A Day in the Life of... Niels Aalund

Niels AalundHave you ever wondered what a career would be like in the demanding fast-paced, issue -driven world of Trade Association Management? Niels Aalund is a nationally recognized leader in the maritime industry and a member of the Dean's Advisory Board for the College of Technology. In 2010, Aalund was honored as Maritime Person of the Year by the Houston Propeller Club. He answers some basic questions about the road to management and gives some great advice to students considering a career in this challenging field.

What degree did you earn, and what year did you graduate?

In 1979, I graduated from the College of Technology with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Technology and a minor in Personnel Management. While at the University of Houston, I played football and was a member of Sigma Chi Fraternity. I received a first-class education and experienced a quality college life while living on campus.

What was your first job after you graduated from the University of Houston?

My first job after graduation was at my present employer, the West Gulf Maritime Association (WGMA). The WGMA is a Houston-based trade association representing 195 maritime-related companies.

After working initially 2 years at WGMA, I left to work within the maritime industry at various port cities. In the years that followed, I held diverse roles within different sectors of the industry. I returned to WGMA after 25 years. It pays to leave every job on good terms. You never know if you will come back. Don't burn any bridges.

How did you progress to your current position?

I have been fortunate to have worked in many areas of the maritime industry, including key assignments in several port cities. I gained leadership experience through a variety of maritime-related positions in organizations such as the Washington, D.C.- based National Maritime Association to the commercial sector. Because of my willingness to take on difficult assignments, I developed extensive strategic planning experience in both operations and commercial maritime activities. Although I would not consider my self an expert in all areas, I have a good hands-on working knowledge of many sectors of the trade.

What are the primary responsibilities of your current position?

I serve as an Officer and as Senior Vice-President of the West Gulf Maritime Association, with primary responsibility for advocating on behalf of member companies (steamship agents, vessel owners, and industry stakeholders) with local, state and federal agencies. The best way to describe what I do is that I'm an advocate and spokesperson for the maritime industry.

What is a typical workday for you?

That's the great part! No two days are the same for me. Yes, I schedule and plan, but as an advocate I have to respond expeditiously to a large group of constituent members. When they reach out for help, we have to respond. Their requests and issues are usually unique in nature. I also serve on 14 regional and/or national committees and boards, including such groups as Houston Galveston Area Navigational Safety Advisory Council (HOGANSAC), Area Maritime Security Council (AMSC), South East Texas Waterways Advisory Committee (SETWAC) , National Association Maritime Organizations (NAMO) , Houston Seafarers Center, Propeller Club International Governing Board, the University of Houston's Center for Logistics Excellence, the University of Houston, College of Technology and the Houston Maritime Museum.

What do you like best about your job?

As an advocate, I have the privilege of representing an industry that I care deeply about. In some ways I get to leave my hand prints on the future of our local maritime trade. I help prepare the WGMA “Daily Industry Update Report” for maritime stakeholders. This daily report briefs the trade on regional, national and international developments and trends. I'm always learning and making new contacts. Student might enjoy knowing that I'm affectionately known as “Mr. Cougar” in our industry. I am always ready to promote the University of Houston.

What advice would you give to students considering a career in your field?

Earning a degree at a great university like the University of Houston is super. However, education and personal development needs to be ongoing. I'm a big fan of networking, volunteering for industry committees and boards. Even now, I continue to sharpen work-related skills. I enjoy public speaking and would encourage students to consider Toast Masters International as a great way to sharpen your presentation skills. If you can find something you have a passion for, throw yourself into it. Try to bring value and enthusiasm to what you do. Volunteering to take on additional duties or difficult assignments only makes you more valuable to any employer.

The College of Technology offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Supply Chain and Logistics Technology and Organizational Leadership and Supervision. Continuing Education courses leading to certification in local and international logistics are offered through the Center for Logistics and Transportation Policy. For information about these and other programs, contact the Academic Services Center in the College of Technology, at 713-743-4100.