Leading to Success: Governor Anoatubby shows the Chickasaw Nation new heights

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Leading to Success: Governor Anoatubby shows the Chickasaw Nation new heights

By Tim Farley

At first glance, Bill Anoatubby resembles a personable, well-mannered, physically fit middle-age man. Nothing more, nothing less.

That’s why books and people shouldn’t be judged by their covers or initial appearances.

Take a step back, do some research and people will discover Anoatubby has all of the characteristics the first glance provided and a lot more. He’s been the Chickasaw Nation governor since 1987 and is seeking his eighth term this summer. During his tenure, Anoatubby has led the Chickasaw Nation to new heights in terms of health care, business achievements and college scholarships.

The bottom line is Anoatubby, although he’s the last to take credit for the tribe’s success, has grown the Chickasaw Nation into a $2 billion-dollar empire with highly successful casinos, hotels, a bank, Chickasaw Nation Industries (CNI), a first-rate health care system and Ekso Bionics, a company that has been a pioneer in the field of robotic exoskeletons since 2005.

In an interview with ionOK.com, Anoatubby demonstrated great humility by passing the tribe’s success to his leadership team and their commitment to the people who comprise the Chickasaw Nation. But others close to the tribe say without hesitation that Anoatubby is the brain trust that has moved the Chickasaws forward by leaps and bounds the last 28 years.

“We put the Chickasaw people first in everything we do,” he said. “When we evaluate a new initiative, business or a new proposal, we ask how this will affect the Chickasaw people. If we get a satisfactory answer to that question, we move forward. Our mission is to enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people is much more than a simple phrase or motto.”

That mission is at the core of every project the Chickasaw leaders oversee and Anoatubby is quick to point that out. He claims the tribe’s mission was developed from the Chickasaw Nation’s cultural identity, which is built upon a sense of belonging in terms of strong family ties, commitment to the common good and a feeling of responsibility to the entire community.

“It is a long-held belief of the Chickasaw people that individuals within a community have a responsibility to work toward the benefit of that community,” he said. “We also believe the community has a responsibility to work together to support the success of the individual. We believe President Kennedy had it right when he said that a rising tide lifts all boats. My role is to be a model of servant leadership and ensure our leadership team maintains its commitment to serve the needs of our people.”

Business success

Under Anoatubby’s leadership, the Chickasaw-owned casinos have flourished. Winstar Casino at the Oklahoma-Texas border and Riverwind Casino in Norman are two of the most successful gambling and entertainment venues in Oklahoma. Still, the tribe’s business ventures go well beyond crap tables, slot machines and musicians.

Other than casinos, Chickasaw Nation Industries and Bank2 have been two of the tribe’s most lucrative business ventures.

Bank2 is 100 percent owned by the Chickasaw Nation and has grown from $7.5 million in assets it initially opened in 2002 to more than $100 million in 2015. By 2012, Bank2 had issued more than $1 billion in home loans.

Meanwhile, CNI has grown from an initial $50,000 investment to more than $250 million in annual revenues with 10 limited liability corporations within its corporate structure. CNI is the largest shareholder and long term partner of Ekso Bionics. Its first commercially available product, a wearable robot called Ekso, has helped thousands of people living with paralysis take millions of steps which would not have otherwise been possible.

“Revenues from these businesses help fund programs and services for the Chickasaw people,” Anoatubby said. “This type of business diversification also helps strengthen our financial foundation for the future.”

Anoatubby understands better than most that expansion in existing businesses and attracting new industry is critical in the tribe’s move to maximize its growth potential. Part of the diversification Anoatubby talks about focuses on tourism and healthcare. The Chickasaw Nation was a major private donor to the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, a state project that stalled when funding dried up. The museum received $25 million from the Oklahoma Legislature this year coupled with $9 million from Oklahoma City and $40 million in private contributions.

“We believe tourism will be a major engine driving economic development in the Chickasaw Nation and growth in the Oklahoma economy for years to come,” Anoatubby said.

Domestic and international travelers spent $6.9 billion in Oklahoma during 2011, which is up from $6.2 billion in 2010.

Anoatubby believes the potential market for tourism has not been overstated.

