Ho-Chunk, Inc. CEO Lance Morgan share the lessons he and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska have learned about the keys to creating an economic development environment capable of fostering successful nation-owned enterprises. He stresses the need for some Native nations to engage in constitutional reform in order to create that environment, in particular staggering the terms of elected officials to ensure a nation's institutional stability and, in turn, the strategic direction and advancement of the businesses it owns and operates.
Morgan, Lance. "Ho-Chunk, Inc. Economic Development Corporation." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Santa Fe, New Mexico. February 8, 2002. Presentation.
"My name's Miriam Jorgensen. I had the opportunity to talk to some of you yesterday. I'm the Research Director for the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and I'm more recently the Associate Director for Research for the Native Nations Institute. And as many have said already, that one of the most exciting projects they're involved with is the Honoring Nations program. And it's through the Honoring Nations program that I personally met our next speaker and then had the opportunity to get to know him even better through the program that Gail Christopher, your lunchtime speaker, runs, the Innovations in American Government program, because I got to do the site visit to Lance's program this past July and met with him, and he shared a lot of information about what he's up to both with the business, what the tribe is doing and about some of their ideas and goals. And that work then led, his work that I wrote about for the Advisory Committee, led to the award that he received for Innovations in American Government.
On one hand, Lance doesn't need a lot of introduction. The experience that I had with him is that he's just a remarkable guy, because one of the things that happens is that you spend just a few minutes with him and he leaves an incredibly strong impression. You feel, ‘Boy, I really know this person and I'd really like him as my friend and if he isn't my friend, I really don't want him as my enemy,' because this is one smart guy in terms of strategy, in terms of politics, and in terms of getting things accomplished. There are a couple things I want to say about Lance, that it's just a real honor to introduce Lance Morgan. He's a Harvard Law School graduate, he is a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. I grew up in South Dakota and we tended to just kind of ignore that state down there. And he's a real family man. One of the things I really enjoyed about the visit that I made to visit his program is I got to meet his wife and one of his two daughters. He's somebody who really believes in investing in community and using his smarts to help move his community and his nation forward. He's really bright with economic development. He's a very savvy politician. He can tell many stories about how he's really stood up to the States of Nebraska and Iowa and the federal government and won his way in terms of sovereign rights for his nation and he's a real fighter for Indian issues. And the last thing I want to say about Lance is, when he takes the mic you never know what he's going to talk about. So he may talk about his winning innovation and he may talk about other things but I'm sure you're going to come away moved so I give you Lance Morgan of Ho-Chunk, Inc."
"Wow! I'm really glad I caused something to talk about. I really appreciate that introduction. Miriam came and took the time to really spend some time and get to know us and we really enjoyed her visit. And I think it was really instrumental; our experience with the Honoring Nations program was really instrumental in us winning the Innovations in Government Award, which I think is kind of the big brother of this award, I'm not sure, but they seemed awful similar. And so I really appreciate the time and effort that everyone in Honoring Nations program...they put in on our behalf to do that. And I really appreciate coming down to do this. I've been traveling a lot lately and I was trying to think of a way that I could reasonably not come, because my family's been really pressuring me to spend more time at home, but I thought it was important to come down and share some of our stories and I really came down to talk about Ho-Chunk, Inc., but I've really decided that I don't want to talk about that all and as the time that I've spent here, just like Miriam suggested. I really only have one point to make and it's going to take about 15 minutes. I'm starting to take after my grandfather I think. What I'm going to do is generalize a lot and I kind of want to apologize in advance for that because every tribe is very, very unique and I think in order to do this without all these kind of side issues coming up or all these caveats or all these exceptions, I'm going to talk in very general terms. So I want...and I really don't want to offend anybody in this situation so I want to just apologize right up front.
