Joining the startup team at Ho-Chunk, Inc. changed the trajectory of this former lawyer’s career. Now he’s helping to diversify the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ economy.
Leading Kituwah, LLC, as CEO isn’t the first time that Mark Hubble (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) has focused on diversifying a Tribal economy beyond gaming. Hubble was part of the startup team at Ho-Chunk, Inc.
A graduate of Yale Law School, Hubble’s career switch was serendipitous. In the mid-1990s, Hubble and Lance Morgan, the founding President and CEO of Ho-Chunk, Inc., worked together at Dorsey & Whitney, the largest law firm in Minnesota.
One day, Morgan (Winnebago) tells Hubble he’s launching a Tribal business to drive economic opportunity for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. “I was able to arrange a leave of absence from our law firm, so I made it fairly risk free for me,” Hubble tells Native Business. “I tried it, and I really liked it. It was more interesting than the day-to-day grind of a large law firm. That’s what made me jump on board.”
Among the biggest obstacles early-on at Ho-Chunk, Inc. was Tribal buy-in, Hubble shares. “We’re trying to avoid some of that resistance now [at Kituwah, LLC], by not pursuing the longer term projects that take more time to develop before we can offset those with shorter-term time horizons on profitability,” Hubble says.
After Hubble helped to grow Ho-Chunk, Inc. as COO, he transitioned to serve as the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska’s General Counsel and Attorney General. While working for the Winnebago Tribe, Hubble also earned his Masters of Business Administration at Stanford University Graduate School of Business — flying to Palo Alto, California, about every two weeks. “It was a busy time,” he says.
Kituwah, LLC is the economic development organization owned and operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), dedicated to creating an innovative future for the Tribe. Kituwah is actually the third Tribal economic development enterprise in which Hubble has held a key leadership role. From 2014-2018, Hubble served as CEO of Meskwaki, Inc., in Tama, Iowa, where he developed and managed logistics of the economic development arm of the Meskwaki Nation Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa. Hubble also served as CEO of General Labor, Inc. (2003-2010).
“It definitely gets easier with experience,” he tells Native Business. “You recognize the opportunities faster, and learn to avoid many of the mistakes that you’ve seen made.”
Because Kituwah is a startup, Hubble’s first year as CEO initially consisted of covering the most basic items — getting the financial policies written, opening bank accounts, writing investment policies, and engaging in constant communication with the Tribe’s elected representatives to keep them abreast of all that Kituwah is doing.
“Next came the very first stages of growth, which in this case happened to be taking over the local cinemas. We then set out a plan to make significant improvements — both external through new signage, landscaping, etc., and internally, through remodeling the concession and lobby. Simultaneously, we started locating income producing properties, and beginning due diligence. As these properties are now coming at a regular pace, we routinely are screening three to five properties at any one time, of which we expect no more than one to pass the negotiation and due diligence stages. As these properties mature, we will fold into real estate funds, sell them to investors, and retain the management rights,” Hubble shares.
Kituwah is currently growing at a 300 percent revenue rate. “We are closing on various properties at a fast pace,” he says.
While Hubble is focused on turning a quick profit, he’s also committed to ensuring long-term sustainability. “I like Warren Buffett’s philosophies in general — seek value and think long term,” Hubble says.
Hubble describes his leadership style as “extremely collaborative. I actively seek input from those I trust, and because we are careful on the front-end of the recruitment and onboarding process, it allows trust to build within the organization. I end up relying heavily on the Board and our employees,” he says.
When it comes to hiring, Hubble’s philosophy is: “Get the right people in the right positions and let them thrive.” He also looks for team players. “We don’t like big egos. We just want good-hearted people who care for the Tribe as a whole. We really look for sharp analytical and problem-solving skills.”
Today, Lance Morgan sits on the board of Kituwah, LLC. In a way, Hubble’s career has come full circle. “What we’re trying to do is recreate a lot of the things that have been successful for Ho-Chunk,” Hubble says.
Mark Hubble, CEO of Kituwah LLC, was named a Top 30 CEO in Indian Country by Native Business Magazine. His profile originally appeared in our 2019 Leadership issue.