Politics

No Time to Rest

Whenever Doug Brown tries to retire, New Mexico comes up with another job for him to do.
by | March 2006

Doug Brown can't find a way to stop working. The founder of a billion- dollar financial services company based in Albuquerque, he stepped down as CEO in 1999, only to be lured into a quasi-public position as head of a new savings program for higher education. This past October, he gave that job up, convinced that, at age 68, he was free at last. Two weeks later, he got a call from Governor Bill Richardson. There was a scandal in the state Treasury Department. He was needed as secretary.

So Doug Brown still hasn't retired. And if he's not entirely pleased about that, New Mexico has reason to be delighted. In three months, Brown has made tremendous strides in addressing problems that have characterized the department for years.

When Brown took over, state Treasurer Robert Vigil had just resigned after being indicted on 26 federal counts, including extortion, money laundering and conspiracy. Vigil's predecessor, Michael Montoya, has pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks from an investment adviser in exchange for state business.

Two weeks after he started, Brown fired five employees, including the assistant treasurer and the director of the banking division, who he said were unqualified. He revamped the state's disclosure policy, requiring greater transparency in handling New Mexico's nearly $5 billion worth of investments. He also set out to resolve the Treasury's embarrassing volume of unreconciled banking charges. When Brown took over in early November, those charges totaled more than $100 million. Less than three months later, they were down to less than $1 million.

Brown may be a newcomer to state government, but he has 40 years' worth of experience in financial management. A native of Oakland, California, he initially worked in commercial banking, primarily with Wells Fargo. He moved to New Mexico in 1986 to perform financial triage on a failing bank, and stayed to launch Talbot Financial Services, which grew into a national firm that helps banks move into the insurance and securities business. Then, in his first "retirement job," he started the Tuition Plan Consortium, an education savings organization that now includes 255 colleges and universities around the country.

Impressive as his changes at the Treasury Department have been, Brown is quick to point out that he didn't have a tough act to follow: As he likes to say, "it's pretty easy to look good when you're taking over a department that's in such bad shape." But there was considerable pressure not only to make the right moves but to make them quickly. "It's been awfully important to clear this up in a hurry," Brown says, "to make sure that the public confidence doesn't erode."

There's another reason why Brown had to move quickly--he doesn't plan to be treasurer very long. When Richardson called him in November, the governor said he didn't want Brown to run for a full term in 2006, and Brown said he wouldn't want to. So next year at this time, he may finally be at leisure. Then again, he may not. "I keep flunking retirement," Brown says. Before long, someone will probably ask him to flunk it again.

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