Since we won the Innovations in Government Award and the Honoring Nations Award, I think we've really struck a chord and we've been visited by over 30 tribes, and we've put our information together in a package and we've sent it out to 40 or 50 other tribes. And so what's happened is, over the last 18 months, we've learned a lot of things and that's what I want to share, some of the simple insights from that. And we've really been on almost like a crash course of tribal economics. And what we've learned are really two simple things. And the first thing is something that's very obvious is that almost all the tribes are suffering from the same problems. We all seem to be having universally the same issues that we're all dealing with. And the second thing -- and this one came as a bit of a shock to me -- we were really forced to think about why we were successful. And the reason it came as a shock because I was thinking it was me and that's not the answer. And it hurt a little bit, but I'm over it now. Why we were successful, what are the reasons behind that? And what are the reasons behind some of the other tribe's reasons why they continue to struggle all the time? They had...we're not...we don't have a lot of money in our tribe and our corporation has grown to the point where we're projecting $100 million in revenues, which strikes me as absolutely insane. In 1995, Ho-Chunk, Inc. was in my apartment in the second bedroom, and so it's amazing. Our tribal casino makes $3 or $4 million a year. And how have we been able to take -- and Ho-Chunk, Inc. does nothing with the tribal gaming -- so how have we been able to go from literally zero to $100 million in revenue in that period of time? And I think it...this is why I was taking the credit, I was thinking it was me, but really it's a...we're really a product of our environment and that's what I want to talk about a little bit.
We've boiled down some of this that we've learned to a couple of really, really simple points and some of them have kind of coalesced here just in the last day doing some of these roundtable discussions. Harvard says sovereignty matters. Harvard says -- I've been saying this for years -- institutions matter. They say that culture matters. That's right, of course they matter, but what conditions in a tribe allow the development of the institutions that can effectively use sovereignty and still integrate culture? Well, in other words, the real question we should be asking is not the what -- what did Ho-Chunk, Inc. do to be successful -- is the why. Why were we successful, what was behind it? And to be honest, what we have done from a business standpoint to be successful is meaningless to this discussion because you should do something else. You should do what works for you. But the why, the why our government was willing to make such a radical change, was willing to do something we'd never done before and commit, at that point, 20 percent of all of their money to starting Ho-Chunk, Inc., everything they had, and a very poor tribe. Why were we willing to invest in that institution on a long-term plan when we were suffering from huge social problems and huge unemployment issues? What caused our tribe to make that radical decision and to also let go of that authority, that micromanagement over it, and set a system up that had a chance to kind of flourish and develop? And to me, that's really the issue.
And I didn't understand this, because Ho-Chunk, Inc. was set up in late 1994. I graduated from law school in '93. I worked at a law firm. I showed up and thought it was me, but really, as I've been there, I've realized that it was the product of a very, very long process. The tribe even tried to do this in the ‘80s and that I was...that my plan was really just the next step, was really just the next logical basis for it and the only reason we had a higher chance of success is because we had some gaming dollars; before they were trying to do it with smoke and mirrors. And so I've learned a lot. I've really been forced to think about that. We've learned that success in tribes seems to happen kind of randomly, somewhat randomly. One tribe does this here; the neighboring tribe is not doing very well. But there really seems to be two circumstances under which a tribe is successful and one of them involves kind of the really good individual, the great individual or this group of individuals, the super-motivated person. A tribe is a very unique place you get to work at because one person can make a difference there. You can...and if one person is highly motivated, they can bring others into the fold and make a difference. And I wonder, what I wonder when I see some of these programs up here, I wonder how many of them are motivated by, are the result of great individuals or great systems. And I think that if you're relying upon the great individual, it's probably a mistake because they probably don't come along that often. And so I think that you're better off waiting for number two or working on number two, which is the tribes who are successful tend to be successful because it's kind of a natural and kind of logical evolution of some of the systems that they put in place, the systems that kind of allow long-term continuity and stability. In other words, the success isn't random; it's really a predictable kind of factor in their environment if they have these systems in place.
So since the individual's topic is too hard to discuss because it's too random, I really want to focus on what I think that we learned about continuity and long-term stability. And all this is leading up by the way to the simplest of points and will be obvious soon. Most tribes are structured around their tribal council. Think about your tribal government. In the structure, the organizational structure of a tribe...I've seen lots of neat charts, but really what they are, the typical organizational chart in reality is very wide and very flat with everybody reporting up to the council, businesses, departments -- everything has to go through the council. And what that means is that a lot of times things aren't necessarily dealt with efficiently, they're forgot about, they're dealt with only when things go negatively. And it also has the additional side effect of making your tribal government incredibly dependent upon the skills and knowledge base of that tribal council. So the system is designed to funnel through the council and it's only as strong as the individuals on that council and that's a weakness, that's a weakness in my view. I'm going to back up a second here.
