Our young readers may not be familiar with Jeff Apodaca but they should be and they will be! Jeff is someone I personally look up to, he’s a role model for Latinos of this generation and the next generation. He has conquered cancer in his personal life and dozens of more challenges in the business world. It was a great honor to sit down with such a visionary and listen first hand to his insight and now to be able to share this insight and knowledge to our viewers.


(JM-Joshua Melendez / JA-Jeff Apodaca)

JM: Mr. Apodaca, before we get started with the interview, I would like to recognize  what you’ve accomplished in both your business career and in your personal life. You are a cancer survivor; The Jeff Apodaca Celebration of Life Fund has raised over a million dollars to help other cancer survivors.  You also the work you do with children battling cancer and I applaud you for that being that I’ve had close friends and family member fall victim to cancer. Can you tell us more about the Celebration of Life Fund?


JA: I’ve been blessed to where I’m a survivor of 35 years. I hate the word remission, you’ll never hear me use that. Doctors use that word for me but i consider myself cured and after 35 years I think the doctors would too. Our generation is the 1st generation in the history that we are cancer survivors past 10 years. When I got cancer they said it was like being hit with a bolt of lightning on a clear day. I was the 9th person in the world to ever have this type of cancer, it was Sacroma of the soft muscle. As an adult I’ve got I’ve got to know Doctors that say “You’re fortunate that you’re alive.” I really believe that God gave me that, that it was part of his game plan for my life. I’ve always said, It was two years of misery but it was real positive. I’ve always been a  person kind of like Charles over here (Charles Ashley) to give back, I’m always looking to enhance people’s lives. A friend of mine explained the other day, he said “You’re always thinking of the greater good.” So when I was a patient here, I actually did all of my treatments at the children’s hospital and the cancer center, it was all together. What killed me more was as a teenager there was nothing to do, and i get 35 years ago there was no internet and all that stuff. So literally if I didn’t read a magazine I was watching soap operas and all that stuff during the day. So through the media business and then I was at AOL I always kind of promised myself; I was living in New York and LA kind of at the same time. I always promised myself I’d come back and do something of the children of New Mexico, specifically teenagers. I came back with the idea of building a multimedia center, but they didn’t really have room so we did a computer center. I was shocked that 20 years ago the UNM hospital didn’t have a computer center. So I decided to do a fund-raiser, the goal was to raise 20-25 thousand dollars and we actually raised 135 thousand dollars that year. My goal was still to do a multimedia center and the new children’s hospital was being built at the same time, so the funding goal was to at least raise 250,000 dollars, my real goal for it was 1 million dollars. We raised 1.1 million. We also started scholarship funds, we’re helping New Mexicans go to UNM or even other states to go to school. At the children’s hospital, we now have this great multimedia center where kids can get away and get their minds of their treatment. With that we are announcing that my wife and I are going to donate 100,000.00 dollars to the cancer center. One of the things the cancer center doesn’t have is an adolescent survivor program. If you look at the statistics, cancer is actually higher in teenagers because they get lost between pediatrics and the adult world. In reality i was 17 years old and I was in pediatrics. The goal is to start an adolescents program and we’re asking the business community to match our 100,000.00 dollar donation to raise a million to 2 million dollars to really bring up an adolescent program that UCLA has, that USC has. We now have one of the top thirty cancer centers in the country. I had two years of hardship but I’ve really been blessed to come back and focus on the children and teenagers of New Mexico and the regional kids.


JM: Where can people go to learn more about Celebration of Life?


JA: They can always go to JeffApodaca.com and dontate. There are links there that will take you through UNM Foundation and UNM Children’s Hospital.


JM: You’re originally from Santa Fé New Mexico, you’ve had the opportunities to be in NY and LA and also had success there in those major markets. What is it about New Mexico that brought you back home?


JA: You know I’ve always had ties to New Mexico, it’s my home. I just always knew I wanted to come back home. Fortunately back then being able to have the chance to go to New York and work for CBS Sports was a great opportunity for a 26-year-old guy; but I’ve always known I wanted to come back to New Mexico, my family is here, my friends are here and coincidently living in LA I married a girl from Albuquerque. My corporate job got moved from LA back to New York. I have twin boys that are 7 and I didn’t want to move back to New York. I promised my wife we would move back by the time the kids were 10 because it’s always tough to move kids past that age. It was a great opportunity, I got to work with CBS, AOL, the Univision corporation, it was great I learned a lot. There is so much opportunity out there but we really wanted to come back. I wanted to take that knowledge and those opportunities and bring them back here. Just a little example is the 1.1 million dollars I raised, 43% was raised from out of state friends, businesses, and relationships I had. The goal is how do I enhance that now living here. Living In New York, in the back of my mind I always knew I wasn’t going to stay. Even in LA, I was in LA for eightteen  years but I still always knew I was going to be back here (New Mexico.) This is my home, where I started, where I’m going to end it and it’s been beautiful to go full circle. Being here I oversee the region: New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Texas. I see these places booming and I see New Mexico struggle economically and it’s very frustrating.


