Roxie Schescke: Forging a Path for Native American Businesses

Roxie Schescke says there are two kinds of entrepreneurs. Some entrepreneurs, she says, are born into it. They come from families with generations of business leaders. They are able to quickly pick up business acumen from their environment, allowing them to step into business roles with ease.

For others, she says, entrepreneurship is a lifestyle. These entrepreneurs are wired with a drive to be successful. They’ve got passion for leading a business and overcoming adversity. Others in their world often liken it to a healthy addiction, because it fuels them, constantly pushing them forward. These entrepreneurs know no other way to live than to take on leadership roles, tackle challenges, overcome adversity, and figure out a way to thrive in the business environment.

Roxie Schescke (Courtesy Schescke)

She’s that second kind of entrepreneur. But her drive isn’t just limited to the business world.

“As a small child, it was instilled in me to be of good character and to grow into being that entrepreneur,” she told Native Business Magazine TM. “To me, when I’m done and I’m gone – when I’m with the Creator – I want to be a legend. I want to know if I have changed one person’s life to be a better person and can learn to be that entrepreneur that I have, then I’ve accomplished what both my business hat and my heart have set out to do.”

This character, she says, is the lifeblood of her business and the core of everything she does.

Becoming an Entrepreneur

Growing up, Schescke faced adversity, as a minority, living in poverty within a closed-minded, highly opinionated and prejudiced community. Fortunately, she never noticed that her family struggled to make ends meet.

The business bug got her early. Around age 10, she remembers taking a watered-down bottle of Windex door to door, asking her neighbors if she could wash their windows for a dime or a quarter. Entrepreneurship is defined as the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources. Once Schescke pursued, she was hooked.

Prior to building her own business, Schescke held down several positions, including stints in construction and management, assisting with cleanup efforts at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility in Colorado.

Schescke eventually decided to make good on her dream of owning her own business. In 2005, Indian Eyes, LLC, was born.

When she founded Indian Eyes nearly 14 years ago, Schescke bootstrapped the operation out of a two-car garage made into living quarters and an office. Getting started required sacrifices. “It’s tough to live within your means when you don’t have any means,” Schescke says.

For several years, Schescke put everything she made back into the business. Today, her original team of two has grown to more than 60 employees, but has peaked at more than 100 (the variance is due to the contract-driven nature of her business). The Indian Eyes team has touched all 50 states and completed work internationally for the U.S. Department of Defense in Russia and Qatar.

Headquartered in Pasco, Washington, Indian Eyes’ revenue holds steady between $25-27 million annually. To date, Indian Eyes has generated more than $100 million in total revenue.

“It took many years to get to that point, because I never had anyone to lean on or help me out,” she says. “But I was determined.”

‘We Only Do What We Know’

Indian Eyes started as a staffing company. Schescke saw it as a logical first step that would allow the company to generate revenue while providing opportunities to scale her business plan. Throughout the growth and evolution of Indian Eyes, Schescke has stayed true to her original mission and vision, and demonstrated that long-term planning is paramount to success.

Schescke attributes much of Indian Eyes’ success to staying within the bounds of her, and her team’s, expertise.

“We only do what we know,” Schescke says. “We don’t take an approach where we try to do anything and everything.”

It’s easy, she says, to get carried away and take on projects that might be outside the scope of your capabilities—especially when you’re enticed by big, potentially lucrative contracts. But Indian Eyes knows “facility support management,” which has four business units beneath it: staffing, security, equipment logistics, and construction and engineering. Each unit complements the other. That’s responsible for Indian Eyes’ extensive and impressive past performance—a track record the company can point to when they submit new proposals.

Focusing on their core competencies is also part of the reason Indian Eyes has had zero incidents since their founding—a nearly unprecedented feat in the fields of staffing, security, equipment logistics, and construction and engineering.

Hurricane Katrina

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2006, Indian Eyes rushed to the scene for disaster cleanup. Schescke’s boots were among the first on the ground. Her crews truly assisted on the front lines, providing environmental assessment and debris cleanup in the heart of the devastation. Schescke was in the thick of it.

“I knew that I had to be in the middle of the cleanup. At times, it was uncomfortable, because of the level of the disaster,” she says. “There were snake beds everywhere. We were in the middle of the worst circumstances.”

