Leading Like A Native: Troy Clay Leverages Pokagon Band Strength

Troy Clay is Native Business Top 30 CEO.

“I don’t have all the answers and I am not bashful about that,” says Troy Clay, Pokagon Band of Potawotami, who is President and CEO of Mno-Bmadsen, the non-gaming investment arm of the Pokagon Band’s business operations. Employing 315 individuals in 13 locations throughout Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, Mno-Bmadsen maintains four direct-investment portfolios: professional services, manufacturing services, construction services, and real estate investments and services.

READ MORE: Mno-Bmadsen Leverages an Innovative Investment Strategy

Clay may not have all the answers, but he has a lot of insight regarding leadership, and he’s not bashful about sharing it.

“What may be most unique about my leadership style is that I don’t make Mno-Bmadsen something it is not,” he says. “We are the Pokagon Band. We always will be, with our rich heritage, sacrifices of prior generations, and enormous strength. I just maximize those qualities of our Tribe in my leadership. I know that the quality of leadership is directly proportional to the level of talent that I lead.” 

One theme Clay returns to, repeatedly, is identity — the importance that Mno-Bmadsen be aligned with the Pokagon Band not just financially, but in terms of belief, mission and heritage. And it makes sense when you think about the Seven Generations philosophy, which guides Mno-Bmadsen; running a business that will provide for your grandchildren’s grandchildren is in its way the purest meaning of the word investment, and the ultimate in long-term thinking. 

“I know in the future, after I am gone, those leading and working for Mno-Bmadsen and our family of companies will be thankful for the diversified wealth and careers that we are building today,” he says.

In the short term, there’s plenty to be done, and Clay offers three non-bashful lessons learned. “First, stay out of Tribal politics but respect leadership’s role and workload in serving our people. Once you bring politics into the business as CEO, or even as a manager (which I have a zero tolerance for), it undermines the credibility of our business.” 

“Second, once you put your investment plan together, hire talented people to help you execute it. If you compromise on your talent, you will have a less than stellar team to work with. I learned early on that you must hire people who have a demonstrated history of success in the area for which they are hired, that are humble to learning and working within a team, are passionate about growing their company, and most of all, who adhere to our values at Mno-Bmadsen.”

“Third, know when to invest and when to divest. The investment plan should drive the sourcing of investments — type, size, industry, etc. However, it is just as important that you know when something isn’t working, because we do not want to sink cash into a business that is simply not taking flight. When that happens, the investment becomes a cash burner and a distraction of talent and resources from profitable M&A and growth initiatives.”

When it comes to employees, Clay clearly wants to find the very best people — but he also stresses the employer’s end of the bargain. When you find those super-employees, they will likely be super-curious as well — don’t keep them in the dark. “Make sure that your employees are clearly tied to your business or investment strategy; and that they know this,” he says. “If an employee doesn’t see the connection to the big picture and the metrics that define success, they are working in a vacuum. This often leads to inefficiency and declining performance.”

In Clay’s thinking, leadership isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. “I have dedicated much of my life during the last nine years to get us to the success we have,” he says. “If your heart isn’t into the vision and the great potential you have as a Tribe in business, then you won’t survive the tough times, and there are plenty of those.” 

Clay’s final words of advice apply to CEOs and small-business entrepreneurs alike. “Don’t be afraid to lead — just make sure that you lead with humility, persistence, and hard work,” he says. “Humility is that quiet strength that works best in most Tribal environments. Persistence is absolutely necessary to get through problems and challenges; and hard work is essential, because you will have to wear many hats and be the chief cook and bottle washer as you launch your business.” 

Troy Clay 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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