We began our journey last year by reviewing all existing Tribal businesses to see exactly how the business was being conducted, identify if there was or was not a formal process in place to conduct business, determine if the staff was lacking, needed change or if more support was needed and to verify the existence of the normal evaluation process that we felt should be in place for any Tribal enterprise.
Looking back at where the Board of Directors sits today, you see a hardworking group of guys that I am very proud of and excited to work with. Together, we have gone through the operating budget of each enterprise, streamlining expenses, looking at staffing to see if the right people are in the right positions. We have looked at and are continuing to look at everything from our convenience stores to our cattle operations and smoke shops, all the many enterprises under the control of the Board of Directors.
We search within each existing enterprise to identify opportunities to grow the business by reducing taxes, changing our suppliers, increasing our customer service, taking all the logical steps one is supposed to take in growing a business. We have made personnel changes. We have brought in a chief financial officer. We have replaced our in-house counsel: We brought in one attorney who has a strong corporate background and another with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. We have a new director of operations and, with other added personnel, we have implemented a formal process to evaluate potential new projects on sound business principles and not just on an individual’s wishes.
As an example of identifying and pursuing operations within existing enterprises, we have been building up our orange juice program. While it still supports our Tribal needs and the casinos, we now export containers of juice to Chile. In fact, we have raised our cattle/beef program to another level by exporting containers to Chile, as well. We have developed a partner who has solid alliances with other outlets, and we are continuing to take the steps necessary to build up these two Tribal enterprises.
We recently received our MBE. That stands for Minority Business Enterprise – a designation that we are going to exploit at any and all opportunities. We will be meeting with the Wal-Marts, the Costcos, the Sam’s Clubs, the Publix Super Markets, the Krogers – whatever the big names are in every part of the country. We want to let them know who we are and all about the quality of our products and the fact that we are ready to do business, coast to coast. It’s impressive and the possibilities are endless. And we really did not have to reinvent the wheel. Like I said, we took a hard look at our existing enterprises and positioned ourselves onto the path of opportunity.
We’re looking at our fuel right now. How do we reduce some of our taxes and fees to create a bigger profit margin, whether we are a distributor or partnering up with a refinery by owning a port, we are exploring all possibilities to maximize the current operation we have.
We are not leaving any stone unturned. We are even taking a good, hard look at fully understanding the opportunities we can create as a Section 17 organization under the Indian Reorganization Act. We’ve never really asked ourselves, “What can we do beyond our reservation boundaries? What can we do in international waters?…”
And we are always mindful of our government relationship with the Tribal Council. We have discussions with various legal entities regarding whatever project we plan to develop, keeping in mind the question, “How does that affect the Tribal Council?” You can have a project that proves very profitable for the Board but can’t implement it because it would jeopardize the Council. It is important to have a system in place that takes everything into consideration and provides time to ask important questions.
An important part of our due diligence is actually questioning ourselves, asking, “What unintended consequences do we create by moving forward with this project? What’s the negative side associated with this move, with this decision?”
This Board of Directors is attempting to create a foundation that will serve future administrations of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. We all know it will be tweaked to better accommodate future times and particular circumstances. We hope our work today will inspire future generations to make better decisions. While we have made tremendous progress, there is still a lot of work to be done and issues that must be addressed. I am certain that this administration is making sure we are actively living up to the promises that we made.
While some of this progress we are making may be clearly evident – such as the changes in the convenience stores, for example – a lot of the work we have done has been behind the scenes. There have been new hires, new systems and processes installed and a lot of due diligence that we all go through before we make any moves. We have had to be patient, though. Now, we have a foundation in place, a system in motion that will reveal the fruits of our labors by the next shareholders meeting.
Tony Sanchez Jr. is President of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.