Laura Neumann doesn’t have to worry about leaving a legacy in Colorado Springs — she’s already forged a path that few will forget.
She moved to Colorado Springs to refurbish and renew one of its signature properties: Cheyenne Mountain Resort. That job done, she thought she’d retired. After all, she’d worked for Benchmark Hospitality for 24 years.
But the city needed her. So she took on the role as chief of staff for the first strong mayor of Colorado Springs. It was a new time and a new form of government.
And then disaster struck.
The Waldo Canyon fire blazed up in the heat of June 2012. It overtook firefighters in the city and destroyed hundreds of homes. Two people died.
“We were all new; everyone on staff was new,” Neumann said. “I was leading departments and I still wasn’t sure who the department heads were. We had them all wear different colored vests so we’d know who was from parks, and who was from other departments. We worked almost around the clock for 10 days. And we came out of it a stronger, better team.”
Neumann is no stranger to adversity — or to responding to disaster. On Sept. 11, 2001, she was vice president of a company with offices on the 55th floor of the World Trade Center. She worked offsite, but flew in to aid workers in the aftermath of the attack.
“I had a plan,” she remembers. “But nothing in the world really prepares you for something like that. I was there to assure people they were getting paid, tell them about their benefits — all of that office stuff. And they didn’t want any of that. Their pay, benefits didn’t even register with them.”
What did they want?
“They wanted to tell their stories,” she said. “Over and over again, they wanted to tell me what they went through. And then, they wanted to know where their new offices were. I tried to send them home; I told them to go love on their families. They wanted the stability of know where they’d be working from. The whole city was shut down, but they were asking for offices. We had to meet that need.”
Leading through disaster gave her the empathy and understanding that she draws on during the difficult year that 2020 has become.
“All of it, I think, gave me the experience to work closely with people during the fire,” she said. “It’s helped me now during the pandemic. I think going through things like that — there’s a reason for it. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but there was. I now am able to help in a different way because I understand.”
With the pandemic, Neumann says she’s fortunate. She’s now a consultant for Weidner Apartment Homes, a major investor in Downtown’s new stadium, a City for Champions projects.
“I’m working now,” she said. “And that makes me so lucky. I’ve worked in hospitality since I was 14, and so many of my friends still in the industry aren’t working. They are worried about their homes, their livelihoods. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”
As she’s led through crisis and through good times, Neumann says she’s learned one thing: Set the vision and the direction. Make sure everyone knows the mission. And then let the experts do their jobs.
“When I take on a role, I’m all in,” she said. “‘All in’ in the sense that whatever the mission is, I’m on board. But I let the people with the talent do their jobs. The mission and the strategy is my job.”
At this stage in her career, Neumann plans to work for Weidner for another year to bring the stadium and two housing areas to fruition. After that, she says she’s flexible.
“I started the consulting company to give me time with my children,” she said. “They are off in college now, but I wanted the latitude to be with my family and to get more involved in the community — in a big way. I wanted to do work — not for compensation but for the good of the city. That’s the chapter I’m in now.”
And she tells younger women that it’s OK to be in a different chapter in their lives.
“I think we were wrong when we said we could have it all,” she said. “It really depends on what your ‘all’ is. There are sacrifices you make to get there. Everyone does. The important thing: Whatever calls you in this chapter is OK. If you want to do something different, try it. Want to stay home with the kids? That’s OK. You can get back in work later. But it’s OK to do something different. You don’t have to just keep running so hard.
“Live in the present.”