Influential Leaders

Cristina Ahmadpour

President and Managing Director, Americas, Isle Inc. dba Isle Utilities
Recognition Year(s): 2023
Area of Impact: Community or Social Impact
School: College of Business Administration, California State University, San Marcos
Location: United States

Cristina Ahmadpour is a respected and proven business leader who is driving innovation in the water resource management sector. Ahmadpour is a graduate of the Water Environment Federation’s Water Leadership Institute, and has been recognized by Wastewater Digest in 2016 and 2018 as a top water professional under the age of 40. In 2022, Isle Utilities received the Consultancy of the Year prize at the Water Industry Awards.

Water is life’s most precious resource; without it, society itself would cease to exist. While abundant—71 percent of our earth’s surface is covered in water—the access to, and quality of, water is diminishing, threatening the future for communities, public health, biodiversity, and much more. Accelerating the adoption of solutions for water conservancy now will improve the planet’s and humankind’s ability to combat these challenges—challenges that are further amplified by climate change. As seen in water crises throughout U.S. locations like Flint, Michigan; Lowndes County, Alabama; and now Jackson, Mississippi, rural and/or underserved communities can be the most vulnerable to the impacts of water disasters.

Many of the challenges faced by the water sector are interconnected, allowing for technological solutions to simultaneously solve several challenges at once. Promising technologies in various stages of development are available for deployment, yet barriers often prevent their large-scale or timely adoption. Ahmadpour is convinced that the water sector can harness its problem-solving potential via collaborative partnerships, bringing together the most inventive minds and cutting-edge technologies to move the needle forward.

Ahmadpour has spent 13 years furthering innovation in the water sector, fostering collaborations between a broad set of stakeholders, such as water utilities, technology companies, regulators, associations, and academia. Ahmadpour is focused on exploring how stakeholders can harness a culture of innovation by embracing new ideas and business opportunities and backing emerging technologies that deliver better outcomes than conventional solutions. For example, the war in Ukraine has led to supply chain breakdowns and rising costs for such goods as the chemicals and fertilizers needed for crops worldwide. Through new techniques, the municipal water space could recover phosphorus and nitrogen—components necessary to make fertilizer—from sewage and introduce a chemical-free treatment that is powered by renewable energy.

As president of Isle’s Utilities Americas business, Ahmadpour has significantly grown the division’s profitability through diligent financial management, strategic and operational focus and alignment, and inspirational leadership that has attracted top talent and partnerships. Ahmadpour introduced new services that addressed gaps in the marketplace and allowed Isle Utilities’ operations in the United States to thrive. This illustrates one of many opportunities technology and innovation can build resiliency beyond conventional water treatment operations.

Many of Ahmadpour’s leadership skills were honed during her time at the Cal State San Marcos College of Business Administration (CoBA). At CoBA, Ahmadpour took advantage of the many leadership opportunities available through student associations and programs like In the Executive’s Chair. She is now using her education to originate new ideas and commercial opportunities that will create value for all communities and the planet.

As a female professional, Ahmadpour has broken barriers in a historically male-dominated industry. The strides Ahmadpour has made have inspired young emerging leaders in the industry, especially women from non-traditional backgrounds. She is a mentor to many young professionals and speaks regularly at such events as the Water Environment Federation’s InFLOW (Introducing Future Leaders to Opportunities in Water) class of 2022, a program designed to enhance diversity and inclusion in the water workforce.

Additionally, Ahmadpour promotes thoughtful leadership. She is a sought-after advisor to C-suite executives and startup founders and urges leaders to rethink procurement and vendor engagement; change management; and the intersection of diversity, inclusion, innovation, and strategy. She is a coauthor of a National Association of Clean Water Agencies white paper titled Current, Emerging, and Potential Technologies in the Clean Water Space…Opportunities for the 21st Century Utility. This report, directed at congressional representatives and advocacy efforts in the Capitol, highlights the critical need for innovation and investment in the U.S. water sector to meet 21st-century challenges.