Jose Cornejo has been the director of the Denver Public Works department for only six months, but said he already has an appreciation for work in the public sector.
The former president and chief executive officer of J.F. Sato and Associates, an engineering firm based in Littleton, was first approached by Mayor Michael B. Hancock in January and assumed his role in April. He said he was surprised to get the call.
"I thought it was a prank at first," Cornejo said.
Cornejo, 56, replaced George Delaney, who was serving on an interim basis after previous appointee Bill Vidal was called upon to serve as mayor after John Hickenlooper was elected governor.
Public Works oversees everything from trash removal, street maintenance, traffic engineering and finance and administration to right-of-way services, capital projects, fleet maintenance and wastewater.
Cornejo said he attended a few meetings between Public Works and the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation and noticed one big thing he needed to address.
"What I saw in that meeting was a disconnect between the expectation from the public and Public Works," he said.
Greater communication has been one of the focuses of his first six months on the job, and so far he said the results have been positive.
"I think any fresh start helps to rebuild the relationship," he said.
But perhaps the greatest asset he brings to the job is the ability to analyze every situation and provide alternatives if the first proposal does not work.
"He brings the best, in my opinion, of the analytical capability of an engineer," said Jim Sato, his former business partner.
One of the big challenges coming up for Cornejo is his first winter on the job. Public Works is responsible for deploying all the snow plows in Denver, a task that has been a source of complaints by neighborhood groups.
Cornejo said he is ready and the city is set up well to handle the potential storms.
"The entire organization around snow is so sophisticated right now," he said.
Cornejo also puts a lot of emphasis on innovation. He said that is the No. 1 thing he brings with him from the private sector.
"One of the things that I learned is that there is always room for innovation," he said.
Cornejo came to Denver in 1976 after he was forced to leave his native Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Cornejo, or Pepe as he's known by friends, came because of his wife Marcia, who had family living here at the time.
His connection to the city is what he said led him to accept the mayor's offer.
"Denver opened the door for me and I believe that I have to contribute back as much as I can," he said.