JM: So what you did is move away to make a way. You moved away to give yourself more opportunity to be successful and then you brought your knowledge  back home to make a more opportunity for not only yourself but also the state of New Mexico.


JA: Absolutely, and I get the media world. If you’re in media and you want to experience it on the next level you have to go to those big markets. We don’t have the infrastructure or even the opportunity to Segway into it. I’ve been asked by the state and by UNM to sit on the board of a  development project. The goal is to develop jobs for the youth with technology and groundbreaking areas for our future. The number one export we have for the state of New Mexico is our college graduates and that’s a problem.


JM: Being in the New York and LA markets, how did they differ from this southwest market?


JA: It’s night and day, you really can’t compare New York and LA. Part of it is location and there is tons of opportunities. In New York there’s financial hubs there, media businesses there, broadway is there. LA has Aerospace, oil and gas, obviously Hollywood so there’s tons of opportunity there as well. In NM I have to be frank, we’ve gotten kind of lazy. We haven’t been innovative, as business leaders we haven’t done enough to do things with our legislation, to structure fundamentally what we can do to not only bring businesses here but to create businesses here. Trust me, we are not that poor of a state. We have funds, we have investments that we can invest back into New Mexico to help start that. Fifty percent of the population in New Mexico is Latino but you look at the high school dropout rates and we’re 60%. The rural areas are really struggling, the Latino community is really struggling and it’s about opportunities. When you grow up Latino you grow up proud and all our parents wanted for us was an opportunity. Give me an opportunity, put me on the playing field and I’ll show you what I can do. We have to create a playing field / an opportunity for our youth to flourish. For example Austin Texas, just 25 years ago was a small state capital  college town. someone woke up one day and got the city, the legislature, the business community and said: We’re tired of University of Texas graduates leaving our state and going to California. There were a couple of venture capitalist funds and got the ball rolling. Now Austin is one of the most booming cities in the last twenty years and continues to lead Texas in job development and job creation. Not only that they’ve created technology and a mini silicon valley (let’s call it). By doing that, that’s created entertainment, housing contracts, other businesses. For every one job you create 3 or 4 more extended jobs. If you create 30 or 40 thousand dollar jobs, you’re actually creating 100 to 200 thousand jobs. It’s hard to compare New Mexico to New York or LA but as a state I don’t think we’ve been aggressive enough in the entertainment industry. The last four years we’ve went the opposite direction of what we were doing before that. I laughed probably six months ago, California created a pact with the movie industry and don’t quote me on this but it was like four hundred million dollars in credits because for the first time there was more production outside the state of California than in the state of California. We need to get more aggressive because that’s a vertical that I think Gary Johnson started twenty years ago. It creates five to 6 billion dollars of economic growth for the state. It sounds like we’re getting a little more aggressive in that area, but those are verticals. Oil and gas, thank God it’s been booming but now that the barrel is down… I’m kind of rambling but an issue right now is fracking. Now I’m not against fracking but we have great scientist, great universities, both universities UNM and New Mexico State. For us not to be investing for fracking and making oil and gas or something that’s more technology. We have great talent here, there’s no reason for us not to be focused in on that. There’s many verticals I can talk about. Again, we have great young talent here. Our neighboring states are starting programs for technology research, those are things we need to invest in because they bring opportunities.


JM: I feel like as of right now the biggest market that is not being targeted in the Entertainment industry is the American Latino market, particularly the teenage and young adults who are 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, who are predominately English speakers. To me it’s very similar to young African Americans in the 90’s. Most of their roles were pretty much being the urban black guy or girl. That has really changed with movies like “The Best Man” “About Last Night” “Love and Basketball” Do you see that coming soon in film where there is a Hispanic cast and it isn’t a movie about the barrio or the cartel, just a regular comedy or drama, whatever it may be where the people just happen to be Latino?


