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Business profile: Five Star Rodeo, Marki Rodeo, Native American Construction

Marty JohnsBRIGHTON — Marty Johns takes full advantage of the path laid out by his ancestors. In addition to being the general manager of the Seminole Casino Brighton, he owns three businesses: Marki Rodeo Company Inc., Five Star Rodeo Holdings LLC and Native American Construction LLC.

One reason Johns can juggle these enterprises is his management style and work ethic. He prides himself on being a good, if not traditional, manager who gives employees respect and opportunities to succeed at their jobs.

“I like challenges and being successful,” said Johns, of Brighton. “I strive to be the best I can be, but I’m nowhere near perfect.”

Johns grew up around the rodeo; his father, Josiah Johns, competed in all rodeo events, and his mother, Sandy Woods, was a barrel racer. Johns started competing at around the age of 6. With his extensive knowledge and experience in the rodeo arena, owning rodeo companies made sense for Johns. In 2003, he and his wife, Kim, started Marki Rodeo; in 2006, he purchased Five Star Rodeo with his son-in-law Paul Bowers Jr.

Putting together a successful rodeo company means having the knowledge, the livestock and even a portable arena. Marki can stage a rodeo in a baseball field, if necessary. The company is one of only three Native American stock contractors for the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA). Marki produces rodeos mostly for the Eastern Indian Rodeo Association, while Five Star primarily produces PRCA rodeos.

“I take pride in providing the best livestock we can,” Johns said. “We have some superstar horses and bulls.”

He keeps the animals on the Brighton Reservation and transports them to rodeo events around the country. Just as he did, all of Johns’ daughters – Mackenzie Johns Bowers, Marilee Johns, Dewell Johns and Taylor Johns – grew up surrounded by rodeos and compete in barrel racing. Johns and his wife passed along a strong work ethic to their children.

“Marty always pushed that hard work will pay off for you,” Kim Johns said. “If you want something you have to work for it. He has always lovingly pushed them to work. Mackenzie is working toward her master’s degree; she has her father’s business sense.”

Owning a rodeo requires hard work to keep the livestock healthy. To perform at top level, the animals need plenty of food, rest and chiropractic treatment when necessary. Animals, like humans, favor a specific side of the body. Humans are right- or left-handed; animals are right- or left-footed. Knowing which side a bull favors helps improve his performance coming out of the chute for an event. A right-footed bull will perform better if he comes out of the chute right foot first.

“The animals are the supreme athletes,” Kim said. “You take care of them; they are an extension of your family. You’re proud of them, kind of like you would be of your children.”

The family spends a lot of time on the road traveling to rodeos in Florida and beyond, about 19 a year between the EIRA and PRCA rodeos and finals. They compare the lifestyle with that of gypsies because they travel with horse trailers and stay in recreational vehicles together.

Johns claims that rodeo saved his life about a year ago. While at a rodeo in Davie, he leaned on a gate and a bull slipped his horns through the gate and into Johns’ side. Although it didn’t break the skin, he had severe pain and wound up in emergency surgery. The bull had torn a previously undetected carcinoid tumor away from the lining of his intestines.

“We didn’t know it was there; nothing would have detected it,” Johns said. “It would have progressed within a short time, so that bull hitting it saved my life. They call that bull Marty now.”

After the surgery, Johns changed his lifestyle and his diet. He lost more than 70 pounds.

“I believe the Lord puts you where you need to be,” Kim added. “He came back with a renewed spirit and full of energy.”

Johns also owns Okeechobee-based Native American Construction, which offers earthwork, site work, underground utilities, canals and drainage, street and bridge construction, as well as residential work. He started the company in 2009 when a general contractor looking for a partner approached him; Johns owns 51 percent of the company.

“I surround myself with quality people,” Johns said. “I manage the company and make decisions based on what’s best for the company and our people.”

The company plans to use its minority status as a Native American-owned business to get more jobs. He works on Tribal projects, including the Brighton Recreation Center concession stand and observation booth. Johns appreciates the confidence the Tribe shows in his company by hiring it to do the work.

 He may be a busy entrepreneur, but Johns’ day job and top priority is his position as general manager of the Brighton Casino. It started as a legacy position; Johns worked with his father, who started the original Brighton Bingo Hall, the second in the nation to have high-stakes games. When Josiah passed away in 1983, Johns stepped in to manage it at the age of 21. He’s been there ever since to ensure his father’s legacy remains successful.

In his spare time Johns enjoys hunting, mud racing and thinking of ways to improve his enterprises. He worked hard to develop excellent teams at all his businesses, which helps him move from venture to venture knowing his companies and the casino run well.

“I do what Marty loves to do,” he said. “I love life.”

Johns’ drive to succeed comes from the Tribe’s determination to be free people.

“Back in the old days, it wasn’t easy,” Johns said. “They were a lot of thinking people who figured out how to run from an army, find shelter for their families and fight the armies. They were very smart, so using what they went through is how I evaluate my life. It challenges me to challenge myself to figure things out.”

Johns believes more Tribal members should step up to be the next generation of business owners, politicians and department heads.

“Now, the only thing that defeats people is themselves,” he said. “The Tribe is big; we need the manpower of our own people running our own mega business. We are Unconquered Seminoles and we need to rise up and keep it that way.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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