Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Chief of Staff Pat Meyers

Law firms, burger joints and the governor’s office

Pat Meyers began his varied and notable career at CU Denver

February 21, 2018

Thirty-one years ago, Pat Meyers was completing his bachelor’s degree in sociology at CU Denver. Today, he serves as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff.

In the years in between, Meyers forged a successful and eclectic career, with roles ranging from submariner to assistant attorney general to Smashburger owner and, now, public servant. He attributes much of his success to the experiences he had and connections he made at CU Denver.

“Success in my view is preparing yourself to be ready for the unexpected opportunity that comes your way,” said the Denver native and father of grown twin daughters. “Be open to your life going in new directions you never would have imagined.”

“The experience [at CU Denver] changed my life.”

– Pat Meyers, chief of staff to Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado

Realizing his passion for law

After attending Denver Public Schools and graduating from Evergreen High School, Meyers served six years in the U.S. Navy. When he returned to civilian life, he came to CU Denver, where – much like today – student veterans were welcomed and flexible schedules allowed students to both study and work.

“I thought the faculty were great,” Meyers said, “and I assume it’s only gotten better.”

To fulfill the requirements of his sociology program, Meyers got an internship as a victims advocate in the domestic violence unit at the City and County of Denver. His duties involved appearing at the courthouse each day and making recommendations regarding domestic violence cases from the night before.

“I didn’t think I had any business being in court,” he said, “but I would show up every morning, and eventually, the lawyers convinced me that I could do it – so I decided to go to law school and become a prosecutor.”

Since Meyers’ time at CU Denver, the university has grown and changed, but some things have stayed the same: internships, experiential learning and real-world opportunities.

“The experience changed my life,” Meyers said.

Building a business with a classmate

A connection from Meyers’ time at CU Denver also changed his life – but he wouldn’t realize it until years after he graduated.

As an undergrad, Meyers forged a friendship with fellow student Rick Schaden, who was studying business. As they worked together at a local movie theater, the two chatted about goals and plans for the future. After they graduated in 1987, Meyers headed to law school and Schaden stayed in Denver to forge a career as an entrepreneur.

Six years later, Meyers got a call from Schaden, asking him to serve on the board of the sandwich restaurant franchise he now owned, Quiznos. Then, in 1997, though Meyers had just been selected as a law firm partner, he chose to go into business full time with his old classmate.

The two CU Denver alums led Quiznos together and went on to be on the founding team of Smashburger, which originated in Denver and now operates its fast-casual restaurants in 37 U.S. states and nine countries.

Meyers eventually left Smashburger to focus on private equity investments. He also spent a lot of time with his daughters, who graduated from CU Boulder in 2017. Together, the family established the Meyers Family Foundation Scholarship Fund to support CU students.

Landing in the governor’s office

Then in late 2017, Meyers got a call from a new type of business partner: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. He asked Meyers to be his chief of staff.

“When the governor of Colorado asks you to do something, you don’t turn him down,” Meyers said, “so now I’m really busy.”

Meyers started in his new capacity on Dec. 11, 2017, and quickly got up to speed on his role of managing people and processes to help the governor achieve his goals.

“It’s going great, very fast-paced,” he said. “I’ve been struck by the level of talent, the dedication and the hard work that I’ve seen throughout the state employment base. It’s really impressive.”

Meyers said he took on the responsibility because he felt like he was in a place where he could give back to the state of Colorado, which had been so good to him.

“It’s probably going to be one of the greatest years I’ve ever had,” he said.