A familiar feeling sometimes strikes Beserra anew: How did a guy from South Barelas, someone who never rode in an airplane until his mid-20s, become senior vice president at a Fortune 500 company?
It has been a colorful journey for the 64-year-old, one that included a stint working in Ronald Reagan’s White House. And now it is bringing him back.
Beserra left New Mexico more than 30 years ago, and he still lives and works in Atlanta. But he plans to return to his hometown at least monthly now that he assumed the role of board chairman for the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce.
“I was brought up to be humble, appreciate where you come from, always give back,” he said during a recent interview.
Beserra brings valuable perspective and prestige to the position, according to one of his predecessors, Anthony Trujillo.
“He’s one of few successful Hispanics who has made it in corporate America; we should praise that and support that 110 percent,” said Trujillo, a past chamber chairman and the president and CEO of Albuquerque-based Holmans USA. “It’s a hell of an achievement.”
Such a career might have seemed improbable to a younger Beserra. New Mexico can sometimes feel shut off from the rest of the world. A lot of natives “just don’t venture outside” of it, he said. And yet he also credits New Mexico for emboldening him as a minority.
“Latinos were my principals. Latinos were my teachers. There was a Latino senator. There’s Latino governors. Latinos have prominent roles in this state,” he said. “Leaving New Mexico (means) seeing it’s not like that in other states – Latinos don’t really have that kind of access. (New Mexico) prepared me, because I never felt I was second class to anything. I could compete just like anybody else, and I think that’s what has always stayed with me.”
Beserra’s roots in New Mexico go back several generations. He said his shopkeeper grandfather was an influential community presence, the kind of man people said could have been mayor if he’d spoken English. Beserra’s father worked on revitalization projects in Barelas as a local president for the federally backed Model Cities program.
Beserra spent much of his childhood surrounded by extended family in a neighborhood hollering distance away from the chamber’s 4th Street headquarters. He attended Sacred Heart, Washington Middle School, Albuquerque High and University of New Mexico and then followed his older brother into the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), taking a job as an educational center counselor. His brother later moved to Washington, and Beserra ultimately followed him there, too – encouraged in large part by Sen. Pete Domenici. Beserra had been visiting his brother in D.C. and found himself seated next to Domenici at an event.
Domenici “basically told me ‘Rudy, you need to come to Washington.'” Beserra said he expressed interest, and had a job with the Republican National Committee two months later.
“It’s all about mentorship and people who have helped along the way,” he said.
The RNC job led him to the White House in 1985. What was supposed to be a temporary public liaison gig lasted the rest of Reagan’s second term, with Beserra’s communications efforts focused on the Latino, small business and disability communities.
When Reagan left office, Beserra had a few choices – stay in Washington and work for New Mexico’s Congressman-turned-U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Manuel Lujan, or join Coca-Cola. Beserra said Lujan, whom he considered an important mentor, actually encouraged him to seize the corporate opportunity. He went to the soda giant in 1989. He established the company’s Office of Latin Affairs, which he still runs.
Even to this day, Beserra sounds awestruck when detailing his professional trajectory.
“Every day when I walk in and I see that photo (of his father and grandfather),” he said, “I pinch myself.”
Beserra is no stranger to the chamber, having been lifelong friends with its current president and CEO, Alex Romero, and among the donors who helped build the chamber’s campus. He has also crossed paths with the organization at major Latino conferences and events around the country.
He takes the chamber chairmanship at a time of organizational transition. The board must find a new president and CEO for the organization that boasts about 1,500 members and a budget of around $3 million since Romero plans to leave this spring after 12 years. Beserra said it might mean a national search. One of his chief objectives is identifying a candidate who can relate to both the existing members and the next generation of professionals.
Trujillo said he has confidence in Beserra’s leadership.
“I think that’s going to give the chamber kind of a new edge and new experience – not only for the staff but for the board of directors that we haven’t had in several years,” Trujillo said.
Beserra said he wants to help the chamber forge new connections and relationships with national, and perhaps even international, business and civic leaders. He knows people – and some of those people might be able to help the chamber.
Not only does he work for Coca-Cola, a company with about $44 billion in annual revenue, a global workforce 123,000-strong and 500-plus brands ranging from soda to bottled water and orange juice. He also remains involved with LULAC, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, and he was a former chairman of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
Beserra said he will try to recruit more high-profile conferences to Albuquerque. (The chamber receives some city of Albuquerque lodgers’ tax revenue to help boost tourism.)
Beserra said his contacts may also yield new financial contributions to the chamber, and the funds could go toward expanding its entrepreneurship training programs to other parts of the state.
“You’d be surprised at the amount of Latino wealth in this country. … I think what the situation is with our community is it’s not that we don’t want to give; sometimes we don’t know how to give. As a community we tend to wait until we’re asked to participate,” he said. “Well, I want to be that conduit to ask individuals with the financial wherewithal to contribute and invest in our community and I know a lot of those people and where they’re at.”