Aug. 6, 2020

Bringing It All Together with Brandon Hernandez

Sometimes reaching your destination means making moves that seem to be on different paths. That's what Brandon Hernandez has been consciously doing as he's built his career in Public Affairs while also volunteering his time and leadership within important nonprofit organizations. The journey hasn't always been easy or stress-free, but it has been rewarding.

In this episode, Brandon shares how and why he made moves throughout his career including how he managed through high-profile incidents that occurred at PG&E while he was there: an explosion in San Bruno and some of the largest wildfires in California history. He also shares why serving on the Board of two non-profits has been important for him personally and professionally. It's an inspirational story told with compassion.

Meet the Guest

Brandon J. Hernandez, Founder & Principal, Reforma Strategies
Brandon is an award-winning communications leader, executive advisor, and political consultant with strong expertise in how to successfully navigate California’s political, legislative, and business landscape. Leveraging in-depth knowledge of both the public and private sectors, Mr. Hernandez advises corporations, non-profits, and political campaigns to succeed at the state and local levels. He has been named a “Top 20 Under 40” Environmental Leader by a leading San Francisco Bay Area publication, received multiple national awards for a groundbreaking Spanish language environmental campaign, and has been honored by then San Francisco Mayor and leading LGBTQ organizations for his leadership on LGBTQ issues.

As the Founder and Principal of Reforma Strategies, Brandon Hernandez directs world-class client solutions in the areas of Political Strategy, Public Affairs, Media Relations, Government Relations, Reputation Management and Issue Advocacy. Regardless of the industry or challenge, he has helped organizations move past complicated events, protect reputations, and prepare for media and legislative appearances. With extensive insights, connections, and strategic leadership experience, Brandon helps companies establish or expand business operations in California, representing the fifth-largest economy in the world. 

For 13 years, Brandon served at PG&E most recently as Senior Director for External Affairs and Strategic Initiatives. In this role, he led a statewide team and oversaw legislative policy, collaborated with stakeholders and government agencies, and organized public affairs activities across the State and nation. He spearheaded PG&E’s strategic rollout of more than $6B in capital investments across Northern California, established the first Zero Net Energy substation in the United States, and led a partnership to make San Francisco the greenest city in America. Previously, Brandon worked as a policy advisor for the California State Assembly Speaker, managed Public Affairs for the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco and was lead for various corporate and political clients at a leading media and political consulting firm. 

Mr. Hernandez holds a BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley. Beyond his professional endeavors, he is involved with civic causes and non-profit organizations, including National Board Chair for Voto Latino and on the National board for the LGBTQ Victory Institute.

Links

To learn more about the organizations Brandon is involved with visit:


Transcript

Beth Davies, host: 

Welcome to Career Curves where we talk to people who have interesting careers and explore how they got where they are. I’m your host, Beth Davies. 

On this episode, we’re joined by Brandon Hernandez, who has worked in Public Affairs since 1999. He’s done this work on multiple fronts from political campaigns to policy work for elected officials to consulting to roles inside corporations including 12 years at Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the public utility that serves over 5 million California households and businesses. 

Outside of work, Brandon is active in the community, serving on the boards of two national organizations, Voto Latino and the LGBTQ Victory Institute. 

Brandon shares how he made moves throughout his career including how he, as an employee, managed through high-profile incidents that occurred at PG&E while he was there: an explosion in San Bruno, a suburb just south of San Francisco, and some of the largest wildfires in California history. 

Brandon left PG&E in 2019 and is currently taking a sabbatical. I’m pleased to have Brandon here to tell his story and what he’s learned up to this point in his career. 

Welcome Brandon. 

Brandon Hernandez, guest: 

Thank you. 

Beth: 

To get us started, I'd like to find out what it is that you're doing now. 

Brandon: 

You mentioned that I had a 12-year stint at PG&E. As anyone may have seen in the media, there was a lot happening there. I always thought I managed stress and situations well, and I think I do, but this was an unusual time and I was right in the thick of it. And I took a 4-5 months sabbatical. I say that now, because that's been part of my transition. 

