Interview by Traci Koenig
For our first monthly Young Professional Profile, we sat down with Michelle Hundley, J.D., M.P.A., of the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region. Michelle has been with the Economic Alliance for almost three years now and has worked in other public sector Public Affairs positions prior to her position with the Economic Alliance. We sat down with Michelle to learn more about how she came to choose her career path, what moments stand out as character-defining, and what principles guide her decision-making process.
There’s a really fine line between the idea of persevering and the idea of choosing your battles. How do you navigate that?
I think choosing your battles is part of perseverance; I don’t think there’s an either/or. The way that I do it is gut instincts and prayer (laughs).
And how did you learn to trust yourself and your judgment? I know especially for a lot of young professionals, there are so many external influences, and sometimes it’s easy to attach yourself to a mentor who ultimately may not end up being a good influence so it’s so important to use discernment and judgment- to really trust your gut.
It’s about being true to yourself and what you believe in and not letting that go. So, if you have a very strong ethical base — whatever that is — just maintaining that and knowing who you are because at the end of the day your name is what will last.
It’s your currency.
Correct. Honesty and integrity, moral ethics and being strong in your values and faith — whatever your faith may be — these are the things that help make decisions. For me, it’s a matter of “What would Jesus do?” It sounds cheesy, but that question keeps me grounded and guides all of my decision-making. There have been times in my career that I have had to make a very clear distinction on what I would and would not do based on my ethical values. Would I lie or not lie? Would I say this person did something they didn’t do? Would I stand up for somebody that I knew was being targeted or not? Those are real choices I have had to make in my career, and I knew in myself that I was comfortable and okay losing that job if I did the right thing.
And how did that affect your career?
I didn’t lose my job in any of those cases, but it wasn’t easy to be in that position. People knew then what I was and wasn’t willing to do, and that made some people uncomfortable. I have always stood up for the ”little guy.” My grandfather was a Mexican immigrant. I watched his struggle here in the United States as people treated him disrespectfully because of his language barrier, and I always stood up for him. I think that’s where it started. It’s a facet of my personality that has helped me succeed because people know that they can trust me, that I will stand up for the right thing; and I think that’s a strength.
You mentioned your grandfather is a Mexican immigrant and had a language barrier. Your maternal grandparents are Mexican immigrants, and your paternal grandparents are….?
It’s easy to see how people could just assume that you are white and say some things in front of you that really speak to white privilege. It’s a tough thing, and it’s going to become a greater part of the professional dialogue as diversity in the workplace continues to increase. How do you handle that?
Well, in the past, I haven’t handled it as well as I probably should have (laughs). There was a time in my undergraduate career when I was rushing between two sororities that I won’t name, and we were at a football game. All the girls were tall and blonde and beautiful — like you would expect — and when our band came out, one of them made a comment to me about how “disgusting” their mariachi-style uniforms were. I let her know pretty directly that I thought they were great and that coming from a Mexican family, I liked that the band represented part of my culture. I then promptly got up and left (laughs), so I guess I could have handled that better.
You are a woman, you are young, and you are a minority; but you are professionally surrounded by people that are not those things. How does that affect the way you interact with them?
What has helped me is my law degree and legal background.
Why? Do you feel that it automatically lends you a sense of credibility with audiences who otherwise might not take you seriously?
Yes. And I don’t always tip my hand on that because I want people to know my work before knowing what my background is. If there is a problem, then I will pull that card out. It’s knowing how to play poker — knowing when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away.
I think Kenny Rogers wrote a song about that.
(Laughs) Yeah, but it’s true. Specifically in public affairs. Poker, chess, strategy — it’s all the same. It’s always really important to know which cards to play and when.
About the Young Professional Profile
The Young Professional Profile is the inception of an effort to create a forum for those under 40 who are excelling in their respective fields across Texas. There is a depth and breadth to the Millennial generation as a group of adults that is marked by a commitment to higher principles in the work they do, the ability to professionally marry what were traditionally separate streams of expertise, and a voracious appetite for new skills.
About the Economic Alliance
The Economic Alliance Houston Port Region, a non-profit organization created in 1985, provides professional economic development services for over 200 members, Harris County, the Port of Houston Authority, and 17 communities surrounding the Houston Ship Channel — home to one of the world’s most influential energy corridors and trade ports. Since 2008, the Economic Alliance has supported over 40 successful projects that have facilitated business activities creating over 4,400 new jobs and over $5.5 billion of capital investment to the Houston Port Region. For more information: www.allianceportregion.com