“More than 75 million people live within a 500-mile radius of southeastern Oklahoma and more than seven million within a two-hour drive,” he said. “We have seen evidence that Native American culture is important to many of those who visit Oklahoma since we opened the Chickasaw Cultural Center in July 2010. More than 350,000 people from around the world have visited the cultural center since we opened.”

The Chickasaw Cultural Center and the Chickasaw-owned Artesian Hotel are located in Sulphur, but that’s not all. The tribe also is expanding its tourism footprint by adding to its casinos, renovation of Remington Park in Oklahoma City and construction of new hotels.

The Chickasaw Nation also implemented the “Adventure Road” campaign that promotes more than 150 destinations, attractions and activities on and near Interstate-35. These include tribal businesses, privately-owned companies, hotels, restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, state parks, museums and entertainment venues.

“Programs and services we offer to Chickasaws, Native Americans and others in the state has a significant impact on the state because any service we offer reduces the funds the state may need to budget for those services,” Anoatubby said.

Beyond that, a substantial amount of the tribe’s business revenue is invested into projects that benefit all of Oklahoma. The Chickasaws have partnered with the Children’s Medical Research Institute to establish the Chickasaw Endowed Research Chair in pediatric diabetes. In addition, the tribe has endowed chairs at the University of Oklahoma Law School and East Central University and endowed scholarships at the University of Tulsa Law School.

Investments in healthcare and biosciences are playing a significant role in the tribe’s business plan. Sovereign Medical Solutions is one of the Chickasaw Nation’s newest efforts to diversify its business portfolio. Three years ago, a pharmacy and clinic were opened in Ada, and more recently the tribe opened its doors to a new pharmacy and clinic in Norman.

“This company allows us to leverage our success and operational knowledge of health care services to develop a profitable business which has a number of benefits to everyone concerned,” Anoatubby said.

The Chickasaw Nation also has invested in a company that is developing medications for chronic illnesses.

Tribal members benefit

Anoatubby’s plan for business diversification was established to further the tribe’s goals of self-governance and self-determination. The Chickasaw Nation has grown from four tribal businesses in 1987 to more than 100 different companies today.

“These efforts have gone hand-in-hand with our goals to provide education and other opportunities for our citizens,” he said. “One of the most ways we can help anyone is to offer them meaningful employment.”

In 1987, the tribe employed slightly more than 250 people. Today, the Chickasaw Nation has nearly 13,000 people on its payroll. The business growth also allows the tribe to offer more services to its citizens. In 1987, the Chickasaws operated 33 programs and services and were dependent on the federal government for about 99 percent of its funding.

The majority of funding for tribal programs such as housing, health care, education and family services comes from the business growth, not the federal government. The Chickasaw Nation offers more than $15 million annually in scholarships, grants and other support for the educational needs of more than 4,000 students. In addition, the tribe offers more than 216 programs and services with an annual budget of more than $200 million.

Free healthcare is a major benefit of most Chickasaw citizens. In 1994, the tribe compacted to take responsibility for its healthcare system. At the time, the main healthcare center was the Carl Albert Indian Facility, which was designed to serve about 25,000 patient visits annually.
The healthcare landscape has been impacted dramatically since then. In 2010, the 370,000 square-foot Chickasaw Nation Medical Center was opened.

“Today, we operate the entire health system formerly under the Indian Health System,” Anoatubby said.

That system now includes six health facilities providing more than 500,000 patient visits each year while filling 1.2 million prescriptions annually. The tribe also operates 12 senior citizen sites that serve more than 157,000 meals each year.

Servant leadership

Facing yet another election as Chickasaw governor, Anoatubby uses the term servant leadership quite often when talking about helping the tribe’s citizens.

“Our leadership team places a great deal of emphasis on that word, serving, because that is my role as governor and the role of every member of our leadership team. Our mission to enhance the quality of life of the Chickasaw people will continue to serve as our guidepost as we work together to build an even brighter future,” he said.

Anoatubby promotes the idea that Chickasaws “share the same ideas, goals and values of other Oklahomans. Chickasaws go to the same schools and work at the same kinds of jobs. We belong to the same churches. We cheer for the same sports teams.”

Anoatubby and his wife, Janice, have two sons Brian and Chris and five grandchildren, Brendan, Eryn, Chloe, Sydney and Preslea.

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