As a high school freshman, she formed her school’s chapter of Future Business Leaders of America and served as president. By her sophomore year, she had landed her first job, working at Baskin Robbins because, as she recalled, she wanted to earn her own money.
Two years later, she was managing the store and hiring her friends to work with her.
“Lea was one of those kids who really put attention to detail,” says her mother Priscilla Márquez, who owned her own Mexican food company in Santa Fe, N.M., and raised her children to believe they can do anything.
“Since junior high I knew I was going to work in business,” says Lea, whose business career over the past 30 years earned her a job as President and CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a seat on the National Women’s Business Council.
Lea Márquez Peterson, 44, runs THCC because she enjoys providing opportunities for local businesses owners.
She started working with the organization five years ago as their only employee. She has grown its staff from one to nine full-time employees, and the chamber has expanded from 380 members to more than 1,100 members. In addition, THCC was awarded the Large Chamber of the Year by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2013, a feat that she says was her most rewarding moment since working at organization. Her primary responsibilities include organizing networking events and career workshops for local business owners.
In college, Lea studied marketing in the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program as an undergraduate at the University of Arizona. From there, she went on to get her M.B.A. at Pepperdine University. She credits much of her business success to the entrepreneurship program at the UA.
“Getting accepted into the entrepreneurship program, which was the best in the country in 1990, gave me the most valuable information I ever learned,” she says. “ I learned how to write and carry out a business model and also how to acquire funds for a small business.”
Although Lea brought new success to THCC, she balances being a CEO with many other responsibilities. One such side project is a position on President Barack Obama’s National Women’s Business Council, a spot she says she values dearly. The group of selected women travel to Washington, D.C. every quarter to speak on behalf of businesswomen in America.
Priscilla says her daughter has had the drive to be successful since she was born, and although she was not a playful child, she was always a very loving girl. Priscilla added she is most proud of her daughter’s ability to keep family first despite her success.
“It is so rewarding as a parent to see that,” she says.
Lea’s life doesn’t just revolve around the business world: she says being there for her husband of 22 years, Dan Peterson, and children Emma, 15, and Luke, 7, is the true pride and joy of her life.
“The nice thing about being your own boss is that you can be flexible for your family,” she says. “I don’t work on weekends so I can be a mommy and go to sporting events and show my kids I love them.”
Alex Cooper has worked with Lea for the past four years as the THCC business development manager, and praises the positive impact her leadership has made.
“Lea made dramatic changes in the organization and expanded responsibility throughout the entire chamber,” says Cooper.
Some of these changes that Lea has created include expanding relations to Sonora by creating the Arizona-Sonora Resource Guide, which links businesses, workers and trade groups between Arizona and Mexico. Another initiative was to instate more social programs for Latinos in the Tucson community, such as monthly workshops for how to start a business, and even an awards program called 40 under 40, which awards the top businessmen and businesswomen in Tucson who are under 40 years old.
Lea has advised Paul Rodriquez, who plans to open a small arts and crafts store called Sticks and Bricks, through the process. Rodriquez is very happy with the direction that Lea has given him about opening his store.
“She is very personable and easy to work with,” Rodriquez says.
He recalls when Lea took time to sit down and find out about his financial situation, business plan and goals for his shop that he is planning to open in the fall of 2015.
Throughout her success in the business world and as a CEO, Lea has continued to faithfully serve the Tucson community.
“She has become a great example to young Latinos by proving that one can do anything they set their mind to,” her mother says.