Updated: Jun 22
Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Amy Hess, Executive Advisor at @Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet
How would you describe your career path in a few words?
“Non-traditional” is the word that comes to mind. After earning a degree in aeronautical/astronautical engineering from Purdue University—where, as a co-op student, I worked in the space shuttle program—I learned the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was seeking applicants with science and engineering backgrounds. I applied and, seven months later, was selected to become a special agent. I spent the next 29 years working and overseeing an expansive array of federal investigations, with assignments all over the U.S. and overseas.
My FBI career culminated with my promotion to Executive Assistant Director on two different occasions, overseeing the agency’s criminal and cyber investigations, science and technology capabilities, and worldwide response to crisis events. I was the first woman to hold these two roles and, at the time of my retirement, I was the highest-ranking woman in the organization.
Upon leaving the FBI, I was named Chief of Public Services for the city of Louisville, Kentucky, overseeing the police and fire departments, corrections, emergency management, and other components. Most recently, I was appointed as Executive Advisor to the secretary of Kentucky’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, helping to oversee the state police, prisons, criminal justice training, and juvenile justice system.
What was your most challenging experience and has it changed your mindset?
The events of 2020 were challenging for everyone, but as Louisville’s Chief of Public Services, I played a key role in the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest after the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, and a spike in homicides and shootings. These three different “crises” tested my resilience, resourcefulness, communication skills, self-confidence, and perceptions more than any other crisis I had experienced in my entire career.
Among other endeavors, I spearheaded the search for a new police chief, initiated a top-to-bottom review of the police department, and led many of the city’s police reform efforts. New ideas, policies, and legislation were proposed by seemingly everyone and tracking them required constant attention. Morale issues among public safety workers resulted in retirements, resignations, and a dearth in hiring… which resulted in more morale issues. Some officers lashed out on social media, which further eroded public trust.
The whole experience had big implications. It caused us to re-examine how we engage individuals with mental illness and help our own employees who are struggling. It also raised big questions, like: how do we, as a society, want to be policed? How do you regain trust and credibility? Who is responsible for an agency’s morale? And what have we learned from all this?
2020 changed the way I look at policing and its purpose. I continue to do this work because I believe it is meaningful, particularly when I can see—and feel—how it makes a positive difference in someone’s life.
Based on your experience, what’s the key success factor for a female leader / manager?
Throughout my career, I have seen far too many women “self-deselect” and deprive themselves of opportunities.
For many years, I intentionally avoided talking about being a female leader, mainly because I didn’t want to be seen as simply a demographic or, worse, a quota-filler. But one day, after speaking at a conference, I was approached by a young police officer who thanked me for showing her it was possible for women to achieve the highest positions in law enforcement. I suddenly realized that, if some women don’t see other women in roles like mine, they might not aspire to those roles themselves. They may not seek—and seize—opportunities.
Of course, there is always a risk when you pursue opportunities. You may not be selected for the job you wanted or be asked to play on the team. You may fail. So what can you improve to be more competitive the next time? We need to seek honest feedback from ourselves and others so we can truly grow and be ready for that next opening.
I’ve been fortunate to have had very few experiences where I suspected my gender impeded my pursuit of a goal. Or maybe I was just naïve. Regardless, it did not stop me from raising my hand. Like Wayne Gretsky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”