Beth: 

Did you know it was a sabbatical when you took it? 

Brandon: 

I did. Yes. Frankly I needed sleep and I needed to rest and just kind of clear my head before making any decisions about my next step. And so, I took off to Europe for a few months, bought a round-trip ticket and just decided what to do day-by-day. 

Beth: 

It's so interesting. There's conventional wisdom that says the best time to look for our job is when you already have one. And I've always wondered about the validity of that advice, because what that means is that you're going from one to the next, with no time to stop and think. Here, you're giving yourself the time to have that clarity and what it can teach you about yourself. 

Brandon: 

Right. 

Beth: 

And so during that time, and as you were coming back, what kind of plans did you start to make? At some point you knew the sabbatical was going to come to an end... 

Brandon: 

Unfortunately (laughter). 

Beth: 

And the reality of the world was going to come back to you. So what were you thinking of doing at the end of the sabbatical? 

Brandon: 

Once a number of folks found out that I had left PG&E, I had a number of folks, fortunately approach me on different opportunities. There were a couple of things to re-enter the corporate world, and I think I realized pretty quickly, I wasn't ready for that again. At least not this time in my life. 

Beth: 

Not ruling it out forever, but for where you are right now... 

Brandon: 

That's right. And so where I landed was that given the breadth of experience that I had, and a lot of the contacts and the network that I've built over the years, that I would utilize that network in Public Affairs because that's much of what Public Affairs is to start my own consulting firm. As part of that, I will be joining with three other folks that you had mentioned and will be one of four partners really doing a lot of public affairs work here in California and nationally. And the three other partners are folks who I've worked with in some capacity, at some point in my life. All three people, I respect. 

Beth: 

Did they know each other? 

Brandon: 

They do. And they were already discussing doing this, what's being called "The Collaborative" and... 

Beth: 

I love the name by the way. 

Brandon: 

Oh, thank you. 

And so they knew each other, they knew that I was looking at transitioning to my next step, and we started having conversations. I have great respect for them both personally and professionally. So, that's where we are right now. 

Beth: 

I love it. 

Brandon: 

And I'm very excited about it. 

Beth: 

As you should be. 

So I'd love to find out how you got to this point, which probably includes too, how it is that you acquired both the experience and the network that is allowing you now to take this launch and build your own company. So let's go way back. Let's go back to when you were young and thinking about you as a child and your family and where you grew up, what messages were you receiving as a child about work, you and work, what work should be? 

Brandon: 

So, I grew up in Sacramento, California. That's where I was born and raised. And I was born into a family of nine. There is my two parents and then seven siblings, and so we grew up in a large family. 

My parents are immigrants from Mexico. They came here. So they had a huge influence on all of us, having come here. The American dream. They worked in the fields for awhile and made their way to Sacramento at some point, after having worked in various places in California. 

And then they eventually started working in various places. My dad ended up at Campbell Soup Company working as a union employee. For the Teamsters, I believe. And then my mother became a social worker. She worked multiple jobs at times. 

My dad worked quite a bit as well. I think he missed work twice in my entire life that I can remember. Once was because his mother passed away and he wanted to attend to the funeral. And the other time was because my mother insisted that he was deadly ill. He was not going to work that day. 

So that's something that always stuck with me, their work ethic and the sacrifices that they made to come to this country and to make sure that they were providing us with a better life. And so, that sticks with you and you want to make sure that you're living up to their expectations. 

Beth: 

Were there any overt messages that they had for you about school, education, work? Anything like that? 

Brandon: 

Yes. They really instilled in us the idea of hard work and school. Education was a priority. My mother always said too, that she could be gone tomorrow and that her goal in life is to make sure that she provided us the tools to survive and to continue to go forward. 

I carried that message with me, not only personally, but also professionally. When I've led teams, I just try to provide them the tools and the resources so that, regardless of if I'm around or not, they have what they need to be successful in their work. 

Beth: 

I love that. Yeah. I love that. That's such a strong statement about what it means to be a leader. As you were finishing high school. What was your plan? 

