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The 25 Richest People in New Mexico


   21. Blake Chanslor

   22. Don Brewer

   22. Tony Hillerman

   22. Neal M. Elliott

   22. Gerald Peters

From CROSSWINDS, New Mexico’s largest alternative newspaper

October 1996

21. BLAKE CHANSLOR, Albuquerque

Blake's Lotaburgers

$26 million


     How do you compete in the hamburger business with McDonalds or Burger King? Very well if you're Chanslor, founder of the Blake's Lotaburger chain. A fixture on the New Mexico scene for nearly 45 years, the company owns and operates -- no franchises here -- 75 restaurants around the state, nearly half in its headquarters city of Albuquerque. That's one outlet for every 21,000 New Mexicans. We figure annual revenues at about $32 million.

     The niche marketing gimmick here is a real burger --not put on the six-foot-long grill until actually ordered by a customer. It takes a little longer to make and costs a little more, but Blake's loyal customers swear by what they say is a better burger and wouldn't have it any other way.

     Like many folks here, Chanslor ended up in New Mexico almost by chance. A Texas native, he went off to World War II while his wife and young son moved in with Albuquerque relatives. Post-war he found he liked the Duke City, but could only find work in the Texas Panhandle, first in insurance and then joint ownership with a brother-in-law of a hamburger stand in Pampa, Texas.

     He returned to Albuquerque, borrowed $5,300 and in 1952 opened his first outlet, a 230-square foot facility on San Mateo Blvd. SE. so small that drinks were sold from vending machines in the parking lot. The slogan: "Get a square meal on a square bun." His sister coined the name. Except for several now-closed locations around Phoenix, Chanslor has operated exclusively within New Mexico. Family members occupy kep positions.

     Chanslor declined comment, angrily calling his net worth ``privileged information.''


22. (tie) DON BREWER, Artesia

CEO Brewer Oil Co.

$25 million


     In 1958 Don Brewer--fresh out of the service, unemployed, with a wife and three children to support--needed a job. So he bought one. He leased a service station in Artesia and invested a reported $500 in a petroleum jobber business, an outfit that whoesales gasoline and oil products for retail use.

     From that one station has sprouted an empire of sorts. Nearly 40 frugal years later, Brewer Oil Co. now has more than 100 outlets dotting New Mexico--he's especially big in Santa Fe--essentially stretching along the state's north-south axis. Some are full-fledged convenience stores, occasionally with lucrative liquor licenses.

     Estimated annual revenues, mostly from fuel sales, are $80 million. Brewer Oil has been one of the state's 10 largest private businesses for more than a decade. His hometown paper, the Artesia Daily Press, once called him ``the man with the Midas Touch.''

     Screams by state politicians about the high cost of gasoline here are drowned out by the cash registers of companies like Brewer Oil. After all, this is a big state and people often have to drive a lot of miles. We couldn't lure Brewer to the telephone.


22. (tie) TONY HILLERMAN, Albuquerque


$25 million


     Words can make you rich. Consider Hillerman, reporter-turned-professor-turned-big-time-novelist. Over a quarter-century his literary output, most notably the Navajo-based, anthropological mysteries, have sold more than 20 million copies in 17 languages. One of them, A Thief of Time, is scheduled to be turned into a movie starring Robert Redford. Including the present value of future royalties and rights sales on his existing books, Hillerman clearly belongs on this list.

     A native of Sacred Heart, OK, Hillerman moved to New Mexico in 1952 as a reporter in the Santa Fe bureau of United Press International and eventually became executive editor of The New Mexican. In the early 1960s he moved to Albuquerque to get a master's degree in journalism at the University of New Mexico and ended up staying as a professor for 20 years. (He is now professor emeritus.)

     It was at UNM that he began writing his distinctive mysteries set on the Navajo reservation. The first was The Blessing Way in 1970. Ten more have followed -- with more to come --featuring characters like Tribal cops Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Most recently he has edited southwestern fiction anthologies, non-fiction and written a novel, Finding Moon, set in southeast Asia.

     A few more big books and Hillerman may move up this list. We sought comment but he didn't return our message.


22. (tie) NEAL M. ELLIOTT, Albuquerque

CEO, Horizon/CMS Healthcare

$25 million


     Ah, timing. Earlier this year, Elliott, boss of publicly traded Horizon/CMS Healthcare, sold off $662,000 of his own holdings just before the nursing-home company announced sub-par results and the stock price fell more than 50 percent. This prompted lawsuits, regulatory investigations and claims about everything from improper trading on inside information to quality control. Elliott and Horizon/CMS denied everything. Nevertheless, Elliott's personal Horizon/CMS stake, say company officials, is still worth about $20 million.

     Elliott learned the nursing-home business as a top executive at Hillhaven Corp. of Tacoma, WA, the nation's second-largest nursing home chain. He left in 1986 with Andrew Turner (see above) to start Horizon. The following year Elliott moved the headquarters to Albuquerque--partly, he has said, because of his love of Southwestern art.

     Horizon/CMS has become one of the country's 10 largest long-term-care chains primarily through acquisitions, paying with stock but increasing earnings to keep the stock price up. While operating nationally, Horizon/CMS owns one third of all New Mexico nursing homes. This growth has not been without pain. Last year Consumer Reports ranked the company next to last in a survey of 43 national chains.

     ``Twenty-five million? That sounds about right,'' says Michael Seeliger, Elliott's spokesman.


22. (tie) GERALD PETERS, Santa Fe

Real estate development, art galleries, art

$25 million


     In the world of business, being labeled "controversial" usually means you're making a ton of dough. That certainly applies to Peters, whose real estate projects and market-level rents around the City Different drive some to apoplexy. Along with art galleries in Santa Fe, New York and Dallas, and a friendship with the late, sainted Georgia O'Keefe, Peters epitomizes both the old and the new Santa Fe. Earlier this year the Santa Fean likened him to The Great Gatsby, calling him "enigmatic and opportunistic, the subject of endless speculation about his background, his motives and his attitudes."

     Peters' property holdings around Santa Fe include the Old Santa Fe Music Hall, the Plaza Mercado, Se–a Plaza and the Woolworth Building on the Plaza. He is said to be the city's largest private property owner by value. Other business interests include Century Bank, the Santa Fe Properties real estate firm, restaurants and his umbrella Peters Corp. The son of a Colorado investment banker, Peters came to Santa Fe in 1966 to attend St. John's College and essentially never left. He got the art bug early and displayed keen judgment, which in the art world means spotting things before they get really valuable. He married into a prominent Santa Fe family and by 1978 had his own gallery.

     Extremely litigious and aggressive, he once made an unfriendly run to take over the LaFonda Hotel.

     After we sought a response, aide Denise Hill left this message: ``After he got through laughing, I guess he got a little serious. He doesn't belong in that category. If he were one of the wealthiest people in the state ... he certainly wouldn't work as hard as he has to work.''