MORE THAN a decade ago, Philadelphia Gas Works was in the stickiest of situations. Mismanagement, corruption and overwhelming debt plagued the city-owned utility. In the late '90s, top PGW officials either left or were fired.

Enter Thomas Knudsen.

As PGW's chief financial officer, and later chief executive, Knudsen was given the daunting task of stabilizing the utility.

"Good luck to the new heads of PGW," the Daily News editorialized in March 2000. "They'll need it to run the most troubled utility in Pennsylvania."

Chalk it up to luck if you want, but Knudsen - named yesterday to the new post of chief recovery officer for the Philadelphia School District - delivered.

"He restored the financial viability of the Gas Works," PGW CEO Craig White said in an interview yesterday. "He turned something absolutely horrific into a real success story."

Under Knudsen's direction, PGW's bill collections soared in 2006 to almost 97 percent, from 86.5 percent in 2003. In 2010, Standard & Poor's Rating Services upgraded PGW's bond status for the first time in 10 years, noting the utility's "strong management team."

Knudsen even overhauled the utility's customer-service operations, which the state Public Utility Commission once called "one of the worst in the industry." White cited Knudsen's work ethic, an ability to work with a team and a willingness to confront difficult issues.

Before joining PGW, Knudsen was a consultant to the city's consumer advocate for about 15 years. He graduated from Northwestern University and has an MBA from Columbia. Now 69, he retired from PGW in 2011.

White said that it might take some time for a school district turnaround but that in the end Knudsen wouldn't disappoint.

"I can assure you, if Tom Knudsen is involved, you will get results," he said.