Today Spring is delighted to announce Lila Thompson as our second Transitional Board Member, who – alongside Ezechi Britton and several other accomplished industry experts – will drive Spring’s sustained prosperity by providing us with strategic steerage and executive oversight.

Lila is an experienced Board-level director with 20+ years of experience driving business growth, policy development and stakeholder engagement across several different industry sectors. She currently leads the UK’s largest supply chain trade association, British Water, as the Chief Executive Officer. Prior to her tenure as CEO she was responsible for advising multinationals on international opportunities, and advising the UK Government on trade policy.

The Spring team recently had the chance to catch up with Lila in a wide-spanning conversation which ranged from Lila’s previous experience to her ambitions for Spring and why aspiring paleontologists might want to consider a career in the water sector instead.

Read on to learn more about our newest Transitional Board Member.

Q: Welcome to the Spring Board! How did you find yourself here?

A: I had my first contact with Spring through my involvement with British Water. In the early days, we had conversations about how we might collectively increase the adoption of innovation in the water and wastewater sector. Having worked closely with UKWIR and water companies, I was fully aware of how start-ups and innovators struggle to get access to water companies to explore potential collaboration. So, when the concept of the Centre of Excellence came up, British Water was able to contribute to those conversations as a key representative of the water and wastewater sector. As a result, I was invited to join the Board. It is really exciting to have been part of the journey from the ‘Centre of Excellence’ to what is now Spring from the start.

Q: What has been the most exciting project or role you’ve worked on to date?

A: I’d say one of my most exciting roles was in the civil service. My role was to work with trade associations to enable them to collaborate more effectively within and across their sector. I’ve seen quite a few sectors outside the water industry collaborate on projects to increase UK exports. It was an exciting and enabling project that helped other organisations decide on a strategy to help UK companies expand in overseas markets. What’s more, it was a great project that helped stakeholders build stronger relationships.

Q: What aspects of your previous or current roles do you think will help on this Board?

A: First, British Water can help supply chain companies in the water sector understand what Spring is by communicating what it aims to do and deliver. British Water’s relationships with the supply chain and key stakeholder groups are a real asset because we deeply understand the frustration and challenges that supply chain companies face. On the other hand, we also understand the challenges that water companies have in trying to identify solutions and technologies that meet their needs – so we’re able to get those messages across to supply chain companies.

I am excited about helping Spring to find ways for water companies and supply chain companies to communicate effectively – and to keep that communication flowing. It’s not just about relying on the platform itself, but also ensuring there is a regular dialogue between key stakeholders in the sector.

Q: From your work with supply chain partners, what do you see as the main barriers to collaborative innovation in the water ecosystem, and how can Spring help overcome these?

A: The first barrier is a lack of visibility of the needs of water companies and desired outcomes. Of course, there are some uniform needs across all water companies (e.g. real-time monitoring equipment, sensors to tackle pollution incidents and more) but there are also challenges specific to regions where each water company operates. We need a mechanism in place that enables solution providers to fully understand the requirements of water companies and how they might be able to partner with them. I’m very keen for Spring to capture that information, so that supply chain companies can access the information and collaborate with water companies effectively. What this means is “matching supply and demand” to meet future challenges.

The second barrier is the lack of mechanisms for innovators to build relationships with a range of water company contacts and it would be helpful if water companies could share knowledge and best practices more widely. I hope Spring can enable that.

Other barriers are funding and duplication of effort. Today, innovators approach each water company they want to work with separately. This status quo is inefficient for all parties involved.

Q: How would you define success for Spring? What would ‘good’ look like for you?

A: For me, ‘good’ would mean that innovators, water companies and other stakeholders choose to partner with Spring to help build collaborative ways of working. As it becomes top-of-mind, Spring will develop to attract international case studies, onboard new organisations to learn from, and increase collaboration across the global water industry.

I really want to see innovative solutions coming through, which tackle both shared and unique challenges and are adopted by the industry at a much faster pace. In a nutshell, I believe that innovators will be able to use Spring as a catalyst to trial solutions.

Q: What interests you about Spring?

A: Beyond providing water companies and innovators with a ‘one-stop-shop’ solution, I think Spring’s challenge offering is an exciting one. It will be fascinating to see how communities come together to work on specific challenges like Net Zero Carbon. We’ll know this is working when people working together on a particular challenge find innovative solutions and outcomes that are delivered across the industry. It will also be pretty exciting to see how the Spring platform brings in people from adjacent industries. Finally, I’m interested in ensuring that through what we do we are really protecting and enhancing the environment.

Q: What do you think the water industry can learn from other sectors?

A: We can learn how other sectors collaborate, how they are regulated, and how they adjust to challenges…as well as examine new forms of collaboration. More tactically, we can examine which existing technologies in the energy, oil and gas sectors might directly translate to the water sector.

There are many well-known international organisations that are doing creative and innovative work, such as the Water Council in the US and the Public Utilities Board in Singapore. It would be great to know what these other international hubs are doing and which learnings we can bring across to the UK.

Q: It seems you’ve had such a varied career and developed a wide range of skills. We’re curious – what did you want to be when you were younger?

A: I actually wanted to be an archaeologist, as I absolutely love history. It didn’t work out that way – although I have to say, when I started to travel internationally for work I got to go to places such as Syria, Oman, Jordan and Lebanon – which allowed me to live out that dream to some degree by visiting a host of archaeological sites.

Q: Finally, what would you say to a young person that is about to start their career? What makes the water sector a great sector to work in?

A: You can’t live without water. Water is absolutely essential and it’s at the heart of climate change. It’s a sector where you can actually make a difference – you can work in international trade like I did, in consultancy, water companies, academia etc … and there are so many different ways that you can support the sector. Working in the water sector means having the privilege to be part of a living legacy which makes a difference.