It is a sunny summer morning in The Woodlands, and attorney Bret Strong is looking relaxed in slacks and a dress shirt, his collar open and free of a tie as he talks about life, work and family in his office in Waterway One overlooking the Waterway and its never-ending growth and development.
His office window affords a picture perfect view of The Woodlands, and it’s a view that Strong has rightly earned; after all, his business law firm, The Strong Firm P.C., has been a major player in many of the transactions and deals that have made the master-planned community the wonder of the Houston region.
With a brownstone located just down the Waterway, a growing business in the heart of The Woodlands’ “downtown,” and with a company whose name, as a sponsor, is associated with many of The Woodlands’ major endurance and fitness events, Strong should be feeling pretty comfortable these days – and he is.
“The great opportunity I’ve been given, which I am blessed to have, is that I’ve been here since 1989 and I’ve been involved in this community,” Strong said. “I’ve been able to see this community grow through business transactions, and I’ve been involved in a lot of what you see going up around here.”
For Strong, being part of the team to bring a complex commercial real estate or oil and gas transactions to fruition is fulfilling. “You’re helping grow the economy and doing the things that need to be done to help this be the success it has become.” And unlike firms devoted to trial work and litigation, which Strong views as primarily “destructive” and a zero-sum process, his firm instead is devoted to handling transactions, trademarks, and other aspects of business law.
“It’s constructive. It’s progressive, it’s focusing on the future and growth and things that generally everybody’s pretty positive about.”
Strong was the first of his siblings to finish college, earning a degree in business from the University of Colorado in Boulder. Shell hired him straight from campus, starting him in its Traverse City, Michigan offices where he dealt with oil and gas contracts.
As he gained more experience in oil and gas production and exploration, Shell worked to continue his development, moving to positions with ever-increasing responsibility throughout the organization. He worked in Columbus, Texas, and New Orleans before coming to Houston in 1989.
It was at that point that Shell took another step in his career development, sending him to law school full time. He graduated from the South Texas College of Law in 1995.
Soon after, however, he was faced with a decision – to continue with Shell in its legal department, or strike out on his own in law.
Having made a number of contacts during his oil and gas work with Shell, Strong opted to launch a new career in business law, joining with Woodlands attorney Jack Stibbs and his firm, Stibbs & Burbach. Winstead acquired the firm in 2001, and in 2004 Strong decided it was time to begin his own firm.
Starting with just himself and a legal assistant, Strong has since seen his firm grow to five full-time attorneys and a total of 11 employees, “and we’re still growing,” Strong said. In fact, Strong recently exercised an option to expand his practice in Waterway One.
“When I moved into this space, I picked this space not only because of the view but because I knew I had expansion rights on both sides,” he said.
The first option, when that tenant moved out, enabled him to add on two or three offices and conference room; when the remaining space became available, he again exercised his option and then immediately subleased it to a client of the Strong firm.
That lease ended Sept. 1, and by October the Strong firm will “not quite double” its existing footprint, giving the firm, Strong said, “some elbow room and room for growth.”
And the growth prospects are strong. The Strong firm, as mentioned, has had a hand in a number of the major commercial transactions in The Woodlands over the last decade.
“We do a lot of work for the (Woodlands) township, and our energy related transaction work has been pretty busy. And of course we work with a lot of developers in The Woodlands doing retail and office buildings, and we handle work for a lot of small- to medium-size businesses as well,” Strong said. “We’ll probably add another attorney at the beginning of next year.”
This would be enough to keep anyone busy, but Strong also finds time for his family: he is married to local CPA Angela Strong and they have an 9-month-old son, Luke, all the while maintaining a demanding fitness regime. (Bret also has two grown sons from a previous marriage.) Strong runs three times a week, swims two or three times a week, and heads out on the roads on Sundays for a long bike ride.
In January, this already demanding schedule will increase in intensity when he starts serious training for Ironman Texas – he has competed in three Ironmans already. Plus, he has run “four or five” marathons and numerous half-marathons and other events.
As crazy as this effort may sound, the truth is that his running, swimming and biking help keep him sane, he said.
Strong competes at the Kemah Olympic Triathlon
“When I get away from the office and go do a run or bike and think about stuff, that’s my clearing time, my decompression time; also, staying healthy is important in a high-stress position,” Strong says. “You gotta’ unplug and give your mind time to think.”
It is a demanding schedule, and not for the faint of heart. But growing up near South Bend, Indiana, Strong learned at a young age about the need for hard work. When he was just 4 years old his father was killed in a car accident, thrusting his mother into the role of sold breadwinner.
“My mother at the time had four kids all under the age of 10; my mom was a homemaker basically. She had no education past high school and had never had a steady job. She instantly became the main breadwinner of the family, and set a very good role model to show me you do what you need to do to provide for your family,” he said.
“She held all sorts of jobs. She was a bartender, she worked at a jewelers, she did the census; I remember she was always working two jobs at a time.”
And as a result, there were no excuses for inactivity around the Strong home as a boy. His mother made certain he was constantly involved in productive activities at school, and throughout high school Strong competed in three sports, football, wrestling, and baseball.
“She taught me you are going to learn to be self –sufficient. There was no time for whining at all,” Strong said.
But it’s clear that all that focus and discipline has paid off, as Strong appears to be successfully managing the demands of family, work and community service.
With a Brownstone apartment just down the Waterway from his office, and owning his own practice, Strong enjoys the freedom and flexibility he has found.
“I may this afternoon go for a run at 4 o’clock, but I may be back on the computer either here or at home tonight;” he said. “There are times I’ll spend the whole night here to make sure things are on focus; and there are days I show up at 10 because I want to go for a run or do something with the family,” Strong said.
“I really love it, I feel I get the right level of leisure time and family time; I feel very blessed with what I’ve been able to do. When you can drive around and be involved in the community and see a little bit of your fingerprint in a lot of what’s going on, that’s very satisfying.”