Brandon: 

So I wasn't quite clear. I thought maybe I wanted to run for office or be a lawyer or a combination thereof. That was the idea then, but then I actually got into politics and at some point was exposed to elected officials and worked for elected officials, and I saw the life that they had and I realized I don't want that life. 

Beth: 

So what was the difference between what you thought it was going to be, and then what you discovered watching people in the field? 

Brandon: 

You know, it was seeing elected officials at that point or having worked with them. I still enjoyed politics and the impact that you could have on a policy, but I realized the sacrifices you have to make in public life. 

Part of it too, was I was a gay, Mexican kid growing up at a time when things were a little bit more challenging. I didn't come out until I was in my mid twenties. So growing up, you always have this secret that you're kind of hiding. You realize, "Well, I'm gonna put myself out there even more publicly with this secret." And so that also had a huge impact on my decision making, as well. 

But I'm also somewhat innately shy. I work in an industry that people think you're very external facing and charismatic and that you're very social, but I'm also very innately shy. I learned that a number of politicians weirdly – and even you hear this about actors – I read an article recently about how politicians, a lot of them tend to be shy and everybody thinks that they have this very public persona and therefore they must be a very social person and confident, but it's almost like putting on a face, as actors do. 

Beth: 

Is that true then for you in these public affairs roles? That that becomes a role for you the times that you have to be more public-facing? 

Brandon: 

That's right. You do. You put on this public persona and then there's the part of you that's private. 

Beth: 

So you initially were interested in either politics, running for office or lawyer, and then you discovered public affairs. How did you find this field of public affairs and what attracted you to it? How'd you get into? 

Brandon: 

I was in college and one of my sisters worked for the California Democratic Party and she got me involved and being more active. Clinton was running for president in '92, and she asked me to get involved with volunteering and helping with the campaign on the college campus. I kind of got excited about the pace of campaigns and being exposed to these prominent politicians who are running for office and the excitement that came with that. And so that's when I really I caught the bug to get involved with politics. 

Public affairs, I think the term... 

Beth: 

I was going to say help me understand what the difference is between public affairs, politics, campaigns. 

Brandon: 

I like to say public affairs is sort of like the catchall, where they all intersect. All of these things that have come together. I've worked on campaigns. I've worked with our elected officials. I've worked with stakeholders and doing stakeholder engagement. Worked with community and charitable giving. A lot of that, in my world, was bringing all of that together and being strategic about it. I'm trying to utilize all of those things to affect policy or help a business or a company reach its business objectives. I know it's really hard to understand public affairs, but at least in my work world, that's how it came together. 

Beth: 

It's one of the reasons that we're doing this podcast, which is, we say to children all the time, when they're 10 years old, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" 

Brandon: 

That's right. 

Beth: 

And their world at that time is their doctor, their teacher, the post man or woman, and they don't know that there are people doing public affairs. Here, even at this stage of my life where I'm a full grown adult and I'm like, "Oh wait, tell me about this." Right? So it's an important thing for people to understand. There are all these different jobs out there that people do. 

So you're working with the campaign, with Cal Dems in college. Did this influence your major? 

Brandon: 

It did. 

Beth: 

What did you major in? 

Brandon: 

Political science. I had a major in political science and then a minor in Spanish literature. 

Beth: 

Did you start off with that major or what did you...? 

Brandon: 

I didn't. I think a lot of it was formed by my interest in politics as being part of the Cal Dems. 

Beth: 

Did you have any internships or jobs during college that further cemented for you that you were on the right path? 

Brandon: 

I did. I worked as an intern for state treasurer, Kathleen Brown at the time, and I spent a summer in Sacramento and then I did some internships with the California Democratic Party. When I had free time, I would go in and work at the party. And during campaign season, I would work on various campaigns, during summer breaks or even if I had some free time during other breaks. 

Beth: 

Yeah, so you're like, "I'm all in. I'm doing this on all my breaks. I'm just doing this." 

And so as graduation was approaching, what kind of plan were you forming about what you would do after graduation? 

