Something that I love about what we’re doing here at Pink Granite is the opportunity it gives me to connect to new faces but also to RECONNECT to those that worked with in years past. Aimee Bertrand is one of those sparkly faces that I used to work just a cubicle or two away from at Houston City Hall and I’m so happy to share her success story in building a career in state and local politics. We weren’t nearly close enough friends during my time in H-Town and look forward to changing that, staring with soliciting this interview. Thank you Aimee for your time and candor – and best of luck in your new role.
You started a new job this year, tell us what you’re doing?
Greater Houston Builders Association, Executive Vice President and CEO – I am tasked with the day to day administration of the nation’s 4th largest local association for homebuilders. While our members, quite literally, do the work of building Houston’s homes, GHBA provides advocacy, networking, education, and promotion for the industry.
Where did you attend school and what did you major in?
The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) – Journalism with an emphasis in PR and an emphasis in magazine.
How did you get into politics?
Completely by accident (over and over again). I graduated a semester early and wasn’t ready to leave Mississippi, so I landed a job as Head Page at the Mississippi House of Representatives for the Spring 2004 session. It kept me close to Ole Miss and gave me an opportunity to work with the legislature. When that session ended, I came home to Houston.
My little sister was working for a congressional campaign for the summer. The campaign consultant knew I was looking for a job and could write. So, she set me up with one of her other clients – my local city council member – as an intern while I interviewed for jobs. By the time the summer ended, I had a full-time job as her “press secretary.”
Anything you would have done differently in your career path or see as a really smart decision you may have made along the way that others could learn from?
For most of my career I have been the first to fill a new position – from Press Secretary for my council member to Public Affairs Specialist and then Director of Community Engagement for the Houston Apartment Association, and later as Deputy Director for Harris County Intergovernmental and Global Affairs. These opportunities gave me the chance to really define my role. I always bit off more than I thought I could probably handle but ended up having the support and tools to excel. I don’t think I could have charted how my career would develop and where I would be today, but I’m eternally grateful for every experience and opportunity I have been given and the safety net that my bosses have given me to try new things. I think the smartest thing I’ve done, and also the most enjoyable, has been to really get to know people along the way. I love finding out about the people around me and have some truly wonderful friends and mentors that I have hung on to well past our regular work together as colleagues.
Who have been your mentors over the years? What’s been their best advice or coaching that has stuck with you?
I have been so lucky to have worked with really phenomenal people over the years. Too many to name here. Donna Warndof was my boss at Harris County for about 5 years. She always said, “it’s about how you be.” In other words, you can say all the right things, but if you don’t have the character to back it up then it isn’t worth a thing. You have to be the person who you really are, all the time.
Do you mentor others? What is your best advice for managing these types of relationships or asking someone to be your mentor?
I don’t think I’ve mentored in a formal way but completely believe in world domination through internship programs. I’ve hung on to so many of these professional relationships that became friendships over the years. My previous interns now work for NASA, oil companies, big-time PR agencies, and more. One is now an anchor on a Houston television station. I make effort to stay in touch and get excited to see their continued success! I routinely grab younger and newer colleagues and take them to luncheons, ask them to meet me at events, and introduce them around to people. I think the more that people around us succeed, the better off we all are – we can truly all rise together.
Do you ever see yourself running for office?
Nope…not ever. I wouldn’t want to put my kids and husband in such an exposed place as a public official.
What do you do to stay connected to other leaders, particularly women in your industry or area of influence?
Connections are my jam. In non-covid times, I make a point to have lunch, coffee, or a meet up with at least one colleague from another organization or entity a week. I often try to set up opportunities for colleagues who don’t know each other to meet. This has led to some very cool opportunities for alignment and partnership. During sessions that don’t include the risk of spreading coronavirus, I’m an avid baker, as many of my Houston delegation staffers can attest. I regularly make snickerdoodles or funfetti bars or chocolate chip cookies during session and drop them off around the capitol as a treat. Since covid, I’ve been making lots of phone calls and checking in on folks by text.
What do you find to be essential skillsets/personality traits for being successful in your business? On the flip side what traits or actions could totally sabotage your success?
Genuine curiosity about people – ability to understand their needs and find ways to help meet those needs, ability to talk to anyone, access to a few go-to funny (but appropriate) stories or dad jokes… Aside from that, I’m really awkward and accident-prone, and being able to acknowledge that and move through embarrassment is helpful. One of my previous bosses always admonished our legislative witnesses not to lie, guess or be argumentative. Those apply outside of testimony, too. I think if I were unable to admit when I’m wrong and unwilling to listen to other opinions on issues that would severely limit my effectiveness.
I’m a young woman and I want a job like yours. What do I do now?
Start connecting with people doing the things you want to do. Attend networking opportunities. Get involved in nonpartisan groups and meet as many people as you can. Ask questions and listen hard. Be trustworthy and dependable.
What do you wish someone had told you when you were getting started in your career?
I don’t think I have an answer for this. Every misstep and mistake has helped add up to the experience that I draw on for my personal and professional life. I don’t think I would be the same person without those mistakes. There is plenty of advice that would have helped me avoid them, but life is about progress, not perfection.
Anything you find to be misunderstood about your profession?
I don’t think anyone understands lobbying the Texas legislature for multiple sessions until they have done it. My work with the County was particularly difficult for people outside to understand. We tracked about 60 percent of bills filed every session that I was with them, as they had some impact on county operations or priorities. The breadth of the bills that we covered and the intensity with which we worked on many of those bills was unlike anything else I have seen most of my colleagues undertake.
You could never do your job without __________. Why?
My partner. My husband Colin is a huge source of support and comfort to me. He is my best sounding board. I’ve been in relationships that have not been as supportive and have found more success and fulfillment, both personally and professionally, with him by my side than I could have imagined possible.
Any leadership programs, mentorship opportunities, or organizations you’d recommend for someone getting started in your industry?
What’s your preferred work bag and what’s always in that bag?
My navy and gold Henri Bendel briefcase (it zips for easy runs through the x-ray machine at the capitol). I always seem to have a kids’ snack in it, my pearls or another necklace that I’ve taken off at some point during the day, a pen that ends up in my hair when I inevitably get hot.
Favorite place for a business lunch?
Extra dirty, three olive vodka martini.
Last place you traveled?
Disney World (with the kids for fall break)
Favorite place to get your news? Social media sources?
Favorite book for professional development?
You could only buy clothing from one brand for the rest of your life – who do you pick?
Probably Modcloth (I’ve bought 5 different versions of the same sweater as my zoom uniform since March).
Do you collect anything?
Pearl jewelry. Particularly black pearl jewelry, these days.
Dream dinner party guest list?
Charlotte Allen, Mama Ninfa, Hortense Sparks Ward, Oveta Culp Hobby, Barbara Jordan, all my best girlfriends, and my sister, Rebecca. I would just want to talk about women and Houston history and hear it from their perspectives.
If you weren’t in your current job, what would you be doing?
Writing for someone, somewhere.