Spotlight on Chairman Janiece Longoria
Christine Schlenker, GHPB
Chairman Janiece Longoria has served on the Port Commission for the Port of Houston Authority since 2002, and she has served as Chairman since 2013. The Greater Houston Port Bureau is pleased to honor Chairman Longoria as the 2017 Maritime Person of the Year to recognize her leadership and accomplishments in the Port of Houston. Learn more about Chairman Longoria – in her own words – in this interview discussing her background, her Port Houston leadership, and her dedication to public service.
Q: How did growing up in a law- and public service-oriented family influence your education, career path, and public service?
A: Both of my parents were dedicated lifelong public servants that came from the Greatest Generation. They were both the first in their families to attend college, and considered educational opportunity the bedrock of their success. From the time I could process language, my parents instilled in me the importance of education, commitment, and dedication to the public good in addition to personal success. They taught me the value of these core principles, and I in turn pursued education at the University of Texas, and have incorporated public service as an important component of my professional life.
Q: Was there a person or an event that greatly impacted you when you were in school or a young professional?
A: I was driven by my desire to receive approval from my parents. Because they expected excellence in all that I did, I received their compliments only when I excelled (no blue ribbons for participation). On the other hand, they supported me in all that I did, and were proud parents of all five of their children. They believed that allowing us to make decisions and to own the consequences of those decisions was important early life training. I believe that early ownership of decisions and the consequences of my decisions helped frame my character.
A personal anecdote: At the age of five, my mother enrolled me in a pageant. I was painfully shy, and I remember being escorted onto the stage in front of an auditorium full of people. I was supposed to repeat lines or otherwise perform. Instead, because of my shy nature, I froze and then ran off stage through a side door.
Needless to say, this was a traumatic event that created certain attitudinal barriers to public speaking. It may not be a stretch to say that eight out of ten people surveyed, when given the choice, would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy. With practice, I have overcome that attitudinal barrier, and am now very comfortable in speaking in public and in front of large groups of people.
Q: Before going into private practice, you served as a district attorney. What is the most important thing you learned?
A: Being a district attorney was a highlight of my professional career. Representing the people of Harris County and Texas and the victims of crime, I never questioned the importance of the work that I did, and I gained great satisfaction from that work. It is common knowledge that a public service sector lawyer is not well paid. On the other hand, the job satisfaction is the highest of my legal career. I learned that job satisfaction is not necessarily tied to the level of compensation, and a job well done is satisfying in itself. That is why public service has always been an integral part of my professional career.
Q: The district attorney position brought you to Houston – what kept you here?
A: When people ask me what drew me to Houston, I say a good decision. As a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, I resisted moving to Houston because of the cool factor of Austin. Within a year of moving to Houston I loved it, and I did not consider moving back. I have now been here 35 years, am a proud Houstonian, and enjoy all that our great city has to offer. I have been successful professionally, and I have witnessed the transformation of our city and this region as we have improved public spaces, parks, hike-and-bike trails, downtown and neartown residential and commercial developments, and planted trees and vegetation along roadways and urban areas that enhance our visual landscape. I love our region. People are judged solely on the merit of their contribution, and everyone has a place in the most welcoming and diverse city and region in the nation.
Q: What led you to pursue commercial litigation, specifically securities litigation and arbitration?
A: I joined Hutcheson & Grundy LLP in 1983, and because of my trial experience from the District Attorney’s office, I was assigned to a partner that handled securities litigation and arbitration. I really enjoyed that area of practice, was successful, and the rest is history.
Q: What interested you in serving on the Port Commission?
A: Being able to contribute to the public good with greater impact than other endeavors. Serving on the Port Commission, and the decisions that are made, require a person that can set aside any personal interest and consider only the benefits to the greater Port of Houston and all of its stakeholders. I enjoy making a positive contribution to our regional, state, and national economy. Also, I have made many friends from all stakeholder interests that I will carry with me in future endeavors.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of being part of the port community?
A: The people that I meet and with whom I collaborate for the public good.
Q: You’ve served on the Port Commission for about 14 years now. How have you seen the Port of Houston change, and how have you seen Houston’s perception of the Port change?
A: We have grown tremendously. I have witnessed the deepening of our channel from 40 to 45 feet, the building of Bayport, the renovation of Barbours Cut Terminal, the growth of our business lines, the expansion of refrigerated storage, the increase of all-water service from Asia through the Panama Canal from 0% to 28% of our container trade, and reaching the 2 million TEU milestone (among others). This has happened because of the synchronicity of a team of teams, including the certainty of our union labor, the cooperation from our federal partners including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard, the Houston Pilots, shippers and ocean carriers, private tow operators, our industry partners, and our elected officials who support our efforts. There is no limit to what we can accomplish as a team. We have worked hard over the last few years to rebuild public trust in who we are and what we do, and to drive home our message that we are a national leader and we do what we say. This endeavor requires constant attention and continuous improvement. Port staff and the commission are focused not only on growing our business, but also on the importance of public trust and the value of positive public perception as we take Port Houston to the next level.
Q: Has your view of Houston changed since you were appointed to the Port Commission?
A: I would not say that my view of Houston has changed. Houston is a great city, and I love it. What has changed is that I have expanded my view to include the region and its stakeholders as the greater port community. Most people do not appreciate that it was the port and the industry and commerce that flows through the Houston Ship Channel that has caused Houston to become one of the largest and most productive metropolitan areas in the nation. It has been said that Houston is the town that built the port that build the city, and this is indeed true. However, it is also important that we recognize and foster continued partnership among the greater Port of Houston stakeholders and that we honor our relationships with the many communities that we serve. East Harris County has the greatest direct connection to our activities, and, of course, we are under the bonding capacity of Harris County and work with Harris County on foreign trade zone activities so it is also an important partner for us. We value all of our stakeholders and will work and think regionally to ensure that we continue to create jobs and opportunity and build on our legacy for generations to come.