Brandon: 

So I knew I wanted to stay in the Bay Area after graduating from Cal and I wanted to work for an elected official. I wanted to get that experience at least for a time. And so I decided to apply a few places with a few elected officials, both state and federal. And I landed a job within a week of graduation with US Senator Barbara Boxer at the time, now retired, in the San Francisco office, just down the street from here, actually. 

Beth: 

Do you remember how you got that job? Did you have any connections? Did you do anything differently in the way that you were applying? How did you get a job with Senator Barbara Boxer? 

Brandon: 

So I remember going to the Career Center at Berkeley and also working with the Cal Dems. I applied for a couple of jobs through the Career Center, but the Boxer one, someone had told me they were looking for someone in the field office here and they suggested that I apply. And that's what I did and a week later I had a job. 

Beth: 

I love it. And how long did you work with Senator Boxer? 

Brandon: 

I was there for three years. 

Beth: 

What did you learn about yourself during that time? Did you learn anything about what types of work you enjoyed more or less? 

Brandon: 

I enjoyed, at that time at least, when I was out in the field working with people. I realized that's the part of the job that I enjoyed. Being stuck in the office was not very enjoyable. 

Beth: 

It's interesting because you shared already that you're an introvert and so many people would think, "Well, an introvert then you wouldn't want to be doing fieldwork. You'd actually prefer to be in the office..." 

Brandon: 

It doesn't make sense, does it? 

Beth: 

Except that you can be an introvert with social skills. Right? 

Brandon: 

That's right. 

Beth: 

And just being an introvert doesn't mean you don't like people or like being with people. I just like this idea that you can be both of those things. You can be an introvert in a job that is out in the field and people focused. 

Brandon: 

Right. Introverts like people, too. 

Beth: 

Exactly. So as that was coming to an end, after three years, what was bringing that to an end? 

Brandon: 

I just decided I was ready to move on. You start learning what the different aspects are in politics and I wanted to try all of them to see where I gravitated. 

Beth: 

It's a great strategy. 

Brandon: 

Right, I guess I was very strategic about how I did it. At that point, someone had mentioned to me that there was going to be a job opening up with a Speaker of the California State Assembly and it would be a policy job. I landed the job in Sacramento. I went to Sacramento for a few years, working as a legislative consultant, and that's where I ended up going. 

Beth: 

And so now you're having the experience in these different aspects of politics: the campaign, the field work. Now, the policy side. Where were you finding your greatest home and what was making that feel like the right fit for you? 

Brandon: 

So I realized I liked the energy that came with campaigns. I mean, you're going non-stop. 

Beth: 

There's gotta be a real immediacy to it. Right? 

Brandon: 

Very much so. 

Beth: 

There's a to be an election and... 

Brandon: 

Yes, and so that part of it was very exciting. And working with people in the field. I enjoyed that. The policy part of it, that part didn't grab me as much. I'm glad I did it because I realized I don't want to be necessarily so policy focused. I want to affect policy and be behind the scenes and be able to do that. And there are ways to do that without having to necessarily be a person who's analyzing policy and analyzing legislation. You can affect it in other ways. 

Beth: 

And then what did you do with that information? 

Brandon: 

I was still growing. I was somewhat young still and I hadn't fully developed where I was going to be at that point. I ended up with the Speaker for a few years, and then he was going to be termed out. As he was being termed out, I decided, "Okay, now I want to go get corporate experience." 

Beth: 

So, as you tell the story now, it sounds like this was a very deliberate: campaign, field, policy, corporate. At the time that you were actually living it, were you consciously being that deliberate? 

Brandon: 

Yes and no. I'm able to look back on it and realize that I was being very deliberate. 

Beth: 

But, it is a good strategy to say, whatever your field is, "I want to, especially early in my career, keep experimenting, keep going broad, keep learning more." 

Brandon: 

Right. 

Beth: 

And so you went into the corporate world. Tell me about that. Where did you end up going and what attracted you to that move? 

Brandon: 

One of the things I learned having been in government and campaigns is, being of Latino descent, I was seeing a lot of folks from the community who would either go into community-oriented work or they would do something within government and then they would stay there. And there weren't enough folks within the Latino community getting corporate experience. All the other work is very important, but we need to more diverse in how we approach and what we bring to the table. 

