Lance Morgan (Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska) was 25 years old in 1994, when he was entrusted with $9 million in seed capital to start Ho-Chunk, Inc. Today, that company that started with one employee brings in roughly $250 million per year and has more than a thousand employees across multiple subsidiaries.
He says one of the things that has helped is that the company’s mission hasn’t changed.
“It’s exactly the same basic mission as when we started,” he says. “It’s ‘to use the Tribe’s economic and legal advantages to create job opportunities for people.’ The scale has changed dramatically. Obviously, the resources have changed. But the mission itself is exactly the same.”
“Tribes have a set of advantages that are unparalleled in business,” Morgan says. And under his leadership, Ho-Chunk, Inc. has developed a formula to make sure everything they do leverages at least one of those advantages.
As a result, Morgan was selected as a “Champion of Change” by the White House in 2011. He was awarded the Nebraska Builder Award by the University of Nebraska in 2012, and was the keynote speaker for their commencement ceremonies. He was appointed to the Board of Trustees for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2013-2014. And he was honored with the Advocate of the Year Award by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency.
With more than two decades under his belt, Morgan recognizes that the company is just getting started.
“In some ways, it’s a miracle that Ho-Chunk, Inc. evolved in the middle of a prairie into a big company,” he says. “We’re in the seventh generation of the people who moved here, and when they came they had nothing. We were starving and naked, but now, you know, we’re the largest local company in the Sioux City area.”
And if he can build a company that provides for the next seven generations, Morgan will have built opportunity and prosperity for his people that lasts long after he’s gone.