Character, credibility, cash

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By Harold Morgan

Linda Alvarado brought a basic, overall message to the Domenici Public Conference in Las Cruces last month: “Entrepreneurial ideas are what has made America great.”  
Myrtle Potter echoed the message, though not in quite the exact words.
Starting from deep New Mexico roots, their paths have differed. While Potter now owns consulting and media companies, she rose in the corporate world of health care to be president and chief operating officer of Genentech, a biotechnology firm. Alvarado’s company remains as it began—Alvarado Construction Company—with some sidelines gathered along the way, including franchise restaurants in four states and a piece of the Colorado Rockies baseball club.
In the overall public policy conversation about entrepreneurialism, the sense commonly is that the discussion is about people starting their own companies. The policy gurus focus much more narrowly on “high growth and disruptive new businesses... creating new markets and revving the engines of our nation’s economy.” This is a quote from an Innovation magazine article about Startup America, an Obama administration-blessed, foundation-funded program to help “young, high growth companies.”
New Mexico is considering joining the Startup America program, the article said.
The Martinez administration is talking technology these days with an economic summit relevant to half the state that includes worthy topics such as nanotechnology.
To include the whole state, let’s cast the conceptual net to include the guy with the two- or three-man roofing firm who expands through buying a $15,000 device, allowing him to destroy a tree stump in ten minutes for a $250 fee. One stump bit the dust (literally) about 7 p.m. one summer evening because he was headed to Hawaii the next day.
It’s “a culture and a mentality,” is how Alvarado put it.
Alvarado and Potter both got out of the proverbial Dodge—Albuquerque and Las Cruces, respectively—going to Los Angeles and Chicago. Potter credited her “incredibly brilliant, loving parents” and the small town values of accountability and proper behavior. Potter’s first job out of the University of Chicago was selling adult disposable diapers.
Important factors in Alvarado’s early history included her church, family, school and sports. “We didn’t grow up thinking we were a minority or that we were poor,” she said. Being small and female, she didn’t look the part of a construction business owner.
Alvarado found a specialty, becoming computer savvy and doing scheduling. Alvarado Construction began in 1976 with little money, found a niche and began growing. “It is finding ways to be creative. The risk was mine,” she said.
Michael Hurley’s conference presentation was about fighting global Islamic terrorism, but he offered two thoughts of importance to people leading companies large and small: One must manage the risk and the risk is not zero. Then how we deal with failure is important, because there will be some failure.
While New Mexico’s defense research establishment can hardly be considered entrepreneurial, being larger organizations working for the government, they must find new means of creating value. Gen. Lester Lyle, whose master’s degree came from New Mexico had some reassuring words. White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base are “very, very unique pieces of infrastructure” and New Mexico’s airspace is the only place to test unmanned aerial vehicles. The nuclear deterrent must be effective and secure. He called for rebuilding space capability and leadership in aeronautics. All these involve New Mexico institutions.
Alvarado employed baseball jargon to make her points: Baseball offers no guarantees beyond another chance at bat, she said. “Get in the game. Take some risks.” If women don’t step up to the plate, nothing happens.
Alvarado’s mantra is her own, though: Character, credibility, cash flow.
Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress