 million a year in capital on an average basis, and I thought we need to be doing about $120 million to keep our head above water,” Balliew said. “We didn’t have the right people in place, we had things that were done manually – especially in terms of tracking dollar amounts of projects – and Alan started to put these things together.

“Next thing you know, it’s 2021 and we’re doing about $250 million in CIP,” Balliew said. “Alan put everything in place so that we could truly do the volume of work that we needed to do in this community, not only for the water resources but a great deal of rehabilitation and replacement.”

Shubert also had a passion for flood control, which thrived at EPWater under his stewardship. The torrential downpours of 2006 spurred some of the utility’s most critical stormwater infrastructure, such as the Magnolia Pump Station Project.

“We shoehorned a big pump station in a small lot in Central El Paso and made a big difference on interstate flooding,” Shubert said. “The Gateway Ponds were an iconic gamechanger for us, too. It was a very difficult project to build – 55 feet deep on both sides of the interstate, with a hand-dug tunnel in between the two. You just don’t see things like that every day.”

From his work with the City, some of his biggest triumphs include the Saipan Park Pond in Central El Paso and the El Paso Zoo’s Western Expansion. But Shubert is proudest of the ballpark – a $76-million structure built in 50 weeks.

“I take the most pride in that 95% of the workers on it were El Pasoans,” Shubert said. “That job was built by El Paso for El Paso, which is something that I don’t think a lot of people know.”

In the workplace, people he crossed paths with at EPWater make up some of Shubert’s favorite memories.

“I think I was surprised at the family of this organization; there’s a real sense of family,” Shubert said. “I love working with John and Marcela Navarrete; the three of us make a very strong team. We have 900 or so of the most dedicated people in the world here, and that’s what I will remember – the individual departments and team members and how passionate they are about their jobs.”

Many employees say they will treasure lessons learned from the man who mentored them and furthered their careers.

“What I have learned and really cherished is the attention that he has given to the people who work around him,” said Chief Operations Officer Martin Noriega, adding Shubert mentored him twice in his career with the City and water utility. “He always made it a point to treat and engage with the personnel. I have been very appreciative of that insight. He will be missed, but I am grateful that he was part of my life’s journey.”

“I have learned a lot of outstanding management practices from Mr. Shubert that will continue to assist me in my career,” said David Ornelas, Wastewater Systems Division Manager. “Foremost, I have learned that it is so important to be a good listener, delve into root causes of problems and develop solutions that serve the best interests of our community and staff. Also, the safety of our workers and the environment have always been top priorities for Mr. Shubert, as well as respect for everyone’s talents and limitations.”

As his storied career as a civil servant winds down, Shubert aspires to be remembered as a team player who helped EPWater improve.

“I will think always about hoping that I have helped; that’s a legacy I want to leave,” he said. “If you look at this town when I started with the City in 2003, what did Downtown look like at that time? Look at the difference now. I think everybody in this community can be proud of that, and I am proud to be a part of it.

“At the utility, we have improved and increased our water supply, we continue to add assets, continue to serve more people, continue to grow, and I am proud to have been part of that,” Shubert said.