NMSU chancellor: Leadership is all about picking the right team
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
After more than 50 years of service in higher education, government, politics and business, and now as chancellor of New Mexico State University, Garrey Carruthers continues to apply the same life lessons he learned growing up on a farm near Aztec, New Mexico: be honest, work hard, treat other people well and get a good education.
“I work very hard,” Carruthers said. “I try to treat everybody with a great deal of respect.”
He has also spent a lifetime developing a reputation for honesty and integrity, including three years as assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior for Land and Resources, four years as governor of New Mexico and nearly 10 years as dean of the NMSU College of Business.
And there is no doubt about his educational credentials: Carruthers has bachelors and masters degrees from NMSU and a PhD. in economics from Iowa State University. Off and on, he has been a student, a professor and an administrator at NMSU since 1957.
And, Carruthers said, whether it’s at the state or federal level, running a successful HMO or serving as dean of the Business College or chancellor of the NMSU system and president of its Las Cruces campus, “management is not that big of a challenge.” You have to follow a set of principles, you need some structure and “you have to get the right people on the team and you have to put them in the right seat,” he said, paraphrasing author Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great.”
In his three years as NMSU chancellor (he began his fourth year on June 1), putting that team together is what Carruthers considers his greatest achievement. “Our team is outstanding,” he said. “It’s the right blending and backgrounds.”
The leadership team includes Provost Dan Howard, Vice President for University Advancement Andrea Tawney, Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance Angela Throneberry, General Counsel Liz Ellis, Athletic Director
Mario Moccia, President and CEO of Aggie Development, Inc. Scott Eschenbrenner, Doña Ana Community College President Dr. Renay Scott, NMSU-Alamogordo President Ken Van Winkle and Carruthers’ chief of staff, Sharon Jones.
The university also includes “some of the finest deans around,” he said.
“Chancellor Carruthers’ love for NMSU is infectious, said Doña Ana Community College President Dr. Renay Scott. “I appreciate how Chancellor Carruthers pulls teams of people together to work on complex problems.”
Managing a “leading organization” in government, business or at a university is “a pretty simple deal,” Carruthers said. You put the right team together, “provide the vision and outline the “goals and objectives.”
Carruthers, who turns 77 on August 29, arrives at his office in Hadley Hall at the top of the NMSU horseshoe between 6 and 6:10 each morning. Provost Dan Howard arrives at the office next door even earlier. “He makes the coffee,” Carruthers said.
Carruthers works 10 or 11 hours each week day and then attends evening and weekend events for a total of 60 to 65 hours a week, plus a lot of travel around the state and the country.
That’s often in one of his six vintage cars. Carruthers’ collection includes 1964 and 2002 Thunderbirds, a 1995 Buick Rivera and three Ford mustangs: a 1967 coupe, a convertible and a fastback. “I drive them all but rarely put more than 1,500 miles per year on any of them,” he said. “My sentimental favorite is the 1967 Mustang Coupe – my first of the collection. Simple car – six-cylinder engine, radio, heater, threespeed transmission, no power equipment, and it runs like a new car.”
“I love to do this,” Carruthers said of his job as chancellor. “I love the students, the faculty, the staff.” NMSU students, he finds, “like to listen to old, white-haired guys. I really enjoy the environment and I enjoy the people.”
Among his many roles at NMSU, Carruthers chairs the university’s strategic plan committee, Vision 2020. “It ought to be a simple plan,” he said, and “you ought to pay attention to it all the time.” The plan has six goals and 30 performance indicators, Carruthers said. Its overarching focus is on increasing graduation, enrollment and community service at NMSU.
Ultimately, Carruthers said he wants to “make sure our students are very comfortable on campus” with an eye toward increase the number of first-year students and the overall student population that live at the university. NMSU’s leadership continues “to improve student life on campus,” Carruthers said.
Initiatives to aid recruitment, retention and graduation include reducing mandatory degree credit hours from 128 to 120 and modified tuition for students from Mexico.
Part of Carruthers’ vision has been NMSU’s
CARRUTHERS new partnership with Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, which will bring about 160 medical students to the campus this August and increase to about 600 during the next four years.
Carruthers served as Interior Department undersecretary from 1981 to 1984. He was elected New Mexico’s 27th governor in 1986 and served a single four-year term (governors could not succeed themselves in those days). He was president and CEO of Cimarron Health Plan from 1993 to 2003 when he became dean of the NMSU College of Business.
About to retire from that position nearly a decade later, Carruthers was encouraged to apply for the NMSU presidency after the board of regents “excused” former NMSU President Barbara Couture in October 2012. Carruthers “started looking at the criteria” and realized “I can do that,” so he applied for the position. The hardest part, he said, was convincing Kathy, his wife of 55 years, that he should take the job.
“Throughout his years of service he has been and continues to be generous with his time, talent and resources. He has a particular talent to bring dispirit individuals and groups together for the betterment of the project – whatever it happens to be.”
Carruthers, the first Aggie to serve as NMSU president, still has two years to go on his five-year contract as chancellor. If the regents think he is still producing and his health is good, Carruthers said he may accept an extension when the contract expires in 2018.
Of my three professions (business: 13 years, government: 10 to 12 years, higher education: 23 years), “I enjoy this the most by far and away,” he said. Carruthers has been on and off the NMSU campus as a student, professor and administrator since 1957.