Beth: 

It sounds like you were making this move for you, but also for your larger community. 

Brandon: 

Yes. I saw there was a gap there. We saw that on corporate boards and in C suites and such. There were very few people who had my background and who looked like me and people I could look up to. At least, somebody I could relate to. And so I decided, why not be that person and be part of that change. 

Beth: 

And so where did that take you? 

Brandon: 

So that took me to the banking industry, Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. They were just starting a public affairs department. They brought me in to actually put together the plan for creating that department. 

I was based here in San Francisco, but it also took me out east to DC and some time in New York, as well, for a few years. 

Beth: 

This probably is putting you somewhere around 30 years old. 

Brandon: 

No, let me see... Maybe late twenties. 

Beth: 

Late twenties and you're stepping into a bank and creating a function for them. 

Brandon: 

Right. 

Beth: 

Did you feel at all during this, that maybe you were in over your head and, if so, how did you manage that? 

Brandon: 

I feel that way now (laughter). Starting a consulting business I feel like, "What am I doing?" and I'm okay with that. 

I always want to challenge myself. I don't ever want to get so comfortable. And so, yeah, I did. I thought, "Wow, I'm really going to be in the banking world?" I never thought I'd be in the banking world, but I'm doing a function that I was kind of honing my skills around and let's see what I can bring. 

It was also exciting. I like new things. This is the other thing I learned that I like starting new things. I like being creative. I find myself getting bored, at least for me and my personality, once something's already started and it starts going on auto-drive. So this was exciting for me. That was one of the things I learned in this job. It's like, "Oh yeah, I like starting new initiatives." And I... 

Beth: 

It's such an important thing to learn. I remember I was talking once with a recruiter who said that one of their favorite questions to ask people is, "Do you prefer to start with a blank piece of paper or to have something that's built that you then can enhance and change?" They really were saying that there are two different types of people. Now, there's probably a lot more than that, but those are the main camps. And so, at some point, to be able to learn about yourself, "Yeah, I'm the blank sheet of paper person," and I don't know how you learn that other than having the types of experiences that you have. 

Brandon: 

That's right. I would never have known it until I did have the experience. These are all things that you learn along the way. You have this idea of what you might be or what you're going to enjoy. Until you actually experience it, you realize it's not what I expected. 

Beth: 

So, how long were you at the bank? 

Brandon: 

I was there for three years. 

Beth: 

For three years. And how did you know that it was time to move on? 

Brandon: 

I was working a lot, living on a plane. I was flying back and forth between California and DC quite a bit, which was fun and exciting. I enjoyed the travel, but at some point I realized the organization's in a good place and it can continue and it will continue. I also wanted to return to California more permanently. And so, that's how I decided for myself. 

Beth: 

Did you do next and how did you find it? 

Brandon: 

While I was at the bank, we worked with a number of consulting firms. There was a consulting firm based here. It's a political and media consulting firm here in San Francisco, and the head of the firm had 

become a friend and realized that I was open to returning. So, we had discussions and I ended up joining the firm. 

Beth: 

You could probably see that I've got a big smile on my face. The reason is because I'm thinking that you just now laid down the fifth one. (Laughter from both) We said you did corporate and now it's, "Oh, but there's still consulting to do," and so here you are picking up that. 

Brandon: 

I'm covering all of my bases. 

Beth: 

You did! I'm not hearing yet academia but maybe that's going to come. You still have a long career ahead of you. Maybe that's still to come. 

Brandon: 

That's a thought. 

Beth: 

Right? There you go! 

So you built this function at the bank. You decide you have to leave. How did you message that back to the bank? How did you let them know that you were leaving? 

Brandon: 

I fortunately worked with a boss who was very supportive and realized that I wasn't going to be a lifer at the bank. That I would get the experience that I needed there and I would move on to something else. So, it was not a very difficult conversation and it was because I had a supportive supervisor. They were encouraging in a sense. While they didn't necessarily want me to leave, they also were very supportive in my next steps. 