How can we ensure that those council members, since we're so dependent upon them, are good? And I was thinking and I want to say that I'm not an expert on this because I'm going to talk about Winnebago and what we used to do traditionally. And I'm just going to say what was told to me and I want it very clear that it's not my place to talk about this kind of thing typically. Traditionally in Winnebago, our leaders were the head of each of our clans and those leaders were selected by the women in those clans because it was felt that their concern for their family and their children automatically meant that they would pick somebody who they thought was knowledgeable...that was the best person and typically they picked the eldest person within that group, family group and the most experienced. Not always -- sometimes they would take somebody younger. It wasn't a rule that it was the eldest, it just typically was. So what we had was a system, a rational, traditional system based upon knowledge and experience. We had it kind of built into what we already did and change usually occurred at death. Not the next election. The reason we had this is because if we didn't, we would make mistakes and people would probably die. We had a cultural imperative for a rational system and that changed when the federal government forced kind of these constitutions on tribal governments and that changed the system dramatically. And when they did this, I can just imagine some lawyer in D.C. typing this up in the ‘30s, saying, ‘Well, this is a good idea', and someone said, ‘Sure, fine.' And there wasn't any thought whatsoever as to how to kind of institutionalize or introduce some of these already very rational processes that we had in place. It just happened. And we've been dealing with that for the last 70, 80 years.
The majority of tribes in our area have a tribal council that's elected every two or three years. This system is horrible, absolutely horrible for long-term continuity. I'm going to list a few things that it does and this stuff to anybody who's been with the tribe, this is not going to be earth shattering, but I think it's helpful to put it altogether. It creates kind of...these elections become all-or-nothing events and it creates a highly negative political environment on the reservation where attacking is the way to get on. There is no kind of getting on board, being part of the team. It creates a possibility of complete turnover of the elected representatives every two or three years. These new council members in this negative environment are often elected by attacking the current system. You don't get elected by praising the existing government. And so...it hasn't worked for us anyway. It used to be very...when we first started Ho-Chunk, Inc., it was very common to get elected by attacking Ho-Chunk, Inc. It was a very good way to get elected in Winnebago. It was very controversial at the time, which was almost the best way to do it. But this attack system almost forces the new council to tear down what's there. They almost had no choice. Their electorate expects it. It also leads to kind of inconsistent political strategy. You have no relationship with the local, the state, and the federal authorities. They don't even know who the next guy is. And it also hurts business dramatically. It really hurts your strategy. You have no continuity over a period of time. Business needs to be continually moving; it can't wait and stop for the election. You can't wait for the hammer to fall. You can't replace the CEO every couple of years and hope to have any kind of consistency in what you're doing. And the other thing is it also creates a lot of short-term thinking; both right after the election, you've got to make your big splash, and right before an election.
We joke that...one time we gave a dollar raise, the council did, to every employee at the casino before an election and we calculated how much that was over the period of a year and I said, ‘We only have...' I mean, you could win our election with 120 votes. We tried to work it out per vote and only a third of the employees were tribal members and it came out to an astronomical number per vote, what that cost the tribe. It was something in the tens of thousands per vote. But it was a very popular decision at the time and the tribe had money then to do that. And so before the election at least all kinds of really random short-term thinking and decision-making that has long-term implications that screws up long-term planning. And it makes it even worse when they don't...when it doesn't work and they don't get re-elected and the new guys come in and have to deal with that and tear that down and there really isn't any sense of long-term strategy in that stuff. So these tribes are in this kind of cycle, this perpetual cycle of starting over and unless the tribal electorate is incredibly rational in a very negative, in an environment that's likely to be very negative -- because that's your system for success to get elected -- unless they're very rational and elect the same people consistently over and over again, which does happen in some tribes -- some tribes they're all up for election and they reelect generally the same people -- unless they do that, the possibility of any kind of long-term cohesive strategy or continuity is very, very minimal in a tribal government that has its election every two or three years and everybody's up to bat.
