It was roughly six years ago when I first interviewed Kelli Bernard. That was when she served as deputy mayor of economic development for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Extremely private and blessed an abundance of humility, the soft spoken Bernard shared carefully, but with utter certainty as the person being responsible for business growth, economic development and job creation in Los Angeles. She was the top economic advisor to the mayor, in charge of eight city departments, including Los Angeles World Airports and The Port of Los Angeles, managing a budget of $6 billion and overseeing 7,000 employees.
Many public servants and some in the private sector saw Bernard as a rising star at City Hall, one that could potentially chart her own course in government if she decided to.
So, when infrastructure giant AECOM knocked on her door with an offer to join their global empire, Bernard took a deep long sigh and pondered whether she would finish with Garcetti during his term or expand her horizon and impact on communities she deeply cares about.
“I was part of team Garcetti and its one of those things that, regardless of what hat I wear, I am always going to be a part of team Garcetti. I was leading Mayor Garcetti economic development and it was the culmination of almost 20 years in public service and I don’t know if there was a better job as a public servant for me to have,” Bernard explained to Inglewood Today during an exclusive interview.
She admitted that she was quite happy at the Los Angeles Civic Center and was not seeking any other opportunities and believed that she would be there until the end of the administration.
However, all that changed in May 2016, when she was approached by AECOM to join their Southern California office.
She knew little about AECOM other than it being a large infrastructure company.
“I didn’t really know a lot about them, I knew they were headquartered in Los Angeles and two things; one they were helping the City of Los Angeles with winning the Olympics, then they moved their headquarters to Century City and became the largest private company headquartered in Los Angeles,” Bernard added.
As director of economic development she had always been very grateful of AECOM for the work they did with Los Angeles.
AECOM was reimagining how they wanted to run their offices, they had a Designed Consultant Services Practice, they had regions in New York, D.C. Metro region and were establishing a Los Angeles Metro Region and they wanted someone who understood the business and understood the geography.
When AECOM began to ask around who that individual could be, the focus pointed to Kelli Bernard.
Hence, Bernard would have many conversations with AECOM to run their Southern California office, but after months of talks she decided to accept and now serves as Executive Vice President of National Cities, responsible for addressing challenging problems by leveraging AECOM’s integrated delivery platform with innovative models across various sectors.
It is a position that allows for AECOM to benefit from the best of both of Kelli Bernard’s worlds.
One where she is ultra sensitive to the needs of a city, careful with its budget and committed to its constituents, then also have her unique skill set and vast acumen from the vessel of urban planning experience and vision to orchestrate the two for the benefit for all parties involved.
A graduate of University California Berkley, Bernard holds a master’s degree in Urban Planning from UCLA.
She lists as one of her primary mentors, the late Marva Smith Battle-Bey, an urban planning expert who was at the center of efforts to rebuild damaged stretches of the Los Angeles after the 1992 riots.
Bernard says that Battle-Bey was first to hire her and mentored her throughout the many years of her illustrious career, connecting Bernard to a bevy of stakeholders.
She also credits Juanita Tate, a late community activist who advocated green space for the poor citizens of South Los Angeles.
Of course it was her mother Erma who deserves most of the credit for nurturing and molding Bernard.
When ask where she wanted to be in the next five years, Bernard scratched her braided hair and then calmly responded.
“I didn’t know that I would leave City Hall, so I honestly don’t know the answer to that.
AECOM is hoping she is still in the fold with them.