Native Business Magazine released its premier “Leadership” issue today, Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In our ninth print edition, we debut our inaugural list of the Top 30 CEOs in Indian Country, highlighting executives who are leading Tribal Nations and enterprises to greatness.
Blueprints and stories of visionary leadership are contained within the pages of our Leadership issue, which documents and memorializes the incredible stories and effective leadership of 30 amazing CEOs from across Indian Country, featured in no particular hierarchy. Our list includes CEOs of Tribal businesses spanning a variety of sectors including: gaming, federal contracting, construction, natural resources and financial services.
Leadership is defined by influence, courage, passion and dedication.
That’s why we chose Stephanie A. Bryan, Tribal Chair & CEO of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, as the cover subject of our Leadership issue. The Poarch Band’s economy has grown more than 1,000 percent since Bryan won a seat in Tribal government. (She began serving as Vice-Chair in 2006, and became the Band’s first female Tribal Chair and CEO in 2014.) The Poarch Band’s Wind Creek Hospitality operates nothing short of a gaming empire with a 10-property portfolio stretching across its home state of Alabama and extending into Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada, and the Caribbean — in Aruba and Curacao. When Bryan took the helm five years ago, she also created a sustainable Economic Development Plan to expand the Tribe’s footprint beyond gaming.
Company culture starts at the top and trickles down.
That’s why Native Business asked the executives featured on our list of Top 30 CEOs some perhaps unconventional questions — like how they start their morning. Leaders need to be “on” 24/7, because the entire team is modeling the leaders’ behaviors. That’s why most of the CEOs profiled in our Leadership issue begin their days early, and oftentimes with a motivational practice — whether that’s a workout (Derek Valdo, CEO, AMERIND Risk), a trail run (Jason Campbell, CEO, Sovereign Power) or a prayer to the Creator (Valentina Sireech CEO, Ute Tribal Enterprises, LLC).
Our Top 30 CEO honorees literally train themselves, day in and day out, to adopt positive mindsets and innovative, agile mentalities — to operate at their peak capacity. “I can’t emphasize enough: you’re the leader. And by leading everyday, it sets the tone for years to come,” says D. Dave Wililams, President and CEO of Missouri River Resources, the MHA Nation’s privately owned oil and gas company located on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in Western North Dakota.
Many of the CEOs profiled within our Leadership issue remind us not to underestimate the importance of relationships in business.
Confident yet humble, they’re also quick to praise their team members. They readily credit their employees with the success of their enterprise. A team-first mentality is strongly exemplified by Brian Decorah (Ho-Chunk), CEO of Snoqualmie Casino. Decorah has the unique ability to relate to each employee, because he’s worked at every level across a casino — from the front line on the graveyard shift to the C-suite.
His favorite business advice is: “A person that feels appreciated, will always do more than what is expected of them.” Decorah adds, “The most influential motivator is feeling valued. I love seeing a team member’s face light up when I am able to share with them how their efforts make an impact.”
A significant take-away from our in-depth interviews with CEOs across Indian Country is the need to continually grow and fine-tune one’s skill set.
Angela Heikes, President and CEO of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Gaming Enterprise, challenges aspiring executives: “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.”
Speaking of personal and professional development, at FireKeepers Casino Resort, employees have the opportunity to participate in a training-for-succession program. The final track of a four-track program integrates professional courses with Dale Carnegie, Franklin Covey and Toastmasters, says Kathy George (Seneca), FireKeepers CEO. Seneca Gaming Corporation similarly operates Continuous Improvement, an executive development program for Seneca Nation citizens, based on Kaizen, a strategy where employees at all levels of a company work together proactively to achieve regular, incremental improvements, says CEO Holly Gagnon.
Native Business is committed to sharing these stories of visionary leadership.
As Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder, states, “Power comes not from knowledge kept but from knowledge shared.”
My husband and business partner, Gary Davis (Cherokee Nation), and I started Native Business to drive business in Indian Country forward. We truly believe that strong leadership is the ultimate strategic advantage in business. Each of the CEOs we interviewed for this issue spoke to the power of clarity of vision. The core values and vision of their Nation or Tribal enterprise serve as the guiding force behind their leadership and ability to inspire their teams to put their hearts and energy into their work, day in and day out. Meanwhile, that level of commitment and dedication across a workforce creates a solid foundation for business sustainability and growth to support the next seven generations.
It was an honor to interview CEOs at some of the largest and most successful Tribal Nations and Tribal enterprises across the United States. We hope you glean as much wisdom, tools and strategies for effective leadership from these Top 30 CEOs as we did.
Download the digital version of Native Business Magazine’s Leadership issue at NativeBusinessMag.com/digital.