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Dedication, mentorship, vision set some CEOs apart

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It takes a certain kind of vision to be a successful CEO, but today’s occupants of the top chair also need to embed that vision into their employees.

CEOs who can mentor their employees while heading down the road to progress and innovation with tangible leadership and excellence are bound to bring their vision to reality.

Three local CEOs have been recognized for four of these traits by the Albuquerque Journal.

Dr. Mark Epstein

Dr. Mark Epstein, CEO of True Health New Mexico, is the recipient of this year’s Leadership and Excellence awards. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Mark Epstein, CEO of True Health New Mexico earned both the Leadership and Excellence awards as part of this year’s Top CEOs program.

A physician as well as an administrator, Epstein brings a wide-ranging background to his position atop the health insurance company.

“We have an organization that is really focused on taking care of people as individuals who are going through health issues,” he said.

Members may be facing health challenges or financial challenges, but the goal of every True Health New Mexico employee is to make sure its members are properly covered.

“We have a lot of heart – and in that heart, there is great opportunity to care for people, not just caring for members, but caring for each other in the organization,” Epstein said. “As a physician, that is the core of what we do. We support people who are trying to better their lives and better their health.”

Epstein took something of a round-about path to his current position.

“From a career perspective, my approach has been always to be curious and open to discovery and open to creation,” he said. “It has not felt like a linear path. Those opportunities need to be prepared for.”

It may not have been a linear path, but Epstein has proven to be a perfect fit for True Health New Mexico.

And each day brings something different, which he compares to his days working in the emergency room.

“It has a lot of variety to it and that’s a rich experience for me,” he said. “It’s not unlike an ER shift, you’re not sure what is going to walk through the door and all you can do is make sure the team is ready for anything and you can’t ever lose sight of why you’re there, which is to take care of people.”

Debbie Harms

Debbie Harms, CEO of NAI Maestas & Ward, is the recipient of this year’s Mentorship award. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

When Debbie Harms, CEO of NAI Maestas & Ward, first started in the commercial real estate business, she felt a little lost. She said she doesn’t want anyone working under her to have that feeling, which is one reason she earned the Mentorship award.

“Commercial real estate isn’t an easy field to go into,” Harms said. “There are a lot of intricacies. A lot of a very involved industries. Lots of pieces of the puzzle that have to be put together. If you have a new person coming into this field, there is a lot of information readily available, but it’s not particularly intuitive to put everything together and see a reasonable outcome at the end.”

Harms came into the business with a strong background in the construction industry, working as an accountant with home builders and a large construction company that did commercial projects.

“My knowledge in commercial construction helped me dramatically in commercial real estate,” Harms said. “It wasn’t hard, but it would have been so much easier if I had a mentor. If I had someone who really understood what I didn’t know. I didn’t have that for the first two or three years.”

Harms originally worked for the Hines Corp. under Frank and Dolores Hines, for about two years, from 1993 to 1995.

That’s when the Hines took Harms under their wing and really grounded her in the intricacies of the business. When they retired, Harms started her own company, but the Hines remained mentors.

“Somebody has to work with a person that’s new to the industry,” Harms said. “It doesn’t matter what their age is. The fact that they’re new to the industry means that they have to learn this stuff. And the quicker they’re able to learn and the better they’re able to learn, the better they’re going to do. And that’s the ultimate goal, to give good service to our clients.”

Dr. Sanjay Kholwadwala

Dr. Sanjay Kholwadwala, CEO of Albuquerque ER & Hospital, is the recipient of this year’s Progress award. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Sanjay Kholwadwala, CEO of Albuquerque ER & Hospital, thought there had to be a better way to service emergency room patients. His commitment to that ideal earned him the Progress award.

“I was always interested in administration, but I’ve always been a physician first,” Kholwadwala said. “I thought there could be a different way to do this. We’re not spending enough time with patients. We’re moving so fast that we had no time to talk with anyone. Doctors and nurses don’t talk with the patients and patients feel like they’re not being heard.”

That’s not the case at Albuquerque ER & Hospital.

“I felt a small hospital was a good idea,” Kholwadwala said. “I wanted to try something where I can actually speak with patients, sit down with them, spend 30 minutes. We’re a smaller hospital with lower volumes and we spend more time and that makes patients happy. It’s a lot more fulfilling than spending a minute or two with a patient and moving on.”

The success of the new, West Side hospital has been such that Kholwadwala is actively searching for a site in the Northeast Heights to put a second location.

“You always question yourself,” he said. “When you start something new, going against big names in Albuquerque with a small hospital, (I wondered) are we going to be OK? It was tough to start with. But we’re expanding already. Anytime you expand, it’s always nerve-wracking, but that’s also the fun time.”