ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Duke Rodriguez, a former New Mexico state Cabinet secretary, former chief operating officer of two major companies and the founder of an investment firm, says he’s gotten used to being known as “the weed dude.”
After a long career in health care, Rodriguez is now president of Ultra Health LLC, a medical marijuana distribution and production company that has operations in New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.
“Serious health care professionals would take me aside and say, ‘Are you really doing marijuana?'” said Rodriguez, 60. “Now, at first I had difficulty with the whole concept of weed or marijuana or pot. But once you’ve cleared up all the propaganda, you began to realize that it is health care, and that it does deal with the physical, the mental and with social well-being.”
And yes, Rodriguez is a consumer himself: “I’ve been asked in many places, ‘Do you use? And I say, without any reservation, ‘I do.'”
Rodriguez said cannabis eases his “digestive issues,” alleviates aches and pains from his intense workout schedule and allows him “to be more social” when he’s otherwise “really more private than most people might guess.”
He is, he says, “an early adopter in understanding there was a bright future in this green rush,” and he predicts cannabis will be New Mexico’s second-biggest industry behind oil and gas within a decade.
It’s been a long career path for a kid who grew up living in storage sheds at southern California migrant camps.
“It was a pretty humble upbringing,” said Rodriguez, whose father sent him and his four brothers to New Mexico “to get away from the drugs and crime.”
“But I learned very quickly that the more you worked, the more you succeeded; in fact the easier life got. I could get out of the sun, go indoors and people treated you kind and nicely. I very quickly learned that if I applied myself … things worked out pretty well.”
But Rodriguez, who splits his time among New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, will have no problem leaving it all behind in five years or so because he has faith in the young people who fill the ranks at Ultra Health.
“These kids now … they’re millennials, but to me they’re kids … this is their first career,” he said. “The pace they pick it up, they remind me of me 40 years ago, but they’re smarter. I think they’ll be doing well on their own.”
A lot of people grow up in poverty and yet don’t find the kind of success you have found. What makes you different?
I think the difference for me is I realize that I have huge personal and professional limitations. When I say “professional,” I don’t come from an Ivy League school. Most people would discount me. I’m a graduate of New Mexico State University. That’s not a Harvard. I think that in my case, it was simply knowing that if you have limitations, then you just fill those limitations in with better or smarter people around you. And certainly, take risks.”
Where do you think you got your work ethic?
I think it was a natural outgrowth of realizing I don’t want to do dishes. I don’t want to work in the field, and there’s got to be an easier life. I was fortunate enough to be in a market that was somewhat not as progressive. New Mexico is kind of an easy market, if you think about it, for someone to emerge. It’s manageable (so) you can connect with people very quickly. It’s not too big a market that it overwhelms you, and this is a state that affords great opportunity. We don’t look at people for their color or for their economic position; we look at people for what they can bring to the table in real results, and that’s a huge plus.
Do you have any regrets?
I think the only regret that I would have is that maybe I devoted too much time to the professional aspects of my life and maybe didn’t invest enough in the personal aspects of my life. But I still think I accomplished the single thing that probably matters the most to me, and that is to be a parent. My greatest accomplishment is to see my son be successful with his family.
What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I think most people take it for granted that I have somewhat of an obsessive personality. … And it’s true – every professional challenge I take on, there is no question that I probably spend more hours than most at it. … But I don’t think people would really (know) that I’m really very gentle about things that really matter to the human soul. Be it my dog, or my children or my grandchildren or that at one time I took a child into my home that wasn’t mine. I was a single parent for almost five years. Probably, outside of raising my own child, that was my second-greatest pleasure. Most people wouldn’t realize that I value family over any kind of professional success.
Among your various careers, which has been the most stressful?
This (head of Ultra Health) is probably the single most stressful occupation I’ve ever had. There is no template for us to follow. You don’t know tomorrow if the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) is going to change its mind, if they’re going to show up at our facility and try to take possession of what we’ve invested millions in. You listen to the rhetoric that comes out of D.C., with our current (U.S.) attorney general, and you don’t know what that means.
How do you splurge?
I work seven days a week. I do take time to hike, and that’s a splurge. It’s at 5 in the morning, and usually I’ll be at the office at 9. I’ve received so much more than I ever thought I would get, so I’m not sure what more I need. It doesn’t take a lot of money to be happy. I’ve invested more in this company financially than anybody would probably take this risk. I’ve personally put millions into it. I have no business partners. The risk is wholly on me, and I’m still comfortable.
What are your favorite foods?
I used to be able to eat anything and everything. One thing you learn when you turn 60 is – I love cheese and cheese doesn’t love me! It’s very sad. I still stay with the mainstays. … No matter how much indigestion it’s going to cause me, I will eat green chile stew. I will have enchiladas, and I will suffer through a bowl of posole.
What are your pet peeves?
Stupidity. Stubbornness. Holding on to old beliefs. Not willing to take a chance. I just can’t stand people who believe just because we’ve always done something in a certain way or believed in a certain way, that it has to be maintained. I think that nine times out of ten, the way we’ve done things in the past, has probably been done wrong. I’m amused today with the unwillingness of baby boomers to let go, primarily at the highest levels of government.
I was born in 1957. I am the epitome of a baby boomer. We were taught to achieve. We were capitalistic. All the Wall Street movies, they were true. I owned the power tie, the yellow one. I rode the limousines. I did Wall Street. I was the president of a New York Stock Exchange company (Diagnostek). … I could sell the story, and I was good at it. So I did all the typical things boomers were supposed to do. I divorced after 13 years because I was supposed to be more capitalistic and acquire, acquire, acquire, and I did it all. But I realized also that we were wrong. We were hugely wrong.
In what sense?
We were so focused on “me,” on us as individuals. We were more concerned about our individual success and not the power of what the group could do. You start realizing these, what I think are maligned, millennials, they’re smarter than we are. They use technology smarter. They don’t have as much motion. We were so caught up with motion, and everything was about getting it done, working 24 hours a day and selling the story. They’re a little quieter in what they do, but they’re more thoughtful and they’re more concerned. They want to know what the impact – is not on just themselves – they want to know the impact on society, on the environment, on their neighbors. That’s the good news for the world.