AHL President & CEO Bettina Mehnert spoke with a group of 20 on August 29th, 2018 in the AHL Office in Downtown Honolulu, sharing great nuggets of wisdom gained throughout her life. She is the first female President & CEO in AHL’s 72 year history, to which she mentioned in her introduction that she doesn’t look at herself as the first woman to do anything, but rather a person ready and willing to effect change.
Originally from Germany, Mehnert’s parents were also architects, but she originally didn’t want to become one. However, she discovered she liked the mathematical aspects, as well as the material and construction aspects since becoming a trained carpenter. With unemployment rates around 20% in Europe at the time, Mehnert chose on a whim to come to Hawaii with a German government scholarship (‘it was February when I had to decide, and the only two places I haven’t gone to was Alaska and Hawaii, so of course, I chose Hawaii’) on August 20th, 1988, just over 30 years ago. Her life philosophies of “jump into things then figure it out as it unfolds,” “never see a barrier in anything you want to do,” and “don’t accept ‘no’s” led to her staying at the YMCA Atherton for eight days after her arrival due to her lack of English proficiency at the time, to being hired on the spot by Architects Hawaii, Ltd. after interning at a smaller firm for a short period. Mehnert led the firm’s transition from manual paper drawing to digital drawing soon after her hiring, thanks to her supplemental post-graduate IT degree (‘I loved IT, but I didn’t want to stay in it; I wanted to apply it to something else’). As a technological leader in the industry, AHL also features a Virtual Reality (VR) experience area, where clients can get a preview of what the project will look like and architects/designers can get a feel of the space they’re creating.
As a Partner, Mehnert also instituted the “1% Pro Bono Program,” a national program for architects and designers to connect with non-profits to donate their time “pro bono.” With 50 staff as a part of the program, AHL annually donates 1,000+ hours of their time to projects for non-profits, such as The Salvation Army Family Treatment Services Facility, Hawaii Nature Center Rain Pavilion, and Aloha United Way Headquarters Renovation. This program started in tandem with the firm’s 60th anniversary, which celebrated AHL’s four success pillars: their clients (‘without clients we’re not a business’), staff (‘without staff we can’t function and serve everyone else’), the University of Hawaii (‘they’re the future, and we need to support them’), and the community (‘no one builds in a vacuum without affecting the community, so we need to celebrate and recognize them as well’).
Along with embracing the Aloha Spirit first shown to her by first firm encouraging her to find a different, bigger place to AHL’s initial response to her request, Mehnert has instilled a culture of passion into her firm of 90+ people. HJCC Members Lisa Rapp (Principal, Hospitality) and Mariel Moriwake (Associate, Project Architect) attest to Mehnert’s passion with her oft-asked question: what gets you up in the morning? The passion throughout AHL, as well as the need for sustainability to combat climate change, has led to Mehnert serving on various non-profit boards (‘I get to learn the business climate by serving on them’), as well as Honolulu’s Climate Change Commission signed into action by Mayor Kirk Caldwell. (Be sure to check out the latest Hawaii Business magazine: ‘Building for a New World’ features the Commission and a peek of Mehnert’s mindset we got to see!)
Thank you to Patti Fukada with the Membership Development Committee and Jodi Nozoe Chang, Lisa Rapp, and Mariel Moriwake with the Women’s Diversity Initiative for organizing the event, as well as AHL and Bettina Mehnert for hosting us!