She says the experience was truly humbling. “I might have had a little bit of ego before, thinking that I’m a Lakota Native American Woman and I’m not afraid of anything,” she says. “I thought I could go to the Middle East and do any contract for the right amount of money. But after being down there, where it was like ground zero with military police running everywhere with semi-automatic weapons, seeing the lootings and the curfews, I realized that maybe I couldn’t go to the Middle East and properly and safely lead a crew. So, that humbled me.”

Growing Her Business

After those initial contracts, Schescke says she’s taken more of a humble approach to growth. One of the biggest mistakes many companies make, she says, is that they react to positive performance by buying assets in hopes that it will drive further growth. That approach isn’t for her.

“There’s a lot that goes into a bid, and you have to understand that and be careful how you bid it,” she says. “All it takes is one contract—if you don’t bid it right—for you to start getting into the red. Then you try to play catch up. That’s an arena that we understand. We know what it takes to make it a profitable project.”

When projects start to become unprofitable, the ripple effect can be severe, Schescke says.

“It has to be profitable, or else safety measures start going by the wayside. Understanding the scope of work that you’re going to perform is important, as well as the bidding and proposal process,” Schescke says.

Schescke was among the finalists for the 2015 Nellie Cashman Woman Business Owner of the Year Award. (Courtesy Schescke)

Schescke was among the finalists for the 2015 Nellie Cashman Woman Business Owner of the Year Award. (Courtesy Schescke)

She also stresses the importance of reputation in the business world. Because Indian Eyes works tirelessly to perform at high levels consistently, satisfy customers and clients, and keep their reputation strong, they received a sole-source contract to support Pope Francis alongside the National Guard in Philadelphia. Schescke was also one of four women-owned businesses selected to assist the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in support of President Obama’s economic and jobs agenda.

Schescke and Indian Eyes’ accolades and honors speak to her company’s reputation. A partial list of the awards that Indian Eyes has received include the National Native American Business Woman of the Year (2012), the SBA Small Business Person of the Year in Washington State (2012), a Feature in Alaska Airlines Magazine’s Native Leaders Issue (2015), recognition as one of Inc.’s Top 5000 Businesses (2016), Recognition as the 3rd fastest-growing minority owned business (2015, 2016), Recognition as one of the top 500 privately held businesses in America (2014, 2015, 2016), and Recognition as one of the top 100 Native American owned businesses in America (2014, 2015, 2016).

No Surprises

Even though the company carries several certifications – Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB), Native American, and 100 percent Woman-Owned Small Business – Schescke doesn’t rely on those socioeconomic credentials to win bids. In fact, she considers it a major point of pride that she goes out of her way to compete for most of her contracts. Not relying exclusively on sole-source market contracts sends an important message to everyone she does business with.

“When you do it that way, you’re telling everyone there’s no surprises,” she says. “That’s the same reason I pay big dollars to have my company audited every year. It comes down to: What am I telling my customers and other people? They need to know that we’re good, we’re solid, we’re honest, and we’re healthy in every way.”

The Future

Schescke’s tenacity has brought Indian Eyes from a two-person garage-based operation to a national – and even international – business. She’s received numerous awards, including recently being named to the Women’s Business Enterprise Top 50 Women-Owned Companies in the Country. None of the top ten women, who have multi-billion-dollar companies, work in government. For her, this means Indian Eyes has potential to grow and continue moving up the list.

Over the next couple of years, Schescke anticipates Indian Eyes will outgrow its small business status. But she isn’t afraid of the new challenges that this will bring. Schescke sees the opportunities as well.

The most exciting project on the entrepreneur’s horizon is authoring a book, titled Three Little Indians, scheduled for release and to hit shelves in the near future.

“That’s a big, big accomplishment for me, because I’m one of those individuals that I feel if you just talk about something over a period of time and you don’t do it, you lose credibility,” she says. “I’ve talked about it long enough that I didn’t want to lose credibility – most of all with myself.”

She doesn’t see the book as impacting the business – nor does she want it to. She wants the business to impact the business, because she can look at what she’s built and let it stand on its own merits.

“For me being all by myself, with a 100 percent Native American Woman Owned business, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done,” she says. “If anything can be told or heard from this story that’s being shared, it is to motivate other fellow Native people to make a difference.”

She believes that if she can show the outcomes of drive, perseverance, and tenacity, others in Indian Country might follow her lead.