Q: What do you consider to be your (and/or the port’s) greatest success during your tenure?
A: There is not one greatest success in my mind. There are many. However, our improved communication among industry, community, and port are excellent, and we have been strategic in our growth to assure that we develop business lines that are aligned with our location and our business strengths. I am also very proud of our innovations at our container terminals, truck gates, and container processing facilities. Our team of teams continues to set records, and we are an industry leader among ports in the nation and around the world. We are proud of what we have accomplished together.
Q: What do you see as the port’s greatest threat now and in the near future?
A: Port security and cybersecurity are paramount from the standpoint of emerging and evolving threats. We work closely with Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, the Houston Ship Channel Security District, and public and private enterprises to remain proactive in mitigating potential threats. We also need to ensure that we continue to advocate for additional Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund allocations for adequate dredging and maintenance of the Houston Ship Channel, the lifeblood of our industry.
Q: What is your outlook for Port Houston and the ports of Texas for the next few years?
A: Port Houston will continue to be the international port of Texas and the premier container port on the Gulf Coast by virtue of our location, our tax base, and our unparalleled infrastructure. We must continue to upgrade and streamline our local and state freight transportation network to assure that rapidly growing commerce does not overwhelm our existing network. We are proactive in advocating for freight transportation mobility projects including I-69, potential freight shuttle opportunities, rail upgrades, highway connectors, flyovers, and other infrastructure improvements. All ports in Texas will benefit from improvements to our freight transportation network.
Q: Your term limit on the Port Commission is approaching in a few years. How will you stay engaged in the maritime community after your time as a Commissioner has ended?
A: I will continue to be an ambassador and advocate for all things maritime and all things Port Houston. I have a network of friends, supporters, and colleagues. I will continue to volunteer my time or serve in another capacity that will benefit the public good.
Q: How do you approach promoting diversity and small business advancement in the maritime industry?
A: Port Houston believes strongly in diversity. It is important and a top priority for us to spread the news about the opportunity for well-paying maritime jobs. To that end, we sponsor a robust maritime academy and maritime education program, and we work collaboratively with local school districts that serve our surrounding communities. We currently have programs at six high schools with 1,000 participating students, enabling these students to take dual-credit courses and certifications that can lead to jobs directly out of high school or prepare them for further maritime education at Houston Community College, San Jacinto College, Texas Southern University, and Texas A&M University at Galveston. We are very proud of our success with minority and women students in our programs and graduates who are in the maritime industry or pursuing maritime careers.
Port Houston also has a Small Business Development Program (SBDP) that encourages engaging local small businesses to take advantage of the multitude of opportunities at Port Houston. Since the inception of the program, nearly a half a billion dollars have been awarded or committed as small business expenditures.
We are honored that Port Houston’s dedication to diversity and small business advancement has been recognized multiple times recently, including twice in December 2016. Houston-Galveston Area Council presented Port Houston with the Excellence Award for our Small Business Development and Maritime Education program. Also, the City of Houston’s Office of Business Opportunity honored Port Houston and our partners as the Community Partner of the Year at its Champions of Diversity Awards Ceremony.
Q: How do you approach negativity so that it does not impair your own optimism?
A: I approach it as a learning experience, gain from it, and move on. I am optimistic to my core, and no amount of negativism from the outside will derail my plans to work with our staff, commission, and stakeholders to create positive outcomes and a legacy of service to our communities.
Q: You’ve been quoted many times as saying that public service is very important to you. How would you recommend to the upcoming generation of leaders that they become involved?
A: Just that. Find opportunities to serve non-profit organizations, including board service. The key is to meet people and to become comfortable in collaborating with other people to achieve the mission of the organization that you serve. Other doors will open as you meet and work with people.
Q: You’ve repeatedly been in positions in which you were the first or only woman or Hispanic to be on a board, in a leadership position, to receive an award, etc. How do you feel about breaking barriers or being the only one to represent your demographic?
A: Although I have indeed been recognized in that way for many things, I do not filter my experience through the lens of race or gender. With that said, I am proud of my heritage, am a representative of a diverse Latino community, and a woman in a leadership role in a historically male-dominated industry. To quote Ginger Rogers when she was asked about what it was like to dance with Fred Astaire, like her I have done everything that my predecessors have done, but I did it in high heels.
Q: You mentioned in an interview in 2014 that being selected as a 2013 Texas Exes Distinguished Alumnus was the greatest honor of your professional career. How does the 2017 Maritime Person of the Year award compare to that?
A: The Texas Exes Distinguished Alumnus award was a great professional achievement because of its direct connection to my education at the University of Texas setting the table for my success. I consider the 2017 Maritime Person of the Year Award to be the greatest honor of my professional career in maritime service, and it is an important part of my career having spanned 14 years.
Q: Can you tell us about your husband, Steve Lasher?
A: Steve Lasher was born and raised in Houston, and is the finest, funniest, most charismatic human being in all of creation. When people ask us how long we have been married, we say “not long enough.” We were married on Valentine’s Day in 2003. We enjoy many of the same pursuits and spending time with our family and friends. During our marriage, his children have blessed the family with five grandchildren. In addition to spending time with them, we also enjoy fishing. We fly fish all over the world, but our two dedicated trips are Alaska in August and Patagonia, Chile, in January. At this time in our lives, we are enjoying our travel and working together to benefit nonprofit initiatives and organizations.
- Date January 13, 2017
- Tags January 2017