Talking story with the Board member, PBN Honoree, CEO and Priory mom
Congratulations to St. Andrew's Schools' board member and Priory in the City mentor Bettina Mehnert, who is Pacific Business News' 2019 Women Who Mean Business Career Achievement honoree!
Mehnert came to Hawai'i 30 years ago from Germany to practice architecture. She is the CEO of AHL, formerly known as Architects Hawaii Ltd. Under her strong leadership, AHL has won numerous awards for projects on O'ahu, including the International Council of Shopping Centers for its work designing the flagship Walgreens store behind Ala Moana Center and the Velocity Honolulu mixed-use automobile showroom at Symphony Honolulu.
AHL is a multi-disciplinary architectural firm with international experience across architecture, planning, and interior design. Signature projects include Whole Foods Queen; Aulani, A Disney Resort; Ka Makana Ali'i; and more recently the Alexander & Baldwin Lau Hala Shops redevelopment in Kailua.
Mehnert's career achievements don't end with CEO. She is a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, one of the highest honors for members of her profession. Mehnert is a member of the Urban Land Institute's Responsible Property Investment National Council, the City and County of Honolulu's Climate Change Commission and the Sustainable Business Forum. In addition to her service to St. Andrew's, she is also a PBS Hawaii board member and an advisor to the Center for Tomorrow's Leaders and Ho'ōla Nā Pua.
Mehnert will be honored for her career achievements along with 31 Women Who Mean Business honorees at PBN's annual gala at The Royal Hawaiian on March 14. The PBN honoree, CEO, SAS board member and mom to The Priory eighth-grader Anna, sat down with us to share what inspires her.
SAS: What first drew you to St. Andrew's Schools? What do you like about the school?
Mehnert: "Two things – the location of the school and because my daughter begged me to let her go here! I work downtown on Bishop Street and used to take the bus from the Windward side to come to work. Any school had to be located conveniently to our bus route. St. Andrew's location is unbeatable.
"Then came the summer when I signed Anna up for the Adventure Camp – and she was determined to go to St. Andrew's. Anna has been here since, all through elementary and middle school. Frankly, St. Andrew's is one of the best kept secrets in town. The small class sizes allow personalized attention, the passionate teachers and their relevant curriculum...it is all part of what has helped me raise Anna to be a confident, smart and kind daughter."
SAS: Who or what inspires you?
Mehnert: "People that are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in – and manage to do so in kind, compassionate ways. I admire and deeply respect people with new ideas and the determination to try them out. In today's world, our survival might depend on it."
SAS: You are the Women Who Mean Business Career Achievement honoree this year. What was it like to find out about the honor?
Mehnert: "That was actually quite funny. I happened to sit at my desk when the phone rang and Kam Napier congratulated me. I paused and then told him that I didn't apply for anything. He said that one can't apply for it but is nominated and that I was selected. I have to admit that this felt very good!
"I think it would be a mistake to look at the award as recognition for something I have done in the past, but rather as an opportunity to impact change in positive ways for the future. If I can be a role model for women, I would be honored. With that said, I never looked at my career as anything particularly special. My main objective has always been to have fun and be relevant. It has been a luxury to be able to do this – and be successful."
SAS: How did you get into architecture?
Mehnert: "I am a third-generation architect and the older of two daughters. Architecture was not something I was interested in because I knew how much work it is and how it takes you away from your family. So after high school I did a carpentry internship, which made me fall in love with buildings after all.
"I realized that architecture was a profession that gives so many distinctly different options – designing structures that will be seen for generations; creating environments that impact how people work, learn, heal or live; applying technologies to help make teams more efficient; using chemistry and physics knowledge to develop new materials and methods for buildings; not to mention all the legal, managerial and financial aspects this profession has. After finishing my architecture degree, I added a graduate degree in computer science, to which I later added an Executive MBA. Altogether, this has made for a wonderfully diverse and invigorating career so far."
SAS: What do you and your firm do to make Hawaii more sustainable?
Mehnert: "The built environment is a tremendous producer of greenhouse gas emissions and a direct contributor to global warming. By changing the way we design, the materials we use and the technologies we implement, we have the opportunity to change the environment for the better. A sustainable building is healthier for its inhabitants, and it is more mindful of the environment. Our firm is proud of the fact that almost all of our architectural staff are LEED accredited which shows the commitment to designing better and healthier buildings."
SAS: What advice do you have for students wanting to peruse a similar career path?
Mehnert: "My career path was unique in that it didn't matter what I'd do as long as it was fun and made a difference. Life is short and the thought of spending time doing something I did not enjoy was panic-inducing. For example, I never thought I could stay with a company for more than two years because I figured that I would be quite bored. Architects Hawaii, now AHL, turned out to be one of the most amazing places to work because the learning is continuous, and the work remains fulfilling. I had fun, and I still do 30 years later.
"So, my advice is a bit more general – no matter what you end up doing in your life, make sure it fulfills you. Make sure you have fun. If you have fun, your work will be good, and your career will take care of itself. Also, keep in mind that it is okay to change directions. Should you feel that you are not enjoying what you are doing, don't be afraid to make a change!"
SAS: What is one interesting thing people may not know about you?
Mehnert: "I am a USA Swimming certified official."
SAS: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Mehnert: "I am painfully aware of the fact that with my daughter in high school next year, she is halfway off to college. I want to make the time we have left count, so I am purposeful when we are together. I truly enjoy it. If she has other things going on, I enjoy reading, running and anything that unclutters the mind and tunes out the noise."