Lupe Martinez Celebrates 50 Years with UMOS in Milwaukee
|President/CEO Lupe Martinez started working at UMOS on
May 5, 1969, two months before
Apollo 11 landed the first Americans on the moon.
agency dependent upon federal OEO funding to provide services to migrant farmworkers to a $26 million, multi-faceted agency that provides services to a diverse
In many ways, Martinez’s story could almost serve as a handbook for how to succeed as a non-profit — or for-profit for that matter — executive and leader. Lesson
Number one would be to know the agency from top to bottom the hard way, by working many positions and rising through the ranks.
Martinez started out as an outreach worker in Door County.
“When I started with UMOS, my intentions were to work here for a couple of years,” Martinez said. “I always had an interest in working for the state and federal
governments. My next stop was going to be working for the state and then after that, the federal government, either Chicago or Washington, D.C. But every time I
would try to make my move, they would talk to me and say, ‘No you don’t want to go there. Why don’t you stay a little bit longer?’ So I stayed a little bit longer. After a
while, I decided that if I was going to be at UMOS for a while, I wanted to learn everything that I could about the organization. Anything that was in black and white, I
read, such as personnel policies and by-laws and articles of incorporation and procedures manuals. The other thing that I wanted to do was experience just about
every position within the organization. I started applying for every position that was just one higher up than the one I occupied. Within five years, I had probably
been in every department in the agency. I knew the agency really, really well. Shortly thereafter, I became the regional director of UMOS because the state was
divided into three regions. I applied for Region III, which included Milwaukee County, and I got it. I was there for a short period of time. By the fifth year, I was the
Martinez has also acted as the director for education initiatives.
The second lesson is that you have to plan for the long-term through providing quality services and retaining your staff to provide and improve those services.
“I was going to work on improving the services for the grant and making UMOS an employer of choice,” Martinez said. “That was going to be really tough. I started
working towards getting the management staff working with me. It was a management staff that was a lot older than I was. I was just a young kid. They were all
looking at me and saying, ‘Okay show me what you’re going to do boy.’ We started working on that. But I got them to start working with me to aggressively go after
grants to diversify the funding of the organization. I thought that a healthy funding base would keep the organization going for a long time. We also wanted to
diversify our services and diversify our client population. The second thing was in order for me to keep good employees at UMOS, I needed to have good benefits.
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
It’s an incredible accomplishment when one thinks about it. While most people stay in the same job
for roughly five years these days, Lupe Martinez, the president/CEO of United Migrant Opportunity
Services (UMOS), has been in the same position for 45 years and worked at the agency for the past
To put this in perspective, most people will not have a 45-year work career. Most of the people living
in the United States today, were not even born when Martinez took over at UMOS. Martinez started
working at UMOS on May 5, 1969, over two months before Neil Armstrong became the first human to
set foot on the Moon. That is an accomplishment.
It is also a lesson in durability, how to survive and succeed over the long run while transforming an
The agency had no pension program. We started working on
developing a pension plan and to this day we have one. We have
good benefits. The staff who come here enjoy working with UMOS,
enjoy the benefits and they never want to leave. After a few years,
it was an incredible thing to see that people who had actually been
working here at UMOS for so many years that they actually retired
and getting a pension including Social Security for those who were
Lesson Three was to realize that the agency did not exist in a
vacuum and that there were individuals, entities and agencies that
would influence the course of the agency’s future. Martinez was not
about to let UMOS’ environment impact UMOS without Martinez
also impacting its environment.
“Part of the strategy was that we needed to start planting seeds
someplace outside of UMOS because those people would help us
in the long run,” Martinez said. “I was thinking short-term and long-
range planning. I was just talking with one of my administrators this
morning. One of the things I learned very early in life was money is
good. It pays the bills. But social capital often times is more
important. One of the things that I started doing was developing
social capital from my very start as the CEO. The other thing that we
did was we were the training ground for future leaders in the state
of Wisconsin. If you take a look at just about any state agency in
Wisconsin, you’re going to find a former UMOS employee in there.
For example, I call up Rod and he is working for the Department of
Health. I say, ‘Rod, I need to have you navigate the system for me
because I need to talk to the secretary.”
Lesson Four was to learn that all that glitters is not gold.
“We didn’t take advantage of every opportunity that came our way,”
Martinez said. “We were selective. Some people use the term,
‘Flavor of the Day.’ An RFP comes out; there’s money and the
agency goes after the money. That’s a big mistake. You need to
make sure that it fits within the mission of the organization and with
what you are experts at. Just because an RFP is dangled in front of
you, you shouldn’t go after it. You need to look at it, study it and see
if it fits within the mission of the organization. And if it does, would
you be able to do the job? If that is the case, then you go after it and
if you get it, you still have to implement it and run a good program.
So sometimes, people make the mistake of going after the money.
They bring it in. And they have no idea on what to do with it.”
Next issue: More lessons from Lupe Martinez