Derrick J. Lente wasn't thinking much about becoming a lawyer, much less attending college, when he was growing up, watching his mother work two jobs at Sandia Pueblo to support her family and his father tending a 50-plus-acre farm at Isleta Pueblo.
He helped his father on weekends, hauling hay bales and plowing the dusty earth in the middle of July. Lente's work ethic was formed by this hard labor, and it also spurred him onto college, where he could look toward a career that didn't require long days in the hot sun.
He began with one-and-one-half years of remedial classes at CNM, which was then TVI, and then moved on to college courses, eventually transferring to the University of New Mexico, where he earned degrees in English and intercultural communication. During college, he was the water rights manager for Sandia Pueblo and learned about the power of politics. He also saw the important role the tribe's lawyer played in tribal government.
"I watched how the tribal elders revered our attorney and wondered why couldn't I do that for my tribe," he says.
With the financial backing of the pueblo, he applied only to the UNM School of Law, committed to staying close to home so he could raise his daughter, Jade, now 6. After earning his J.D. in 2006, Lente worked on Federal Indian Law issues with an Albuquerque firm.
He also began teaching Federal Indian Law in UNM's Native American Studies Program, where he continues to teach.
"I love the energy of the university, how eager the students are to learn and that I can share my Native experiences," he says.
He had always wanted his own business and spent a year researching the possibility of buying Spherion, a staffing firm that provides businesses with employees. Last May, he took the plunge and purchased the company. He didn't tell anyone, even his family, who found out through a press release.
"My parents almost fainted," he says, "wondering what I was doing."
In addition to offices in Albuquerque, he owns Spherion offices in many West Coast cities. Most of Lente's customers are Fortune 500 companies, but he is developing local markets as well, focusing in Albuquerque mostly on tribal companies and governments.
"So far, I'm enjoying the excitement that I can create and make this business as big as I possibly can," he says. "I like putting myself out there and taking a risk."
Lente, who will be moving into a new home at the pueblo, hopes he might inspire other pueblo youngsters to set goals that reach beyond Sandia's borders.
Bitten by the bug when he ran unsuccessfully for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy Board of Directors, Lente would like to make a run for a U.S. or state senate seat.
For now, he is enjoying watching his business grow. Now when he sees his parents, the ask, "How's the business?"
Q: What was your favorite class in law school?
A: Federal Indian Law
Q: Who was your favorite professor?
A: Gloria Valencia-Weber. I was a first-generation law student and she cared for me like a relative.
Q: What's the last book you read?
A: THE AUDACITY OF HOPE by Barack Obama.
Q: If you weren't a lawyer, what would be your dream job?
A: Professional golfer
Q: What do you enjoy most about having your own business?
A: Knowing that when I want to make something happen, I have the say so.
Q: How did the UNM School of Law prepare you for this?
A: The experience polished me into a better professional. I went in to law school an introvert and came out an extrovert.