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Because of their inspirational examples of successful careers, their commitment to service and their generosity to New Mexico State University, Kevin Johnson, chief executive officer of Starbucks, and Laree Estes Perez, former NMSU Regent, received honorary degrees at the NMSU commencement on Saturday, May 13, at the Pan American Center.
Johnson attended NMSU from 1978 to 1981 and received his bachelor of arts degree in business administration with a major in business systems. During his time at NMSU, he found a passion for writing computer software, and he discovered an appreciation for mentorship.
His passion for software and eventual degree led him into a career in technology, which included IBM, Microsoft, and serving as chief executive office of Juniper Networks. Johnson served on the National Security Telecommunication Advisory Committee under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Johnson’s journey led him to Starbucks, which he joined in 2009 as a member of its board of directors. In March 2015 he became president and chief operating officer and assumed the role of CEO in April of this year.
Through the years, Johnson and his wife, June – also an NMSU graduate – have generously supported NMSU’s Arrowhead Center and the College of Business Information Systems mentorship program.
“It was at New Mexico State where I discovered a passion for technology and business, which became my career,” Johnson said. “My experience at NMSU also taught me the importance of helping others, which June and I have carried forward throughout our lives. I am honored to return to the campus and receive this recognition from NMSU.”
His commitment to innovation and his ability to follow his heart extend beyond the world of business. Johnson was a founding board member of NPower, an organization that provides nonprofits with access to technology and the skills needed to fulfill their social missions. He is involved with Catalyst, a leading nonprofit focused on expanding opportunities for women in business. The Johnson family also supports Youth Eastside Services, one of the largest providers of youth and family counseling in the Seattle area.
The Johnsons are not the only people who have recently shown an enormous amount of generosity to NMSU. Former NMSU Regent Laree Estes Perez has named the NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences – including the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management – in her estate for the purpose of establishing scholarships.
“I want to express my gratitude and appreciation for the honor,” Perez said. “It’s certainly the greatest honor that I’ve ever received.”
NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers said both recipients bring generosity and successful business backgrounds to the university.
“Both of our honorary degree recipients have had distinguished careers,” Carruthers said. “Among the things that stand out to me, in addition to their prowess in business, is how generous they have been to NMSU. They have donated their time, their efforts and monetary resources to benefit our students. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Perez’s deep respect for NMSU stems from the history of family members attending the university and from the university’s important role in agriculture. In 1991, New Mexico Governor Bruce King appointed Perez to the NMSU Board of Regents, on which she served for six years. She was president of the board from 1994 to 1996. The combination of her business background, ties to the agricultural industry and history of working on her family ranch made her an ideal candidate for the board of regents.
Although she did not attend NMSU as a student, Perez recalls being surrounded by exceptional faculty, students and staff during her tenure on the board. As a regent, she recognized the importance of the university’s Cooperative Extension Service, as well as the vital depth and width of influence NMSU had throughout the entire state of New Mexico.
Perez received a bachelor’s degree of business administration in finance and economics from Baylor University. Following graduation, she was very generous of her time in New Mexico, serving on numerous civic boards and committees. She also served on the Baylor University Board of Regents for nine years.
In 1996, Perez sold her Albuquerque-based Medallion Investment Management Company to Loomis, Sayles & Company, one of the largest companies in the United States. She joined the Michigan-based investment advisory company DeRoy and Devereaux, where she has been vice president since 2002. Perez has helped that business grow to over $1.1 billion in assets.
She has served on the boards of several major public companies, including United New Mexico Bank, the bank purchased by Norwest Bank and eventually acquired by Wells Fargo. She was a board member for the RRI Energy/GenOn Energy, one of the largest utility companies in the United States. She currently serves on the Martin Marietta Materials Inc. Board of Directors in Raleigh, North Carolina, as the ethics, environmental, health and safety committee chair.
“My financial education, broad experience, geographic location and being a Hispanic female have all contributed to my board achievements,” Perez said.
There is no question that her ties to New Mexico are strong, and her roots in the state run deep. Her grandparents came to the state as ranchers in the early 1920s when they primarily herded sheep, and up until recently, she owned and operated a part of the family ranch near the small town of Yeso. She recalls New Mexico State being what you relied on if you were a rancher or in the agricultural business in any way.
She launched her career in New Mexico, and her family and many of her clients still live in the state. Although she resides in Arizona, Perez visits New Mexico often. She considers herself just as much an Aggie as anyone who attended or worked for the university would.
“When my term ended as a regent, I had a great love for the university and for what we do there,” she said. “Secretly, I’ve always wanted to officially be an Aggie, and this is my chance.”
Supporting NMSU with a generous gift just seemed like the natural thing to do for Perez.
“New Mexico State University is like the salt of the earth,” she said. “To me, that’s one of the greatest compliments you can give a person, because it means they’re just what matters to make the world better, to make life better. And that reminds me of the university, because its heritage and its legacy are based on the earth and what lives off the earth.”