JA: The movie industry is not black, white, yellow, red, it’s green.  It’s about making money, so if you can make money they are going to make money. I agree with you on one point, and I’ve said this may of times. The Antonio Banderas’s the Penelope Cruz’s they’re going to be discovered, if they are talented they’re going to be discovered. I think it’s part of our problem and it’s also part access. Part of it is, the movie industry is producing things that there is expertise behind. What we need to work on both at the university level and on the industry level is the: editors, writers, producers, the creators. When we start having that access, that’s where some of these other projects are going to get made. That starts at the highschool and college level and I think there’s not a lot of avenues. I’ve talked to the university and some political leaders about this, there’s an opportunity to really focus on Latino kids and not just American Latino kids but Mexican and South American kids as well. That’s the niche that the studios are dying for. It’s a vicious cycle, they have to make money but I think the key is developing these opportunities at different levels. I try to do this with kids all the time with my station, to give tours or have kids come in and watch the new live. It gives them excitement, it gives them exposure.  For me there was an opportunity to study the business side of broadcasting at UNM and than to intern at the stations here. I interned at KOB then they offered me a job. I got a couple of years experience then CBS took a shot at a Latino kid from New Mexico and I was the only Latino kid on the staff at the time. Now i brought a culture at the station. They said, hey this Latino kid is doing pretty good. Now I don’t know this for a fact but it seemed that some of my New York co-workers and bosses had never been exposed to a Latino at all. They had never been exposed to Mexican food, to green chile, so I think I helped enlightened the staff on Latino concerns, Latino styles, and community. In front of the camera it’s a bit different, there’s probably more Latinos in front of the camera but again I think you see more Latinos in the media business now than you did twenty years ago.


JM: Speaking of the culture and the market, Latinos in America now have the one of the biggest markets and still we’re the fastest growing market with billions in spending power. Now we’ve attracted the attention of every major company out there. They’re attempting to gain our market in making a “Latino” version of their company. For example a major company will insert “Latino” behind the brand name. Their advertisements have the same content but just translated to Spanish; In my opinion that’s taking the easy way out and not really learning or understanding our community. What are your thoughts on how we are seen and marketed to, by major companies?


JA: You know, I agree with you partly.  I would say many times that does happen. I see it at a corporate level, I do think they see the cultural differences. I am more proud when I see an interracial commercial on a national level whether it’s in Spanish or English because it’s very rare now that our cultures our inter-mixed. Now the sophisticated companies, they are looking at the three verticals. You have the first generation, that Spanish only and then there’s that middle vertical, it’s the second and third generation where the kids are more cultural. Then you have that third or fourth or even fifteenth generation that are more Americanized. When you look at the Latino community, yeah Spanish isn’t spoke as much in my home as in other Latino families; but my kids are learning Spanish. The culture, the artwork, the food, the heritage of it, the family, the community. My kids are seven and we have breakfast together, we say prayers together, we have dinner together and you know, my wife is Anglo and she likes our culture. I have non Latino friends and their families don’t really do that, it’s really a cultural thing that I grew up with. We were real family oriented and I think we still carry that on.


JM: You’ve held major positions with AOL, Excite Network, CBS, and now Univision… What projects are you currently involved with or working on?


JA: In our industry it’s a continuous evolving. If you don’t evolve, you will die. I oversee our region in television and radio which is traditional but we also have new media,  digital mobile and we have to continue to grow those platforms.  It’s a continuous integration of them all in order to survive. We are one of the few broadcasters in the country that have television, radio, and digital properties. It’s really a three sixty working on continuous and multiple projects all the time. Music is supporting our radio but how do we cross that over to television? Television viewership is still strong in the Latino market and so we’re looking at how to cross that over. Seventy percent of internet usage and new media usage is now done from the phone, so we have to continue to evolve. Our industry is all about generating revenue, advertising revenue, new revenue streams. I call it revenue buckets, and it’s about generating these new buckets. If you don’t do that you will not survive because you have to generate additional revenue streams. We have long-term and short-term focuses. There are things in our industry, you know, you have to get to the end of the month, you have to get to the end of the quarter. So you’re almost working quarter by quarter but you also have to be pro-active and see whats coming down the pipeline. What’s the projects this year? Every year we go into the business plans, were looking at having to finish the fourth quarter but we still have to look at what’s going on this next year. What’s the three year plan,  whats the four year plan, and every day there’s new technology being developed. You can’t jump into every one of them but you have to look at the ROI and to what you can do, and evolve into that. I think tv stations will survive, radio stations will survive, especially in the Latino community. You know how important music is to us, you may not get it over the radio all the time but you are going to get it over some type of device. I talk to the journalism class and if there’s anything I can tell specifically to the young Latino kids is: it’s all about telling the story and developing the story and the content. It’s all about story telling, I don’t care if it’s music, tv, a blog, it’s about story telling. If you’re a good story-teller, no matter what platform it’s going to be over. I don’t believe movie theatre’s are going away. People like going to a good movie, looking at the big screen, eating popcorn and escaping everyday life by being told a story.


