College of Science
Class of '77
Biology & Economics
Chief Financial Office
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
It seems that being a student-athlete didn't keep Brian Thomas busy enough during the 70s. A member of the Bronco basketball team for two years, he also pursued two bachelor's degrees in disparate subjects, biology and economics, graduating in winter and spring quarters respectively. Thomas started his career as a biology major, motivated by an excellent high school teacher, but found he preferred ecology and environmental sciences over chemistry labs. He began doing more work on natural systems, and when he took a required economics course, found similarities between the subjects. Economics is, after all, the study of human systems. The two majors became a natural fit.
“I think the most important thing I learned at Cal Poly Pomona was how to learn,” says Thomas. “Both biology and economics are about trying to analyze the world and build models that help explain and predict. This systematic approach to problem solving has been useful in everything I do today.”
Thomas continues to make the best use of his time. He is presently chief financial officer for the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California, an entity that essentially supplies almost 18 million people throughout areas of Los Angeles , Orange , San Diego , Riverside , and San Bernardino counties with drinking water. MWD is so vast that it delivers about 1.7 billion gallons of water per day to a service area consisting of nearly 5,700 square miles. Thomas is not only responsible for developing and implementing the MWD's water rates and charges, but he also manages all of its financial programs. His duties include financial and capital planning, risk management investments and debt management. Thomas also oversees the MWD's $1.5 billion budget, as well as accounting operations and reporting.
"My career path has been a series of fortunate accidents," he says, noting how important it was for him to complete his graduate studies in economics at UC Riverside before entering the job market. "Graduate studies at UCR taught me to see the world in a different way than through the mathematical models emphasized in many of the larger schools, and studies on alternative systems, including learning about post-Keynesian models, provided the appropriate institutional framework to allow me to be successful in the public sector."
Thomas maintains close ties with his alma mater and has served as a lecturer and visiting professor at Cal Poly Pomona, and is teaching a course on water resources economics on campus during spring quarter. He served in an advisory capacity to economics professor Robert Bray, his former instructor, who has been instrumental in providing public school teachers with in-service training programs, innovative teaching techniques, conferences and teaching materials on economics. As an executive representative of MWD, Thomas has aided in securing funding from MWD to support more than 63 graduate and undergraduate internships for chemistry, biology, microbiology, geology, computer science, engineering, business administration and horticulture students.
Thomas is a member of the American Economics, Western Economics, American Water Works and Government Finance Officers associations. He also serves on the executive committee for the Los Angeles Economics Development Corporation. In addition to his philanthropic efforts on behalf of Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Long Beach, Thomas also supports the City of Hope and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
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