In Winnebago, we're lucky and I didn't realize how lucky we were really, I mean I knew it was a good thing, but I didn't realize how lucky we were until we visited with these other tribes. We have staggered terms. We have nine tribal council members. Three of them are up for election every year and usually two or three are re-elected again. I'm going to list the nine, just the number of years that each council member has been on our council to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. And a lot of people when they get older will leave the council and they'll kind of designate some of the younger to start cycling through. It's very much a logical system, really kind of based behind the scenes on families and clan membership and stuff. But our council members are one year, three year, three year, four year, five year, five year, eight year, 14 year, 16 year and our tribal chairman is in his 16th year. And so I was going to do the math on it and do the average number of years there but I didn't have a calculator. My math skills are worse since high school. My guess is that's around six, six or seven. And what does that do for long-term strategy? Our tribal chairman was there in 1986 when we first tried to start a corporation. The Winnebago Business Code of 1986, he was there, he was behind it. So in 1993 or '94 we started again, of course he supported it. This made more sense, it was the next evolution in this process and these staggered terms, they have several kind of natural results. It reduces the kind of emphasis on the elections themselves. It prevents this kind of radical short-term thinking that we were talking about. There isn't this great push...because only two or three of them are going crazy before the election, but the rest of them can kind of hold them in. It also allows kind of naturally a long-term planning and a long-term kind of projects to continue to move forward. It automatically allows for kind of an institutional knowledge base to continue to grow. There is no starting over here. And the elections, I've never seen an election that's resulted in a firing of a key employee. I've never...because it doesn't happen that way because the rest of the people obviously support that person. And more importantly, I think it allows kind of a system where these institutions can naturally evolve because they're really focused on the long-term perspective. I think this not starting over is very positive. And I didn't know, I didn't really think about this in these terms until very recently. And I'll give you the two reasons or the two examples that popped up that caused me to start thinking why, that caused me to start thinking about the real benefit of an institutional kind of knowledge base in these situations.
And the first one was, somebody asked me recently, we have our corporation, we recently formed a planning department to go after government grants and a non-profit corporation to also bring in additional funding into our community. And someone said, ‘What made you think of that?' And the answer was, ‘Well, in '95 I was totally against it, in '96 we got a grant to do this.' So I said, 'Hey, that's pretty cool.' In '97 we didn't do anything. In '98 we got a low-interest rate loan through our own kind of efforts and we said, ‘Hey, this is a pretty good deal.' In '99, we got another one. In 2000, we got a grant to build a new office building. It was great for business because we didn't have to pay for it anymore; we got a new building. But in 2001, we learned that all these opportunities are out there that we're not tapping into. The non-profit will do it. And so one day I come back to my office on a Monday and there's a note on my computer from Friday that says, ‘Form a non-profit you big dummy.' It was to me, I wrote it because I didn't want to forget by Monday. But he asked me that question, ‘What made you think of it,' and it caused me to think, ‘Well, I didn't think of it.' It was the next step in the natural evolution of the internal knowledge base that we built up.
And the other example that integrates not just Ho-Chunk, Inc., but that integrates kind of the governmental side is, we recently just signed a groundbreaking tax agreement for gasoline on our reservation that recognizes our jurisdiction over non-Indians. And somebody said, ‘How did you do that?' And I did the same thing again. In '95 we took over the tribe's grocery store and you used to have to sign your name and write your ID number and get your refund from the state and I said, ‘We're not doing that anymore.' I said, ‘This only applies for Winnebagos,' and we said, ‘Any Indians a good Indian, we'll send you your money instead.' And so that was kind of a big deal for us. In '97, the Omaha Tribe next to us started a cigarette factory and they ruled that that's tax-free because they make the cigarettes on their reservation. I said, ‘Hey, that's pretty interesting.' In '98, they start selling gas tax-free, we supplied it to them through a loophole in Nebraska law. In '99, Iowa threatened to sue us because we were taking it to that state. So we went into negotiations, which went poorly and then they cut off our supply of fuel, which really just made me mad. And they were saying bad things about us, called us ‘shady characters.' And so we got in trouble. We called the governor and we didn't appreciate that. And so they said they would negotiate with us but they never got around to it and they didn't really...they put some feeble efforts in. And so we said, in June of 2000 after the second crack at negotiations, we said, ‘We're going to start our own tax.' And six months later we figured out a way to make it legal and essentially all we do is take the alcohol and blend it in with the gasoline on our reservation to make a charter product, similar to...and it's a manufacturing process similar to what we learned the Omaha Tribe did in '97. They made a manufacturing process and said, ‘Well, this is just our manufacturing process.' And it really threw them for a loop and we implemented kind of a political...we learned how to do that because we had a gas station business. Now, by the way, we have seven trucks and we sell 100,000 gallons of gas a day. This is like a year and a half later and we sell it to seven tribes now, but that's a different story -- all because Iowa really pissed us off.
