The oil fields of Sunniland are where I first learned about hard work. I’d routinely work 60-90 hours a week of manual labor, and every so often when I could hardly move a muscle, I’d go in and beg for a day off. They knew that my plan was to get some rest and return refreshed the next day. That was one of my first jobs and I’ll never forget the work ethic that it instilled in me.
Back then, in the 1970s and early ’80s, there were few career options available to me, especially with the Seminole Tribe. You know what my career options were? I could become a policeman, or a fireman or a construction worker. Those were my options back then, based on what the Tribe was doing at that time. Think about it. That was it.
At that time, the options were limited and there was no influence to get me to think about working for the Tribe in any capacity, much less becoming a director of a department or running for political office. In fact, there was a severe deficiency of programs to help the youth understand the political landscape, both locally and nationally, including the sovereignty fights the Tribe was enduring. None of that was talked about when I was coming up. Nothing.
Then I got a call that would forever change my life. Cecil Johns was President of the Tribe and he wanted me to work for him in Hollywood. He saw something in me and told me I would have to learn on the job. I knew nothing about how the Seminole Tribe operated. I had never even considered the concept of sovereignty and what that meant to me and every single member of the Tribe – a concept that is a guiding light to me today in nearly every capacity and strategic move I make.
I think of those days often and remember keeping up with the learning curve, understanding the different Tribal functions, making mistakes and learning from them, gaining self-confidence and believing in myself. Those events made me who I am today and have helped me rise through the ranks and eventually achieve the position as the President of Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. (STOFI). I remember sitting in those rooms watching and listening to the leaders of that time, trying to understand what they were talking about, trying to make sense of their decisions and the policies they were putting in motion for the Tribe.
It was exciting to be in that sort of atmosphere, so close to the action. I began to sense how important these leaders and their decisions were to all of us. And then one day, the light bulb turned on. It flickered at first, I’ll admit. Then it turned on completely.
I often think, if only I had known back at the beginning what I spent years absorbing on the job … how much better would I have been as a Tribal employee and how much more could I have contributed to my Tribe?
I have no doubts about the answer to that question. In fact, my own personal experience as a young man beginning a real career is really the vision behind the STOFI Leadership Internship youth program that is making its debut with the Board this summer.
With this program we are inviting two youth Tribal members who are currently enrolled in a four-year college or recently graduated to participate in a 10-week, competitively paid internship with the Tribal Board of Directors staff. Successful candidates will need to have a solid foundation. They need to know the basics about business, what a financial statement is, how to read a balance sheet, etc., and must have a desire to work hard.
Make no mistake about it; we are looking for the Tribal leaders of the future.
That’s right: the future. Think about it. The future is going to hold a very challenging business environment for the Seminole Tribe. The dividend we have today may not be there 10 years from now, 15 years from now, 20 years from now. Do you want to have an impact on the future strategic direction of the Tribe? If so, would you want to be one of the leaders who sets that direction? Or just sit on the sideline?
The program, as designed by Luis Acevedo, the Board’s senior analyst Corporate Development, after more than a year of internal discussions, will allow interns coming into the program to get their feet wet in the STOFI organization without overwhelming them. Hopefully, we won’t scare them away.
These accomplished students will come to work here at the Board offices each day. They will start with a two-week study on the history of STOFI, what it means to be a Section 17 corporation, what the competitive advantages available to Native American Tribes are, and will explore our corporate charter. From there, we will continue to cover the fundamentals of operating a Tribally owned business and then dive into “company analysis,” which will be followed by a review of STOFI’s business portfolio. We’ll go into detail about the various businesses we currently operate under STOFI and provide the knowledge they will need to understand STOFI, its businesses and assets.
From there, the interns will go even deeper into “business analysis.” We will cover the different strategies we use, as well as explore strategies from other corporate environments with diversified backgrounds. Then we will go into “competitive analysis” and cover the tactics we use to figure out our company’s position in the industry, brainstorm and think strategically on how we can open up new avenues of growth and how we position ourselves to capitalize on the opportunities presented by leveraging our sovereignty and our tax-exempt status.
Finally, at the end of the 10 weeks, each intern will be required to choose one of STOFI’s businesses and write a research report. In the report, the intern will be required to analyze the particular industry of the business he or she chose, analyze the company’s financial performance, and conduct investment analysis on one or two new business proposals that are related to that company. The intern will then give a formal power point presentation to the STOFI Board with some real recommendations: “Hey Board, this is what I am proposing and recommending for this business.”
This will provide real-world experience that is equivalent to what one would see in a corporate environment. It shows these future leaders how to really bring that Fortune 500 feel to the reservation. And that is where the Tribe should strive to be – among the elite of the Fortune 500.
Through the development of mentor relationships with the current Board members here at STOFI, the interns will be encouraged to develop effective communication skills, hard work ethics and a strong sense of confidence in their own leadership abilities and as team players. We will add to and improve the analytical abilities they need to succeed in today’s business environment.
I see this like creating bench strength, creating a road map for the future. As elected officials, we always talk about the youth being our future. In that case, we need to address that concept with a program that is proactive for our youth beyond just lip service. And though the people who come into this program may not necessarily be thinking about entering politics, I think once they are exposed to what is happening, going deep inside the various projects that we are involved in and understanding how the corporate decisions we make nearly every day affects them and everybody else, it will certainly pique an interest in politics.
I am hoping this program will turn that light bulb on, create that spark that, “Wow, I really need to get involved in this. I need to be a Board Rep., a Councilman. I want to be President. I want to be Chairman.”
As I said earlier, growing up, I wish I would have had these opportunities. If we can tap into that special resource – educated Tribal members – and expose these interns to what the method is to the madness here, we can start the ball rolling to place more and more Tribal members in key positions. That is really what this is going to be all about at the end of the day. Of course, many may never get into politics; but since we are always preaching that we want Tribal members to be in key positions, soon we will have a pool of talent to choose from that we don’t currently have.
Tribal youth, the Seminole Tribe needs you. If you are currently enrolled in a four-year college or are a graduate, give my office a call. Come in to talk to me and Luis about your aspirations. Alternatively, please feel free to send an email to LuisAcevedo@semtribe.com if you have any questions about the internship program. We’ve got an opportunity for you to get business experience. We are going to put you to work alongside us, right in our offices, working on real projects.
Who knows? You just might like it over here.
Tony Sanchez Jr. is President of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.