Q&A: Michelle Bertolino, Roseville Electric Utility
In the winter 2019 issue of California Water & Power, Roseville Electric Utility Director Michelle Bertolino shares lessons learned—and “monkeys” avoided—during her successful career in public power.
Monday, February 4, 2019
by: By Matt Williams, CMUA

Section: CMUA News

Michelle Bertolino, Roseville Electric Utility

CW& P: Looking back at your career working for municipally owned utilities, how did you get your start?

Bertolino: I’m a “recovered” certified public accountant, and I was hired by a client—the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. That’s where I got a real love for public utilities. I saw I could improve people’s quality of life and provide a service that’s very much needed.

I got into this industry by accident, but I stayed intentionally.

After the SFPUC, I went to SMUD and I worked there for a number of years. I came to Roseville about 16½ years ago. I stayed because I really enjoy what we do. We improve the quality of life of our communities and we do it reliably, affordably and safely—and that’s important to me.

I don’t know that I ever intentionally aspired to be an executive. But I was always looking to do more, and I really enjoy working with people, so that opened a lot of doors for me.

CW& P: You have been Roseville’s utility director for more than eight years. What leadership lessons have you learned along the way?

Bertolino: Probably one of the most important ones is about communication and how it’s so important to make sure that it’s happening regularly. Even if we think we’re repeating ourselves, we need to do that. Ninety-nine percent of the issues I deal with on a daily basis, at the core of the issue is either a breakdown or failure in communication, or a miscommunication. We talk about that every day in our staff meetings and within our organization—to overcommunicate.

Another lesson is how important it is to have a good team around you. When I became Roseville’s utility director, we started to look at emotional intelligence and people skills, which we didn’t do before.

We always aimed to hire the most talented and skilled employees, but we didn’t ask, “Are these people we really want to work with?” We now emphasize a core competency curriculum—a list of eight competencies that all of us need to embrace and use in our jobs. I knew we finally made it when our engineering team was having a team interview and they were asking core competency questions to the candidates.
When people say, “I have to go to work today,” you don’t have to go to work. Nobody has to go to work. If you don’t go to work, there are consequences, but nobody has to go to work. So I choose to go to work.

And on the days where it’s harder to choose to go to work, what gets me there are the people I work with and the people that I know are either relying on me or I’m relying on. I need to be there to help them or support them.

CW& P: You’re in a predominantly male-dominated field. How has that vantage point informed your leadership style?

Bertolino: I am the first woman in my position in the history of Roseville Electric, which is over 100 years [old]. When I started here eight-and-a-half years ago, it was very common for me to go into meetings and be the only woman. Now that’s changed, and that’s great.
I think that we’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go. We’re seeing a lot of change in getting a more diverse workforce within the municipal utility industry.

CW& P: Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing? What have you read lately?

Bertolino: I still do want to learn how to golf; I golf twice or three times a year. For my birthday this year, my husband bought me an acoustic guitar. I used to play the guitar and I actually performed when I was a kid.

He got tired of hearing me tell stories about it. He bought me the guitar so I could learn how to play it again. So that’s on my list.

I have at least two leadership books on my list. One is 'The Alchemist'—a great book I didn’t think was a leadership book, but it is. It’s about staying true to yourself and going with your instincts in some cases. Sometimes you have to go completely around in a circle to get back where you started. Because where you started is where you really needed to be. It’s one of my favorite books of all time.
Another is about time management and leadership. It’s called “The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey.” It’s a very short read. We have a stack of this one in my office, and somebody will come in and I’ll be talking to them about “the monkey” and give them the book. The monkey is the next step or a problem. The book teaches how not to take on other people’s monkeys. That’s one of my favorite books to give to people.

CW& P: You have been a leader at CMUA the past few years as the association has transformed. What are your impressions of where CMUA stands and where our members are headed together?

Bertolino: As past president of CMUA, I’ve seen a lot of great changes. We’ve got a lot of new staff, a new director, and I think that CMUA is doing a great job right now. One of the strengths that CMUA has is its staff, and everybody’s working really hard, doing a great job and being very active.

Our goal is for CMUA to become the go-to association for both municipal water and power utilities. Our voice is now there, and I think there’s a lot more we can do. I’m very proud to be a part of the organization.



Roseville Electric Utility’s core competencies are characteristics and traits that each employee must possess and exemplify to successfully service its customers and community:

1. People focused.
Develops and delivers service-oriented solutions that meet or exceed expectations.

2. Builds trust.
Ensures honesty and integrity are paramount values in our work environment.

3. Ensures accountability.
Takes responsibility for the outcomes of one’s own work and fosters a sense of ownership in

4. Communicates effectively.
Communicates clearly, concisely and openly, tailoring communication for diverse audiences.

5. Inclusive collaborator. Builds effective working partnerships, alliances and teams.

6. Quality decision maker. Makes sound, timely decisions and recommendations.

7. Proactive.
Takes on challenges as a proactive problem solver with a bias towards decisive action.

8. Resilient. Recovers quickly from negative experiences and continues to move forward.