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One-on-One with Doug Peterson

Doug Peterson was once, by his own admission, a very serious guy.

Consider that, when not playing basketball as a kid, he might have been thumbing through his father’s law books. Note that he zoomed through his undergraduate studies in just three years so he could get a head start on his professional life.

That drive, diligence and attention to detail have more than paid off – he has a law degree from Northwestern University and a management role with his family’s well-established real estate development and management company, Peterson Properties.

Doug Peterson of Peterson Properties in Albuquerque. (Jim Thompson / Albuquerque Journal)

Doug Peterson of Peterson Properties in Albuquerque. (Jim Thompson / Albuquerque Journal)

It’s a serious business. Peterson Properties, which his parents started in 1971, boasts 1.15 million square feet of property around the state and is looking to grow. Among its more recent high-profile acquisitions is the 13-story Simms tower in Downtown Albuquerque.

But when Peterson isn’t negotiating contracts or managing his related side business, Douglas Peterson Investments, you might find him catching a laugh at a local night club.

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No joke: Peterson is a serious comedy fan who might be running his own comedy club if he wasn’t otherwise professionally engaged. “My cousin used to manage Laffs here in town and let me go to watch comedians a lot,” he says. “It’d be cool to have a place like that again, maybe in one of our Downtown buildings.”

Raised on the late-night wisecracks of Johnny Carson, Peterson since has seen some of the world’s most legendary stand-ups at clubs throughout the country. And his appreciation for the art form extends to the lesser-known names who perform regularly around town. “I like to go out solo and watch local stand-up comedians,” he says. “Not a lot of people know this but, six nights a week you can see super-funny comedians for free at various locations throughout Albuquerque. “If I could handle staying up late better than I do, I’d go more often.”

Q: What were your interests growing up?

A: Mostly basketball. I started playing basketball when I was 11 and kind of formed my identity around that throughout high school, learned a lot. Ultimately, I guess it was not a successful thing (because) I did not go on and play in college. But, looking back, for not being too fast or tall, I did OK. I was at the (Albuquerque) Academy (and) my senior year was when they won the (state) championship for the sixth year in a row.

Q: What is your family like?

A: Extraordinary. My parents were kind enough to make sure we had a fun lifestyle and excellent education, but they made sure we didn’t take it for granted. They came from poverty and built our company, and all of our lives, from nothing. My mom comes from Paducah, Ky. She persevered through some tough things, but has always maintained her happy spirit, fearless attitude and enduring wit. My dad went from being a high school dropout to becoming a college debate champion, then an attorney, then the most successful retail developer in this region for several decades. (Peterson Properties has developed an estimated 5 million square feet of property in its history, including 115 Walgreens stores.)

Q: You describe yourself as “painfully shy” as a teenager. What did it take for you to come out of your shell?

A: That really didn’t happen until law school. I guess something just clicked. I went to Northwestern University School of Law. During that first semester, seeing that I was up there with people from Harvard, Stanford – all the best colleges in the country – and (that) I was doing just as well as, if not better than, all of them, I think that confidence boost finally kicked in and I loosened up a little bit.

Q: What was your first job?

A: At Peterson Properties at 16. I am tied with my brother for being the worst receptionist in the history of the company.

Q: Did you know you would come back to work here after college?

A: I did not know I was going to come back here. It’s strange. You would think there would be more planning for a major life decision, but I remember … I was using the telephone in the cafe at college and talking to my dad, and I guess I was getting close to graduation or something (and) I said, “So, should I just come back there to work?” And he’s like, “Yeah, we’ll put you to work” and that was literally the end of the conversation.

Q: Have you had any jobs outside of this company?

A: No, unless you count being a newspaper reporter in college or working one time at a basketball camp for Marvin Johnson. … No, we kind of think of this place as the family farm so, as soon as you’re able, you help out. Although I’ve thought about doing other things, I always come back here.

Q: Did you ever think you’d use your law degree to be a trial attorney?

A: Only during law school when I had to pretend to be one. I think one of the alums who was there helping us with the exercise said, “You would be really good at that.” That was a nice compliment, but I’ve seen what trial attorneys do. I have a lot of admiration for them, (but) I don’t think I would want to do it.

Q: Do you use your law degree actively every day?

A: It’s hard to distinguish sometimes what’s business and what’s law, but I do create or review documents, usually several times a day. I’d say that, strangely enough, having knowledge of the law has made me less uptight about particular deals or deal points because ultimately you realize that a contract is only as good as your willingness to enforce it and the court’s willingness to enforce it for you. Having been part of a few court cases, it doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to or think it should.

Q: Do you remember the moment you became fascinated with comedy? Was there a particular act?

A: It’s one of those things where maybe (it’s because) I grew up watching it all the time. I just didn’t understand until later that that wasn’t a normal thing that everyone went through – not everyone got to watch Johnny Carson every night. But my parents, for better or worse, were not big about censoring content when my brother and I were young, so I would see all the comedians … all the comedies. I guess I started to prefer stand-up as I got older and my cousin was working at Laff’s. Sometimes, we’d take the office staff over there. … We’d have a big group. … That was fun. Then when my family would travel to Vegas – which we did a lot when I was a kid – you’d get to see a lot of the great comedians there. I’ve seen George Carlin several times. Just about any famous comedian that’s existed within the last 30 years, I’ve seen live. My favorite is Brian Regan, who I’ve seen live several times.

He’s actually a clean comedian. That’s one of the things he’s known for, but he’s one of the funniest. I’ve seen him in Chicago, Boston, Albuquerque, Denver. I don’t know whether I’m a groupie or a stalker.

Q: What is the best comedy show you’ve ever seen?

A: Maybe it’s always the most recent. I saw John Mulaney (last month) in Santa Fe at The Lensic, and he was spectacular. I’d say if I had to pick one, I would say Brian Regan at Zanies in Chicago.

Q: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

A: When I was the chairperson of the Albuquerque Environmental Planning Commission, several people told me on multiple occasions that I helped restore or maintain their faith in due process. I would hold their gaze a while to try to measure if they were exaggerating, but I don’t think they were.

Q: What are your pet peeves?

A: I disdain dishonest businesspeople. It’s OK to be gruff. It’s OK to negotiate. It’s also OK to fail. But those who lie, distort and do not take responsibility for their actions have no place at my table. I have a “Road House” poster of the legendary Patrick Swayze in the corner of my office – who doesn’t? – with the inscribed quote of: “You be nice, you be nice, you be nice … until it’s time to not be nice.”

Q: What is one food you can’t live without?

A: F rontier/Golden Pride carne adovada burrito – the CAB!

Q: What’s on your bucket list?

A: I do want to travel around to all 50 states. I’ve hit about half of them. I want to see a game in every NBA arena; it’s kind of a related thing. And I’d like to leave this company and this city much better off than it is today. I think they’re both great, but they both – our company and our city – can be absolutely spectacular. That would mean a lot to me when I’m done, if they’re in a much better place.

Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?

A: Versatile, diligent, reliable.

 

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