Note: This podcast was recorded prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Pandemic
On the 11th episode of the Native Business Podcast, hosts Gary (Cherokee Nation) and Carmen Davis (Chippewa-Cree Tribe, Makah Tribe and Yakama Nation), the Founders and Publishers of Native Business, are joined by Jamie Fullmer, former Yavapai-Apache Nation Chairman and current Chairman and CEO of Blue Stone Strategy Group.
The Davises and Fullmer cover a range of topics from the various challenges that face Tribal leaders, the need for organizational stability in economic arms of the Tribe, overcoming the ignorance surrounding Tribal sovereignty, to running a successful business as an entrepreneur and the importance of embracing technology for maintaining culture and advancing economic opportunity for future generations of Native people across Indian Country.
For the past 13 years, Blue Stone Strategy Group has worked exclusively in Indian Country. Its clients include Tribes, Tribal enterprises, and inter-Tribal organizations across the United States.
“We’ve been honored to serve over 180 Tribes in numerous ways,” said Jamie Fullmer, founder and Chairman/CEO of Blue Stone Strategy Group, and the former two-term Chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation (2002-2007). “But the core of our work is in economic development and helping Tribes to create their vision and direction for how they’d like to see their business opportunities go and grow, as well as the Tribal governance and leadership.”
Fullmer earned his master’s degree in social work and community development from the University of Utah, and his bachelor’s in business administration at Southern Utah University. Prior to his role as Chairman, Fullmer served as the Health and Human Services Director for his Tribe.
Unified Vision + Communication
Pivotal to getting anything accomplished is harnessing teamwork, Fullmer emphasized on the Native Business Podcast. From Tribal Council to the community, “unified vision and a commitment to work together is really the cornerstone of supporting growth in a positive way,” Fullmer said.
“It doesn’t mean they’re aren’t hiccups and challenges. It just means that if everyone’s aligned with a purpose and a perspective that they support, then you can not only move it forward, but you can also communicate it to your members.”
Fullmer also spoke to the double-edge sword of leadership — that no matter what, you will never please everybody. “It’s an honor to serve your people. But they’re are a lot of critics, so nothing that you do is really completely satisfying to the members. So sometimes that’s a challenge to the ego. I got over that really quickly, because it goes on quite a bit.”
Fullmer said it’s critical to remember that you’re just one piece of the puzzle in continuing to build your Tribal community. That Tribal sustainability depends on succession. “Realize and recognize that you’re handing it off to someone else, and they’re going to do their part. …You are just a piece of an ongoing commitment to preserving culture and identity as Indian people — in my case, our culture of Yavapai and Apache people,” he said, referring to his time as Chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation.
Pivotal to Tribal leadership is cultural preservation. “All of us as Natives, we have such rich cultures that have been torn by the growth of the United States,” Fullmer acknowledged.
Technology provides the tools to carry on those cultural aspects like language and story, “so modern generations can embrace it,” he said. “Those are all such valuable, necessary pieces of who we are. Our Tribal cultural fabric is really tied to all of those pieces.”
“Technology is a great equalizer for us,” he added. “It brings us on a level playing field with knowledge and wisdom and insight from around the world to even the most remote reservation community.”
During his tenure as Chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Tribe hired a few consultants, but the results were unimpressive. “I felt like a lot of the time, they were trying to treat our government like a business, like a corporation. They were trying to fit us into a mold that they knew. And in a lot of cases, our leaders felt disrespected by that,” Fullmer said.
Fullmer additionally came to the realization that the Yavapai-Apache Nation was not alone in its pain points and growth edges. Fullmer observed: “All Tribes were dealing with the same challenges as mine.”
Because entrepreneurship runs in Fullmer’s blood — his father was a serial entrepreneur, and Fullmer himself launched his first business at age 8, selling nightcrawlers to fishermen and gas stations — when Fullmer saw an opportunity to fill a void in the market, he leaped.
“After I finished my [second] term in office, I had gotten many offers to join different companies to develop their businesses or sales, working in their Tribal space,” he told Native Business. But after spearheading the economic vision for his Tribe, those avenues were less appealing.
He opted to leverage his expertise through consulting by combining his knowledge with that of John Mooers, a consultant who at the time had accumulated 20 years of experience working with mid-sized corporations.
Over the course of Blue Stone’s 13 years in business, the company has become “relatively known throughout Indian Country,” Fullmer said, quickly adding, “but as you become known, you become unknown, because there are new people in leadership positions.”
Among the biggest lessons Fullmer has learned as as entrepreneur include:
The Value of Building the Right Team
Seek out employees aligned with your vision who demonstrate an innate desire and commitment to making a difference. This advice is especially relevant for businesses focused on Indian Country, Fullmer said.
The Importance of Striking a Balance Between Business Growth and Maintenance
“Just because you have a great business plan doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to go out and execute it immediately,” Fullmer told Native Business.
It’s vital to phase the growth of your organization — balancing new business opportunities and client acquisition with business upkeep.
It’s about “protecting the identity of the brand, [managing] the marketing and the administrative oversight, and assuring that you know you’re running a fiscally sound business” — all while seeking out growth opportunities.
Fullmer emphasized that there are “seasons to everything,” a philosophy aligned with traditional Tribal values.
The Davises and Fullmer additionally spoke about damaging misperceptions regarding Tribal sovereignty, the responsibility to educate people outside of Indian Country about Tribal sovereignty, and the need for organizational stability within economic arms of Tribes.