Beth: 

What did you, as a consultant, find in that work that was a good fit for you or a misfit for you? 

Brandon: 

It wasn't a singular issue, whereas the bank was the bank and you were trying to reach just their objectives. Whereas in the consulting world, you're working with various clients and different people and different personalities and on different issues. So I enjoyed some issues and clients more than others, but it also was giving me exposure to a diverse group of industries and people. 

Beth: 

And then being able to say, if you do go back into industry, based on your experience with clients, which are the kinds that you enjoy more, like more, and the opposite. Was your next move to Pacific Gas and Electric? 

Brandon: 

It was, and the way I got that job was PG&E was a client of the consulting firm. I worked on a number of issues with PG&E. I was the lead for that account, so that's how I got to know them and they got to know me. And at some point, they offered me a job. 

Beth: 

So, a moment ago, you mentioned that what you discovered consulting was that you liked working with a lot of companies and not being single-issue focused. Now you're going back into a company. 

Brandon: 

That's right. 

Beth: 

Did you worry that you were going to be going back into single-issue focus or was this presenting itself in a different way? 

Brandon: 

I declined twice, so I wasn't ready to necessarily go and work for a big corporate client like PG&E. 

Beth: 

How'd they finally get you then. 

Brandon: 

So, there was a person there. They offered me a job twice, and there was someone who was leading the organization within the company where the public affairs function sat. And it was someone who was highly regarded and someone I respect. I knew the name of the person, and I guess I could say her name because I have such great admiration for her: Nancy McFadden. She was the one who kind of came in for the kill. (laughter). We met over a drink and she made the sell, and it was hard to say no. She made the job sound exciting. The ideas she had about what this opportunity would be and what she was trying to accomplish within the company, I thought, "Wow, I might get an opportunity to work with you?" and I didn't want to pass on that opportunity. 

Beth: 

So you make the move over to PG&E and you were there for 12 years. How long during those 12 years did you actually get to work with Nancy? 

Brandon: 

I was with her for about four years. Four or five years, yeah. 

Beth: 

So she was what attracted you. When she left at four years, how did that impact you and how did you manage through her transition out? 

Brandon: 

It was tough. We were doing some really exciting work and doing a lot of work on the environment at a time when a lot of major corporations weren't. She was leading these major environmental initiatives – and the company got behind them as well – that were really forward-thinking and ahead of its times. That was exciting because it was the first and we were creating campaigns and creating initiatives. Partnering with mayors and other environmental organizations and doing this really exciting work. 

Beth: 

So here, even though you're in a company, that's... PG&E is 30,000 employees? 

Brandon: 

It's about 20,000. 

Beth: 

20,000. So, even though you're in a large corporation, you're still getting to do the white paper, from nothing, creating that you've already said that you'd like to do, and you're getting to do it around the environment. 

Brandon: 

That's right. And the energy industry was very exciting. It made me realize how much of an impact they have on the environment. They could have either a negative impact or a positive. And here I was working with somebody leading the organization who came from the White House, worked with a couple of gubernatorial administrations. Highly, highly respected within the political world. Working with her, in the energy industry, impacting in a positive way the environment, it was incredibly exciting times for me. It was probably one of the best parts of my career at this point that I look back on that has had and continues to have an impact on me. 

Beth: 

It sounds quite exciting. So tell me about the 12 years at PG&E. Were you in this same role the whole time? Did you make shifts within PG&E? Give me a sense of that span of your career. 

Brandon: 

I started off handling public affairs, government affairs for the company here in San Francisco, and eventually that expanded to the greater Bay Area. And then I was elevated and leading the organization for government affairs / public affairs for the state. 

I got an opportunity to work with a lot of community groups because the company provided a lot of money to community groups. And so, yeah, I started off just doing San Francisco and eventually managing the state of California. 

Beth: 

One of the phrases that you used as you were describing that was, "you got the opportunity to..." Whether it was who got the opportunity to work with communities, you got... How do you think it was that you got these opportunities? Because I don't think they actually just fell out of the air. So what advice would you have to somebody who's in a large organization so that they can become that person who gets these opportunities? 

