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Leading Through Change: An Interview with Ed Martinez, Nelnet Executive Director

April 23, 2013
Nelnet Executive Director Ed Martinez (standing) and Family

Nelnet Executive Director Ed Martinez (standing) and Family

Ed Martinez serves as an Executive Director for Nelnet Diversified Solutions.  He works with our government contracts, school relations, and new business.  I sat down with Ed to ask him a few questions about the many different hats he has worn throughout his career and what he feels makes one an effective leader.

Jim Harris: What’s your earliest memory of growing up?

Ed Martinez: One of my earliest memories was my fourth birthday because my mom had a large party for me. It was a memory I’ll never forget… cousins, friends, everyone we knew.  This was when I first began to experience having friends and family members outside of my sisters and immediate family. That left a big impression on me.

Jim: So what did that four-year-old little boy want to be when he grew up?

Ed: I had very encouraging parents. I wanted to be an astronaut from the time I was four until I was about 10 years old.

Jim: What made that change?

Ed: I saw John Kennedy in Pueblo, Colorado. I was with my dad; he had to put me on his shoulders, so I could see the stage they had had set up at Dutch Clark Stadium. He was sitting in his famous rocking chair giving a speech. I thought that was a possibility. So I had big, big dreams when I was a kid.

Jim: And that is what moved your dreams away from being an astronaut?

Ed:  I thought he was someone who could make a difference in the world. Whether it was being president or a different political role, somebody in that kind of position…. the things they do can make a big, positive impact with people.

Jim: When you went to college, did you go with the desire to become an attorney?

Ed: Not at first. I went to college to become an artist. I thought I wanted to be a sculptor and a painter. Then I learned a childhood friend of mine was going to go to law school and he was taking classes to prepare for that. I thought to myself, “If he can go to law school, gosh, I think it’s possible for me to go too.” Now that I look back, he probably had a big influence on my life. He inspired me to do what he did.  He and I came from neighborhoods that did not produce lawyers. We came from neighborhoods that produced criminals. We both encouraged each other. He went to Stanford Law School and I went to the University of Colorado.

Jim: Tell me about your law career.

Ed: When I first got out of law school, I thought I wanted to be a trial attorney – be a crusader. Then, right around that time, I had my first child. You have to make compromises.  I thought, “Well, I have to make money to support this child.” You can be more of a crusader if you don’t have to worry about money.

I started working as an attorney in education for the Education Commission of the States – all that fun stuff, a lot of constitutional law.  I also did some work for the Institute for Education Leadership.

As I started growing a family, I was recruited to work for Davis, Grahm, and Stubbs, a large law firm in Denver, and made the switch from education to banking. Then about three years later, I went to the Colorado Attorney General’s office to work in the education area. One of my big clients was the Colorado Guarantee Agency. Guaranteeing loans was a combination of education and lending/banking, so it seemed to fit my background.

Art was still a big thing for me. I was painting and sculpting, so I was also the attorney for the Colorado Council on Arts and Humanities. And I represented the consortium of state colleges in Colorado – Western, Adams, Metro, and Mesa.

Jim: If you had to do it all over again, do you think that experience has helped you today?

Ed: Oh, most definitely. Prior to that, I had three years of banking experiences. That’s why I handled the business transactions for colleges, as well as the constitutional issues they had with students and the faculty.  At the Education Commission of the States, I primarily wrote a lot of articles. Ultimately, I came to work for UNIPAC, now a Nelnet company, about 23 years ago.

Jim: What kind of mentoring advice would you give someone in college or fresh in their career?

Ed: Try to keep your knowledge base as broad as possible, and keep yourself open to possibilities. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself into one narrow niche. I’ve found as I’ve matured and as each of the years go by, things change in your life. This has an impact on how you see the world and what you want to do in the world. So don’t lock yourself into something, regardless if you’re 18 or 40.

I think my career at Nelnet has been a reflection of that advice. I’ve had a variety of responsibilities – General Council, People Services, and Enterprise and Risk Management.  I also decided to leave lawyering about five years ago and lead Nelnet Guarantor Solutions, one of Nelnet’s subsidiaries. Lately, I’ve transitioned more into business development, government relationships, and government contracting. Along with three other partners, I also oversee Nelnet Diversified Solutions, which, at one time, was a conglomeration of 11 small to medium sized companies.

Jim: You have been in a leadership position for most of your career.  What do you think makes someone an effective leader?

Ed: I work primarily through other people, and my philosophy is to let other people grow and expand where they can. I will be their supporter and mentor and help them be as successful as they can. I think it’s finding the right talent and not being afraid to hire people who are smarter than you.

Jim: When you look back on your life, what are the things that you find most rewarding?

Ed: First of all, my marriage, the birth of my children, and the birth of my two granddaughters. Then the marriage of my son and the marriage of my daughter. Those are family and life passages. And a big part of my identity is my work. What I do when I work at Nelnet is a big part of who I am. Work and family – I think you can have both, and there’s nothing wrong with having both.

Jim Harris, Managing Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions

Jim Harris, Managing Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Lawson permalink
    April 23, 2013 11:43 am

    Interesting interview. I’m curious if Ed Martinez met my sister, Martha Violett, when he worked with the Colorado Council on Arts and Humanities. She has taught in the Music Department at Western State College, now University, since 1973 and was recently the department chair.

    • April 24, 2013 1:38 am

      I asked Ed about this and he was quite certain the timeframe was the same. The name was familiar to him . Thanks for posting a message!

      Jim

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