Utility Player

From forklift operator to the front office at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, alumnus Steven Bassett rose up the ranks through hard work and a flexible path to education.

Steve Bassett
Voice Magazine / Stories / 2019 Fall / Utility Player

In 1986, when Steven Bassett started his career with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), he was a 23-year-old warehouse worker with a high school diploma.

Today, Bassett ’15 runs half of LADWP’s Supply Chain Services division. He’s responsible for 54 warehouses across Los Angeles County and the Owens Valley. He oversees $200 million in inventory, administers more than 300 major materials contracts, and leads a workforce of about 300 people. He serves on leadership committees across LADWP — the nation’s largest municipal utility — and collaborates with senior management on infrastructure projects and safety issues.

Getting there took personal initiative and decades of hard work. It also required a college education. Bassett earned his Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration through University of La Verne’s Regional and Online Campuses. He did it in two stages, with a 15-year gap between matriculation and graduation. He attended courses all across the region, from the South Bay to Burbank and Orange County. He took classes at night, on weekends, and online.

For Bassett, flexibility was essential to reaching his educational goals.

Moving Around

Raised in La Mirada, he still calls the Gateway City home.

“I’ve lived here forever,” said the 57-year-old husband, father of two, and grandfather of three.

His workplace, however, was a moving target.

He started his career with the City of Los Angeles in a warehouse at the Convention Center. Months later, he transferred to LADWP’s warehouse in El Segundo. As Bassett gradually rose to storekeeper, senior storekeeper, principal storekeeper, and store supervisor, “I moved around a lot,” he said.

To advance professionally, he decided to enroll in college in his 30s, and University of La Verne, with its network of regional campuses, made sense.

“It is kind of all over the place,” he said. “They bring the school to you — that’s how I felt.”

By the late 1990s, Bassett had fulfilled all his major and general education requirements through the regional campus program. He only needed 20 elective units for the bachelor’s degree.

“Unfortunately, I never completed them,” he said.

Back to School

Even without the degree, the business skills and connections he’d gained through University of La Verne propelled Bassett forward in his career. He even found a substantial La Verne alumni network inside LADWP.

Then in 2013, when he was promoted to supply services manager, his boss nudged him to go back and finish his bachelor’s degree.

Bassett reconnected with Nelly Kazman, then-director of University of La Verne’s Burbank Campus. Together, they worked out a plan to wrap up his interrupted education.

“I jumped right back in at that point,” he said.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in 2015. Two years later, he was promoted to the No. 2 job in his division.

Bassett currently runs the materials side of LADWP’s Supply Chain Services. His 54 warehouses carry 110,000 inventory line-items — poles, cables, transformers, switch gear, power system parts, connectors, electrical tools, water pipes, valves, digging equipment, cleaning products, and safety gear.

From the Forklift to the Front Office

His first job straight out of high school had been in the tool room of the shop where his dad worked as a machinist. Later, he staffed the order desk of a concrete block manufacturer. One day, Bassett’s father-in-law handed him an employment application with the City of Los Angeles, and in 1986 he embarked on his 34-year career with the city.

Education didn’t matter at first. “I was a warehouse guy driving a forklift,” he said.

But as he rose through the ranks, being able to communicate at work became increasingly important.

“Standing in front of a group and writing business plans used to be a real challenge for me,” he recalled.

“That’s why I’m so appreciative of University of La Verne. For every class, you had to prepare a written report and give an oral presentation. And practice makes perfect. It just helped me greatly.”

Business courses also introduced Bassett to various leadership styles, personality types, and issues of culture and gender — knowledge he found invaluable as a rising manager.

“It is important not to think everybody is going to be like me,” he said. “I have to understand employees’ differences to be able to manage them.”

Passing the Baton

Perhaps what Bassett valued most about his La Verne education was the pairing of abstract ideas with real-world experience. His instructors were all working business professionals, and his classmates were adult learners at different rungs on the management ladder.

In the 1990s, he remembers his more-seasoned peers sharing eye-opening insights and anecdotes during classroom discussions. By the time Bassett returned
to the Burbank Campus to complete his degree in 2013, his status had changed.

“The second time around, I was the old guy in the room,” he said, with a chuckle, and his classmates were the ones hanging on every word.

Asked if he recommends University of La Verne to the next generation of managers rising through LADWP, Bassett responds brightly: “Absolutely! I always do.”