2023 Industry Icon: Putting people first

May 16, 2023
Fernando Pasquel, senior vice president, national director of stormwater and watershed management at Arcadis, is the 2023 Stormwater Solutions Industry Icon.

They say that if you love your job, you will never work a day in your life.  

For the Stormwater Solutions 2023 Industry Icon Fernando Pasquel, he brings similar sentiments to his workplace. 

“One of his favorite statements, especially for our younger professionals, is ‘have fun,’” Mark Van Auken, stormwater and green infrastructure practice leader for Arcadis, and Pasquel’s colleague, said.  

Van Auken continued by saying that Pasquel, who is the senior vice president, national director of stormwater and watershed management at Arcadis, ensures that his colleagues and coworkers are not only focused on the bottom line of work. He tries to remind everyone he works with to have fun and to like what they are doing.  

“His enthusiasm for the profession, I would say, is contagious and his positive attitude rubs off on others,” Van Auken said.  

Career Path 

Pasquel’s career has spanned far and wide in the stormwater industry. Since 2012, Pasquel has been the senior vice president, national director of stormwater and watershed management for Arcadis. But, in the beginning of his education, he planned to become a transportation engineer. During college, he was assigned an internship with the Department of Public Works in Ecuador, where Pasquel is originally from. The mentor he interned under was working on hydrology for a local road and was trying to create a map similar to NOAA’s Atlas 14. After that, his mind was made up. He had a passion for water, and he wanted to get his master’s degree in water resources. 

Suddenly, he was writing his thesis on reservoir sedimentation and learning about hydrology and hydraulics. His career officially began in 1983, when he served as the engineering section leader for Dewberry & Davis. From 2001 to 2012, Pasquel was the vice president, water resources director of the Eastern U.S. for, what was at the time, Michael Baker Jr. Inc. Before that, he served as the vice president and global technology leader for stormwater and flood control services for CH2M Hill, which is now Jacobs, from 1995 to 2001. And from 1987 to 1995, he was the watershed management division chief for the Prince William County Department of Public works. 

 But for Pasquel, his job was only half of it. He has a storied past filled with volunteer work and industry involvement. He has served as the vice chair, chair and past chair of the Water Environment Federation (WEF) Stormwater Institute Advisory Committee; is a member of WEF’s Stormwater Committee and co-chair of the Resilience Subcommittee and a member of WEF’s Watershed Management Committee; and an invited consultant for U.S. EPA’s Stormwater Infrastructure Finance Task Force that prepared the EFAB Report: Evaluating Stormwater Infrastructure Funding and Financing. He was previously on the Board of Directors for the Center for Watershed Protection and was invited to participate as a member of Project Advisory Committees for the Water Research Foundation projects.  

Pasquel has earned numerous accolades including the Stone Roller Career Achievement Award from the Chesapeake Stormwater Network in 2017 and the Civil Engineering Distinction Award from the Hispanic Engineers National Achievement Award Corporation (HENAAC) in 2006.  

“He is an absolute leader, and he does it with incredible class and incredible understanding,” Claudio Ternieden, chief policy officer for the Water Environment Federation, said. “He is a mentor as well, and anybody who has the opportunity to work with him is going to learn.” 

Ternieden has known Pasquel for close to 20 years through both the Water Research Foundation and WEF. He calls Pasquel a collaborator and also said that WEF would not have had as much success in stormwater projects without Pasquel. 

“He is infectious in his love for the sector, and it’s very hard to work with him and not feel the same,” Ternieden said.  

Leading the way 

Whether he was working for a municipality or for an engineering firm, Pasquel said this industry is about the people – whether they are your client, coworker or competitor. He said building trusting relationships is important to the industry, as trust and dedication will make a team successful.  

“If you don’t have those trusting relationships, you’re not going to be able to really make a difference,” he said.  

Dale Gray knows this firsthand. He worked under Pasquel’s direction in the ‘90s when they were both at Michael Baker Corporation (now known as Michael Baker International). Still today, Gray will call Pasquel for advice and calls him one of his “most trusted professional advisors that I have.”  

“He put me in opportunities that challenged me, but they also helped me grow, and it is no accident that I’m the office executive now because he had that faith and confidence in me,” Gray said. 

The special thing that stood out to Gray about Pasquel, though, is it wasn’t just a professional mentor he found. Gray said Pasquel is one of those people where you can go in his office and talk to personally about things going on in your everyday life. 

But for Pasquel, it does not matter if you work with him or not. He is interested in what you have to say and wants to build trust with you.   

“I think it goes back to people because even these smaller projects are impacting people, and I think that’s something that we as a sector need to emphasize – the benefits of stormwater management,” he said. “We sometimes are so focused on the amount of water or this flooding problem that we’re solving or the amount of pollution that we are reducing without really looking at the true benefits of stormwater management.” 

Career breakthroughs 

A storied career like Pasquel’s does not come without challenges. From communication to work-life balance, Pasquel is no stranger to finding solutions to make his career more manageable. And for someone who encourages mentorship, going from being a technical expert to a practice lead brought on new challenges.  

“That’s always a difficult transition and a challenge – being able to let go and not work on every single little detail of your project and just being able to motivate people and becoming a leader,” he said.  

And aside from personal challenges, Pasquel has picked up many lessons along the way that the whole industry can learn from. Whether it be embracing new digital technologies or framing stormwater as a true utility, Pasquel said there are new approaches to stormwater management on the horizon – it comes down to being open and adaptable. 

“I firmly, really seriously believe stormwater management plays a key role in creating sustainable, resilient communities,” Pasquel said.  

Being adaptable, coincidentally, is also a trait Pasquel encourages the next generation of stormwater leaders to embrace.  

“I mean, not everything is going to be as smooth, and as your career develops, our sector and everything in life is changing,” he said. “We need to adapt to those changes.” 

As for Pasquel, his next goals are to continue aligning with Arcadis’ mission of improving people’s quality of life and mentoring the next generation while also embracing colleagues and loved ones. He said he hopes he can impact people in a meaningful way and pay it forward – it being the mentorship and lessons he has picked up along the way. 

“Life is about family and about people that you come in contact with, so it’s through the strength of these relationships that we are able to make a difference, I think, in this world,” he said.  

About the Author

Katie Johns

Katie Johns, editor-in-chief of Storm Water Solutions and Water Quality Products, graduated from the University of Missouri in 2016 with a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. Johns joined the Storm Water Solutions team in September 2019. Johns also helps plan the annual StormCon conference and co-hosts the Talking Under Water podcast. Prior to entering the B2B industry, she worked as a newspaper reporter and editor in Sarasota, Florida, and a magazine assistant editor in the Chicago suburbs. She can be reached at [email protected].