Brandon: 

Not everybody is a people person, but at least for me and in my world, I realized in every job how important relationships are, whether it's internally at a company or an organization, or externally. And I always say never burn bridges. You never know when someone is going to turn up in your life again. I think the relationships that I've built over the years, treating everybody with respect, I hope, at least that was my goal, and really kind of building and nourishing those relationships. That's why I think I had the opportunities before me that I did and continue to have. 

Beth: 

Did you ever find that an opportunity that came your way, wasn't going to be the right one for you? And how did you turn it down while preserving the relationship? 

Brandon: 

That's happened. I think, frankly, it's just having an honest conversation with them. I always say if you're coming from an authentic, honest place, someone will respect you for that. They may not be happy with the answer, but they'll walk away respecting that you were authentic with them. And that you were honest with them. 

Beth: 

During your time at PG&E, there were days that you had left work the night before thinking that you were going to go in to work the next day and pick up where you had left off and, unfortunately, something would happen like a fire. What is that experience like for you working inside the company? 

Brandon: 

You go from, what I mentioned earlier, being one of the leading companies on the environment and creating change and partnering with governments... 

Beth: 

Which you're feeling really proud of. 

Brandon: 

Right. And, fast forward to one day, you wake up and go into your office and an explosion happens. It's going from being on this high of excitement and doing these great things, to realizing that there's this great impact that happens to people and lives were lost. It's hard to prepare for something like that. These are circumstances that you don't necessarily prepare for. Who does? And it was very challenging, very difficult. 

But I will say that what came out of it was you realize how resilient you are as a person and how resilient others are. And I think that in challenging times people step up and that's what I saw around me. It drove me, it motivated me. You also wanted to do right by people whose lives were impacted. That was really the driver for me personally. And I saw it for others as well. 

Beth: 

In your role in public affairs, I would imagine too, that this had a direct impact on the work that you were doing. 

Brandon: 

It's very connected. It was our team on the front lines, talking to government officials. And I say the front lines, because that's really how it felt. You're going into these communities that were really impacted in ways that you just never want to imagine. And so it's probably one of the most connected to these issues than any other organization in the company. 

Beth: 

So sometimes when a company is in the headlines, some employees say, "That's it. I want out." You stayed. Why did you stay? 

Brandon: 

I get asked this question often because, as you mentioned, not only was it the explosion, but then there was the aftermath of the explosion. We knew there was a long road ahead and right as we're coming out of it, the wildfires. First, what was the largest wildfire in California history only to be followed by an even bigger one the following year. 

I decided, at least after the San Bruno incident, this was not the time to leave. I want to stick through this. Help get the company and the team and all of us through this time together. And so I still had more in me. I wanted to see it through. 

I was already thinking about what was next and I might have left a little earlier, had the wildfires not happened. That's really what kept me there. 

Beth: 

When we started our conversation, you mentioned that you had stepped away from PG&E because you needed that sabbatical and you needed to sleep and to clear your head. What were the signs that you saw that finally had you say, "Alright, I have to do this. I have to step away and take this sabbatical"? 

Brandon: 

Before the wildfires happened, I'd already been thinking about my next steps. So, I was already there. Then the wildfires happened. I just went into auto mode and jumped right back in. But then in the process, I started really kind of losing myself. You just wake up one day and realize they weren't getting the best of me anymore. And I didn't think that was fair to them or to myself. I wanna make sure that I'm always giving my best. 

Beth: 

You mentioned before the importance of not burning bridges. Was there anything specific during this transition that you did to make sure you weren't burning any bridges? 

Brandon: 

After a lot of thought on how to deal with it, because these were people that I grew to really be fond of. When you're in the trenches in a sense, you build a bond that becomes very, very tight and strong. I didn't want to disappoint, but I also knew that this is what I had to do. I just go back to being authentic and honest, and you hope that they see that. And that, in the end, while it's a difficult conversation, they respect you. 

Beth: 

Definitely. If you can handle the conversation with respect, the respect can carry over, even if people don't like the news. 

