As a teenager, Eddie Aldrete spent his after-school hours rolling The Evening Star while watching the Watergate scandal unfold on TV news broadcasts before heading out to deliver the papers in his Washington, D.C., neighborhood.
With classmates also the sons and daughters of statesmen, Aldrete lived in a “fishbowl of politics,” he said, which became the foundation for his influential role today advocating for longstanding global trade relationships in a time fraught with divisive border issues.
In September, the San Antonio-Mexico Friendship Council recognized Aldrete, senior vice president of IBC Bank, for those efforts. The Amistad Award honors individuals or organizations that personify the council’s mission to strengthen and promote the cultural and historical ties between San Antonio and Mexico. It puts him in the company of people like Judge Nelson Wolff, Ed Whitacre, Carlos Alvarez, Lila Cockrell, and La Familia Cortez, among others.
Aldrete is the son of a civil rights attorney who was turned away from joining the Rotary Club in his hometown of Del Rio years ago. Instead, his father joined the Ciudad Acuña club, across the border, and was later welcomed as an international visitor at a U.S. national gathering.
“’We welcome you,’ they said,” Aldrete said of the turning point and why the Amistad Award was so meaningful to him. “Friendship, respect, mutual understanding – it’s what we share and preach everywhere we go.”
One of five children, Aldrete lived in Austin and D.C. growing up, then returned to his home state and attended Texas Tech University. He majored in journalism. Early jobs with the Texas Farm Bureau and the Texas Agricultural Cooperative Council took him back to Washington before he started his own government relations and communications consulting business in 1992.
In 1999, Aldrete successfully led a campaign that resulted in voters approving a plan to build the AT&T Center. A year later, he managed the light rail campaign called Keep San Antonio Moving, “which was a horrible flop,” he said. “That was God’s way of telling me, ‘You are mortal.’”
At the urging of former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, Aldrete took on a leadership role with the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and began serving on the board of a financially failing San Antonio Symphony.
“I’m proud that I identified a strong and effective leader – he will always have a place in my heart,” Andrade said. “It’s exciting to live in a community where we all come together and work for the good of the community and that’s what Eddie does. He brings us together and he tries to help us understand and then we all move forward, and that’s how we do things in Texas.”
In 2005, Aldrete stepped in as interim CEO of the symphony and was working to bring it back into the black while also contracted with IBC Bank to help with bank-related advocacy issues. Bank CEO Dennis Nixon then offered him the executive job at the bank.
Today, his role in advocacy and coalition-building often takes him outside the walls of the bank’s River Walk offices.
When then-Mayor Ivy Taylor was looking for support to build a new federal courthouse in San Antonio, she turned to Aldrete, who brought the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee into the conversation, who then brought in the chair of a subcommittee that oversaw courthouse rankings. In 2015, the needed $135 million in funding was added to a budget bill and passed into law.
“I don’t mean to make it sound like we did it on our own,” he said. “But that’s an example of the kind of advocacy we do, not for ourselves, but for the communities we serve.”
Aldrete also established the Conversations series, an open business forum sponsored by San Antonio’s chambers of commerce. “And while they’re here, we have private meetings with our City leadership,” Aldrete said. On Monday, the series brings to the city Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).
As one-half of a San Antonio power couple, Aldrete also talks about the latest issues during nightly dinners with wife Cristina Aldrete, who became the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s first Latina president and CEO in July 2018.
But Aldrete’s calendar is a well-orchestrated schedule of travel and meetings to places as near as IBC’s headquarters city, Laredo, and other border cities, but more often D.C. and Mexico.
“When I started here, I was spending 60 percent of my time focused on Washington and 40 percent on either what was happening in Austin or what’s happening in the communities we serve,” he said. These days, however, he mostly is focused on federal issues.
As chairman of the board of the National Immigration Forum, Aldrete represents the bank in pushing for a “reasonable” immigration system, he said. “We’re very concerned from a demographic standpoint that as a country we’re running out of people. We see tight workforce shortages all across the country. You either have to import your human capital or create your own human capital.”
Aldrete is also pushing lawmakers to support the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which he had expected to go before Congress in the coming months. “Now we’re not quite sure, with … what’s happened with the impeachment inquiry,” he said. “There’s only so many legislative days on the calendar … so we’re not quite sure how that fits in.
“But the good news is a lot of the members of Congress that we’ve spoken to have expressed their support for [the trade agreement],” he added. “I’m trying to convince House Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi to get it to the floor.”
As the world waits for passage of the USMCA, it’s also grappling with administration-imposed tariffs that the Texas-Mexico Trade Coalition, which Aldrete chairs, has denounced: “Immigration and trade are entirely separate issues. … The U.S. does not need to be distancing themselves from Mexico but working with them in a united effort at the southern borders.”
Aldrete said the bank, with a customer base dominated by Mexicans doing business in the U.S. and Americans in Mexico, tries to distance itself from supporting any one candidate, despite the fact the bank’s CEO served as a state finance chairman for the Trump 2016 campaign.
“We keep pushing on these issues regardless of who’s in office because it’s not just who’s in the White House, but who’s in Congress,” he said. “It’s a constant struggle to focus on all of these issues – banking issues, immigration issues, workforce issues, economic issues, taxation – because they not only have an impact on us as a company, but they have an impact on all of our customers and the success of the communities that we serve.”
But the problems the nation faces, especially when it comes to trade with Mexico and immigration, are not as hard to solve as some may think, Aldrete said. “We need to stop treating [immigration] like a partisan issue. Take a look at what works for our economy, what works for our country, and try to come up with a reasonable solution and then get it done and move on to the next issue.”
For Aldrete and IBC Bank, the solution to immigration reform involves permitting legal immigration in order to shore up the workforce and capitalizing on the natural barrier the Rio Grande creates to prevent illegal immigration rather than focusing on “this infatuation with the border wall.”
He said the solutions start with thinking of the river as an amenity that should be preserved. When the bank presented its ideas for cleaning invasive species of grasses from the riverbanks, where migrants often hide from border security, he said Mexican officials agreed to clean up that country’s side of the border if the U.S. agrees to do the same.
“So the environmentalists want it gone, the farmers want it gone. The ranchers want it gone. The Border Patrol wants it gone,” Aldrete said. “There’s only one group of people that don’t want it gone. And that’s the traffickers and the drug dealers because it’s a hiding ground. But somebody needs to explain to us why we can’t get rid of it. It’s because there’s an infatuation with a border wall.”
This nation’s leaders need to understand the value Mexico plays to Texas, which was once part of that country, he said.
“I think we all need to do a better job of making connections so that everyone understands how we both benefit from this beautiful history and this beautiful connection and relationship that we have with each other.”