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Grooming leaders for N.M.’s future

Raechel Roberts, second from the left, leads a tour of Leadership New Mexico class members at Sapphire Energy in Las Cruces. The company is experimenting with ways to create energy using algae. (greg sorber/journal)
Raechel Roberts, second from the left, leads a tour of Leadership New Mexico class members at Sapphire Energy in Las Cruces. The company is experimenting with ways to create energy using algae. (greg sorber/journal)
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Leadership New Mexico operates almost entirely with volunteer labor, much of it provided by graduates of the nonprofit organization’s programs. Some graduates have been involved with Leadership New Mexico for several years.

Ask them why and they’ll tell you it is because the state needs Leadership New Mexico.

“It makes people get off their butts and go look at other parts of the state,” said Mike Stanford, a partner in The Payroll Co., former CEO of the old First Community Bank, a 1999 graduate and a Leadership New Mexico board member. “You look at how water issues really get handled. You look at the medical profession, education, finance, oil and gas.” Graduates develop “personal relationships rather than ideological differences. I think it is the only way we can continually move forward. It’s just mandatory for people to do this.”

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Meet the Class of 2013

Every day seems to bring another news story that demonstrates the challenges New Mexico faces, said former San Juan County Commissioner Tony Atkinson, a 2004 graduate and past board chairman. “With all those negative things going on there is even more reason to have Leadership New Mexico around. You have to maintain something good as much as possible.”

Beginning with the first class in 1996, almost 1,100 people from business, government, education and the nonprofit sector have visited communities around the state where they have heard experts on everything from venture capital to politics discuss New Mexico’s realities and challenges. Intense hours of discussion with class members from every corner of the state begin at breakfast and continue into the night.

When it’s over, better informed and better connected classmates return to their home towns in a better position to understand and try to improve their state and their communities.

Leadership New Mexico class members tour a Sapphire Energy research and development facility in Las Cruces. Leadership New Mexico classes visit different parts of the state to study issues confronting New Mexico. (greg sorber/journal)

“We have graduates in key leadership positions all over the state” serving in the Legislature, with economic development groups, on charitable organization’s boards, in local government and in business, said Patty Komko, the group’s president since its founding. “I don’t know that we inspire people to do that. It’s the nature of the folks we attract. It’s in their fiber, in their personalities to roll up their sleeves and get engaged.”

“I think we have a good reputation for providing a good education,” Komko said. “We have very bright folks who go through the program. It’s not our job to make their minds up. Our job is to provide the information so they can make their minds up.”

“Figuring out a way to develop leaders in New Mexico, what ever you define a leader to be, is important,” said Doug Smith, executive vice president of Presbyterian Medical Services in Santa Fe. “I’ve lived and worked here all my life, in all four corners of the state. We’ve got to do a better job long term. Leadership New Mexico is a core of that.”

PMS sends an employee to Leadership New Mexico annually, which Smith acknowledges is a big commitment by his organization. “You have to focus on what matters,” he said. “Leadership New Mexico matters.”

Wayne Davenport, chief financial officer of Jaynes Corp., is also a New Mexico native. “I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about New Mexico,” he said. He graduated in 2006. “I learned that year a lot about this state that I had overlooked. Looking back on it, the opportunity this gives to the people who go through the programs is an eye-opener to some of the issues that affect the state.” It’s natural to become focused on your own backyard and on concerns close to home, Davenport said. “Sometimes you don’t see some of the other challenges facing the state.”

Boots hang on a wall for use by Leadership New Mexico visitors during a Sapphire Energy tour.

“Sooner of later, business crosses paths with politics, regulators, unions, all of the different facets that go into economic development,” Stanford said. “In this state, economic development is the success of everything around you. The problem I saw in economic development in such a large state, where people are so spread out, is people don’t talk to each other. They take positions around political parties, conservative, liberal, whatever you want to call it, and they did it without debating the facts of even looking at the facts.”

“The organization has done a beautiful job of forcing people to sit in the same room together and get informed on subjects they ordinarily wouldn’t bother with,” Stanford said.

“I don’t think there is any town of any size in New Mexico that I could go to now that I don’t know somebody, primarily those I met through Leadership New Mexico classes,” Davenport said.

“The type of people you get in a program like that seem to be the kind of people you want to hang around with,” Atkinson said. “It’s easy to stay with the organization.”

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