JM: I understand your father was the governor of New Mexico, do you have any aspirations in pursuing politics?

JA: My father was the governor of New Mexico back in the seventies, yes. We’ll see. There’s a lot of people who always talk to me about that. I think if I ever did go into politics at any level; I think there’s a leadership and a vision that I think I would have. I believe there’s ideas and solutions that I think I would have. Honestly I don’t know yet, but there are people who have talked to me about it so it’s something I’m not fully prepared to commit to, but it’s a thought.


JM: You seem like a great candidate and you have a lot of influence. You seem like something we need in this state.


JA: That’s what’s frustrating for me and I think you hit the nail on the head. If I saw the political leadership here in New Mexico and someone had the vision for New Mexico or the leadership that I’d have for New Mexico then I probably wouldn’t consider it. I’d probably just support it. My concern on both sides, both republican and democrat is that I don’t see that strong leadership coming through right now at a lot of different levels that I think this state needs. If I do go into politics it’s because I believe that.. Like I said earlier I always focus on the greater good and what’s best for New Mexico and what’s best for the community. It’s frustrating because I don’t see that. People see my passion, my ideas, and my leadership and they say to me: You should get into politics. Again, if I ever get into it, it’s for the greater good, to lead the state in the right direction. It wouldn’t be for a new career or anything like that. It would be, because I don’t see us going in the rights direction.  You know, never say never.


JM: For the record, you’d have my vote.


JA: (Laughing) I appreciate that… I’ll keep that in mind.


JM: In your opinion, will we see a Latino/Hispanic President of United States in our time?


JA: Oh, yeah. It’s funny because before Obama, I thought we’d see a Latino president before we’d see a black president. Obama kind of came out of no where, but there are some great Latino political leaders out there. I think, it could be the next election, we could see a woman president and I do think we will see a Latino president shortly. When I say shortly, I mean within the next twenty years. There’s a lot of good Latino leaders that I think would be great leaders. I think it’s just a matter of time.


JM: Jeff, what’s your advice for Latinos who want to get into your realm of business or even you advice in life for that matter?


JA: The key is: (I apologize for my language) You have to get off your ass, get focused and do it. It’s about work, work ethic, it’s about asking for it. Nothing has been given to me, even growing up as a political kid, I had to earn everything. People told me I was too short to play high school football and I became all state. They told me I couldn’t play college football and I started my last two years of division one. Don’t be afraid to ask for anything. There’s a generation, I blame my generation, I blame my parent’s generation for not preparing the next generation. It’s about getting an education, I’m not even saying you have to get a college education because there is a lot of skilled jobs out there. The key is loving what you do and  pursuing what you do. Especially for young Latinos, follow your goals and follow your dreams. I know everyone say’s that but it’s asking for it, working for it, and pursuing it. I will tell you, it’s about opportunities you create. If you work hard enough opportunities will come but you have to be prepared for that opportunity. It’s our responsibility and the young Latinos to be prepared for that opportunity. i can tell you right now that if there’s a young Latino kid that comes up to me and asks: What can you do to help me? I will help them but it drives me nuts when I interview Latino kids and they just are not passionate and they don’t have the drive. Honestly, they’re a little lazy.


JM: A point that you mad earlier is, that in general is a generational thing now.
JA: Yes, it’s a generational thing. My children are seven, they  have to do their chores, brush their teeth, clean up, a lot of things before they go to school. They have to put up their own dishes, when we go out they have to shake people’s hands, open doors for adults but that starts with me. That starts with us as a parents. I guess that’s enough about that.



Thank you to Mr. Apodaca and to Charles Ashley III for coordinating the interview.


Tagged with:
Joshua N. Melendez

One Response to Jeff Apodaca: Beating Cancer and Beating the Odds

  1. Laura Pinan says:

    About 6 years ago, I had the opportunity of working under the command of Mr. Jeff Apodaca. I was a recent immigrant in United States, with only 4 years of experience in the labor field, and roughly 2 years in the Entertainment/Media industry.
    I still remember his serenity and calm tone to explain the biggest problems or to simple work with us while we were trying to figuring out how to make the best with what we had at the time.
    Never a rough word, always a solution at hand, very candid and fair when decision should be made among his team.
    He might not see the strongest leadership on either side Republican, Democrat, and I don’t blame him. Being to his level, and have the values and core he performed as a leader when we worked together, it is definitely one of a kind.
    His humbleness, integrity and leadership are definitely to consider if we want to make our country a better place to be.
    Thank you!

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