Chuck Garrett, CEO, Cherokee Nation Businesses: Becoming the Best Employer

Chuck Garrett, CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses, ​is Native Business Top 30 CEO.

Chuck Garrett is committed to making Cherokee Nation Businesses the best employer in Oklahoma 

Chuck Garrett (Cherokee Nation) oversees what is often referred to as the economic engine of Cherokee Nation. Cherokee Nation Businesses employs 11,000 people in 49 states and posts annual revenues over $1 billion. A recent report by economists at Oklahoma City University shows the Tribe has an economic impact of approximately $2.2 billion across Eastern Oklahoma. 

“You can imagine how that filters through the economy and really does change lives,” Garrett tells Native Business. 

Garrett leads a team of professionals to manage CNB’s diversified business interests — including gaming and hospitality, as well as government contracting in the information technology, security and defense, real estate, manufacturing, construction and health care industries. “Throughout all of our business units, our employees prove to be our greatest asset,” he says. “Their dedication and commitment to quality customer service is what sets us apart from our competitors and makes us successful. For me, one of my greatest achievements thus far has been working to ensure those employees feel appreciated and are well compensated for their efforts.” 

Since 2014, Cherokee Nation and its businesses have offered a minimum wage of $9.50 per hour, far above the federal standard of $7.25. In 2019, “in cooperation with our board of directors and Cherokee Nation administration, we proudly raised our entry-level wage to $11 for eligible hourly employees,” Garrett beams. “Paired with our competitive benefits package, this increase will further enhance our ability to not only attract, but retain great talent at CNB.” 

Being the largest employer in Northeast Oklahoma comes with a certain amount of responsibility, he says. As CEO, he’s committed to making Cherokee Nation Businesses the best employer in Oklahoma. “We have roughly 7,500 employees [in Oklahoma], many of which are my neighbors and/or fellow Cherokee citizens. So it’s important to me that they have a great place to work for their own professional satisfaction, their goals and professional ambitions,” he says. 

The long-term success of Cherokee Nation Businesses has empowered the Tribe to significantly rebuild and redevelop its Tribal health care system, among other initiatives.

When Native Business interviewed Garrett for our “Leadership” issue in late 2019, the Cherokee Nation was putting the final touches on its health care clinic, “the largest health care clinic in Indian Country, financed in large part to the hard work of the men and women in Cherokee Nation Businesses,” Garrett said at the time. “Cherokee Nation Businesses currently has a $30 million plan under Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., to fund various programs and initiatives, including a primary focus on housing.” 

READ MORE: Opening of Largest Tribal Outpatient Health Center ‘Injects Economic Vitality into the Heart of the Cherokee Nation’ 

(On November 14, 2019, Cherokee Nation opened the doors to its 469,000-square-foot outpatient health facility, which counts 30 departments under one roof, including more than 240 exam rooms, two MRI machines, an ambulatory surgery center, 34 dental chairs, full service optometry and specialty health services. “It’s groundbreaking for the Cherokee Nation and really affects our entire health system, which is the largest Native American health system in the country,” Chief Hoskin said.)

To continuously hone his leadership skills, Garrett surrounds himself with other business leaders — “to sit, talk, pick their brains, ask questions, to gain knowledge from their experiences.” He also turns to coaches for wisdom. “John Wooden is a former UCLA basketball coach that had tremendous success with a number of teams, and he has written various management books with some very simple principles that I incorporate into my leadership.” 

If there’s one stick Garrett is always sharpening, it’s time management. “I am constantly looking at my own approach to the day, and I encourage others to do the same. Whether it’s the way we conduct meetings, the way we communicate with one another — let’s do it efficiently, let’s do it effectively, and minimize redundancy. Let’s embrace technology where it’s useful. Let’s not forget, though, the benefits of one-on-one communication,” he says. 

Overall, Garrett hopes his leadership style is defined by his great listening skills, authenticity, care and trustworthiness. “I think that’s what I try to remind myself every day when I’m on my way to work. I want to manage from my heart. And I think that pays off,” he says.  

Garrett’s background is diverse and substantial, to say the least. Prior to joining CNB as Executive Vice President in 2013, Garrett worked as a New York real estate investment attorney; Senior Vice President at a Wall Street investment bank; President and COO of an asset management business; and founder of the Ovation Management Group — a Los Angeles-based investment management firm specializing in commercial real estate investments. “It’s not a sprint, it’s a long race,” Garrett advises up-and-coming professionals. “Your excellence will reveal itself over time. Persistence pays off.” 

Chuck Garrett was named a Top 30 CEO in Indian Country by Native Business Magazine. His profile originally appeared in our Leadership issue.

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