Angela Heikes, SMSC Gaming Enterprise CEO, Leads With Trust & Gratitude

Angela Heikes is a Native Business Top 30 CEO.

Angela Heikes has been a sure bet for the Minnesota Indian gaming industry for nearly 25 years. In her current role as president and chief executive officer of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) Gaming Enterprise, she oversees the operations of Little Six Casino and Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, the second-largest hotel in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. 

It is a role that plays to her strong suit as a business leader, financial expert and strategic planner. “I love the people who I get to engage with at all levels. And I love the purpose of working hard every day to support the sovereignty and success of Tribal government,” shares Heikes, also a yoga practitioner who bends herself in many directions every day guiding 3,300 team members. 

Through the years, Heikes has held a number of top-level management positions with both the SMSC and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Tribes and is a recognized advocate for the protection of the state’s gaming industry. This well-accomplished dynamo believes her greatest achievement to date is the 20-year master plan she created for the  Gaming Enterprise and Community of SMSC Tribal members.

“To develop the plan, I worked closely with Gaming leadership, and officials and members of the Community in setting the future course of the SMSC,” says Heikes about the document that has laid the foundation for the work the Tribe does every day. “Together, we defined objectives for economic development, charitable giving, natural resources, infrastructure, health and wellness, education and culture.”

This visionary blueprint has helped sweeten the pot for the Tribe through key partnerships with prominent Minnesota businesses. The chief executive officer of Canterbury Park, a horse racing track in Shakopee, credits the alliance with the SMSC for saving the horse racing industry in the state. What’s more, the SMSC owns a 342-room luxury hotel at the Mall of America, for which Heikes serves as chief operating officer of Hotel Development LLC, the Tribal division that oversees this important investment.

It’s no wonder that Heikes is an expert at growing bottom lines. She is also a University of Minnesota Master Gardener who teaches about horticulture and volunteers in community gardens. She and her husband also own and operate a corn and soybean farm in Braham, Minnesota.

But perhaps the real secret to Heikes’ extraordinary success is her humble leadership style. She operates on two guiding principles: trust and gratitude. “Good leadership is grounded in gratitude. It includes being a good listener, setting clear expectations and goals, providing resources so team members can do their jobs and trusting the leadership team I put in place.” 

Along her impressive journey to the top as SMSC’s president and CEO, Heikes has earned a number of accolades. Twin Cities Business Magazine named her one of the “100 People to Know in 2017.” In 2015, she was a “Women in Business” honoree of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal and named one of Global Gaming Business Magazine’s “25 to Watch.” And in 2010, she received the “Top Women in Finance” award from Finance & Commerce.

For other aspiring leaders whose sights are set on that executive corner office someday, this champion for gaming deals out some good career advice: “Take advantage of every opportunity to broaden your skills and experiences, find a mentor who will challenge you and be your champion, and always be open to taking on projects that you think are a bit beyond your comfort zone.”

Angela Heikes was named a Top 30 CEO in Indian Country by Native Business Magazine. Her profile originally appeared in our Leadership issue.