Brandon: 

Right. 

Beth: 

They still will respect you. You respect them and they can carry on. 

Brandon: 

Yeah, it may be difficult, but they'll respect you in the end. 

Beth: 

So one of the things that I learned about you as I was getting ready to talk with you is that you've also been very involved with organizations outside of the traditional work world. I believe you sit on a couple of boards. 

Brandon: 

That's right. I knew that there were ways for me to contribute that extended beyond my 8-5 job, even though it wasn't. 

Beth: 

How did you find time for these organizations when you were working in an intense job like you were at PG&E? 

Brandon: 

I was very fortunate to have a company that supported us being involved. It was easier when we didn't have the wildfires and the incidents that happened in San Bruno. It was easier to be far more engaged. I have to admit that I had to pull away a bit during those times, but it also kept me going. I felt like I was being replenished when I was with my peers at board meetings or events. 

Beth: 

Almost seems, too, it was giving you perspective of the world outside of what you were dealing with at PG&E. 

Brandon: 

Yeah. This is the importance I think, to step outside of it so that it does give you perspective and surround yourself by people or issues or things that really matter to you. And in this case, these issues matter to me and it gave me perspective. And you know, it actually made me a better employee. Bringing that perspective to your company, I think, contributes to the work they do as well. 

Beth: 

So now you're forming this consulting practice, and what are you most looking forward to doing in this new business? Where are you looking to take your career? 

Brandon: 

Right now, I'm just excited about getting it going and going public, but I do have some ideas. I know that our business is very relationship-based. Maintaining relationships and doing those things in order to keep a business going, it takes energy and time. I'm already thinking about what's next and how do I take, what is hopefully some success from the consulting business into my next step? So I'm trying to plan ahead. I have some ideas, but I know that the foundation that I build now will help support what I want to do later. 

Beth: 

Is there anything you want to share about what you're thinking you might be doing later? 

Brandon: 

(laughter) I'd like to end up retiring in Spain. 

Beth: 

Hey, I think I would, too. I like that idea. 

So I have just a few more questions for you. What would you say is the smartest career move that you made whether intentionally or accidentally? 

Brandon: 

That's a tough question. I don't know if it was just one career move. Early on, I realized the importance of relationships and so I made a decision that I'm going to value relationships. I'm going to try to nourish them and continue to develop them. That's really how a lot of my opportunities presented themselves. It's not necessarily something that comes natural to me because of my being an introvert, but it's something that I realize I've done okay and I recognize that. And so, it's really that: early on deciding that I valued the importance of relationships. 

Beth: 

If you could have one do-over, what would it be and why? 

Brandon: 

Maybe recently I might've taken a little more time off (laughter). 

Brandon: 

No really, I do encourage folks to just take a break every now and then. I'm in a place, fortunately that I was able to take a break and I recognize that I'm incredibly fortunate in that regard. But if you're able to, take a break. And sometimes a break doesn't mean you have to take a sabbatical for 3-4 months. It could mean that you simply take a walk or find something that helps to replenish you and your soul. If it's taking a walk or working out or reading or traveling, spending time with family. People need to consciously sometimes do that because it's so easy to go down that rabbit hole and get lost. It's hard to climb out of it once you're there. 

Beth: 

My final question for you, how do you define success for yourself? 

Brandon: 

Waking up every morning and being comfortable in my own skin and looking forward to that day. 

Beth: 

Well, I have loved getting to know you and I've enjoyed every minute of this conversation, so add me to your list of relationships. Thank you very much. I've really, really appreciated having you today. 

Brandon: 

Thank you for having me. It's been really wonderful. 

Beth: 

A quick epilogue, since our interview, Brandon has ended his sabbatical and started consulting. He launched his joint venture, The Collaborative, with three partners, and established a solo practice, Reforma Strategies. He remains actively involved with social causes and continues serving on the boards of the LGBTQ Victory Institute and Voto Latino. Links can be found on our website, careercurves.com, where you can find a full transcript of this episode, past episodes, and resources to help you in your career. 

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