We put together kind of...we learned how to do this from our business side but we had a legal element -- I'm a lawyer, our tribe's lawyer -- and we learned from the Omaha Tribe's legal experience in '97. And we had a growing kind of political knowledge because of the success of the tribe. And so we put together kind of a sophisticated political, legal, business-oriented strategy. We already had de facto control, we owned all the stations so we could pass any tax and apply it to us. And we offered to negotiate right off the bat. We always kept the lines of communications open. And anyway, that was in 2001, just a few weeks ago the governor signed our tax agreement that gives us, that locks in, that recognizes our jurisdiction and locks in a real good price advantage for our businesses that helps 70 of my employees keep putting food on the table. And that took years of natural kind of development both on the governmental side and both on the operational business side. And that kind of knowledge didn't just happen. People always...they come down to visit and say, ‘How'd you do it?' and really, it's a hard thing to say because it took a long time. It's a hard question to answer and this format has caused me to really think about that, how important it was to have the government stable and learning and developing relationships, how important it was for us to have a stable business environment that was learning these things and that was taking pieces from elsewhere. This strategy that we evolved would not have happened if the lawyers in a council meeting would have said, ‘Hey, we've got this problem.' They'd have said, ‘Well...' The lawyers probably would have only said, ‘This is how you'll end up in jail,' or ‘the state will do this to you,' and we probably wouldn't have went forward. But we had a business imperative to do this. We had jobs at stake, we had money at stake, and we found a way to do it using our knowledge that we had learned over a period of time and the reason we were allowed to do that is because our government is a highly stable environment.
And in summary, that's the point I want to make. In order to have any chance at long-term success, the tribes really have to structurally institutionalize continuity and that's a lot of big words in a row. But really what I mean to say is you need to change your constitution. And I'm not talking about the big changes, the ones that, the committees, the general councils, ‘We're going to go back to the old ways.' I'm talking about one simple tiny little change that will give you a chance at some of these kinds of successes. They'll be different than ours obviously, but just stagger your terms, allow your tribe the opportunity to have a chance at continuity and that will allow the natural kind of abilities and instincts and knowledge to form and flower on your reservation and that should lead to the kind of environment where these institutions develop, institutions that can take advantage of sovereignty, that get smart, that are Native American, and go forward on a cultural basis. And I realize that it's a very, very simple recommendation to make after the big introduction I got, but I think sometimes that's what you need to do, the simplest answer is the easiest. And I don't know if I have any time for questions but I'm done essentially."
"We do have time for questions, so if Lance would take a couple of questions it'd be great, so if you want to just raise your hand and pose the question to him, Lance will probably answer it. Are there questions?"
"Lance, in some of your fuel acquisitions and some of that, how have you dealt with kind of adverse public relations issues such as the large Petroleum Marketers Association lobbying and some other groups like that as well as the states, and you didn't mention Iowa?"
"Oh, that's a funny question. We actually went to the...we were negotiating the tax agreement with Nebraska and the head of the motor fuels department was in our office and I said, ‘Do you want to go to a KKK meeting?' And she said, ‘What are you talking about?' I said, ‘Well, the Iowa petroleum marketers and Nebraska ones are getting together to talk about us.' And she goes, ‘Oh, I talked to them. I cleared all this up.' I said, ‘Well, let's go to lunch up there.' So we went and she's sitting...she had just said, ‘We need this information from you, I've got a report.' I said, ‘I'm not giving you that, that's going to put a gun to our head. They're going to use it against us.' And as soon as we walked in there, they started bad-mouthing Indians and they said, ‘We need to get this information. Nebraska's going to give it to us and then we can go after them.' And he said, ‘Because we could go down to the reservation and get it, but they'll probably throw you in the Indian jail. You know what that is? That's when they tie you to one of their slot machines.' And I busted out laughing. These people had no idea who I am and they're talking about they've got these lawyers and they're going to sue you if you try to say anything to them. It's basically they're just lying through their teeth to their constituents, see, and the head of the motor fuels department is sitting there. She goes, ‘I can't believe they're doing this.' I said, ‘See, this is what we're dealing with.' And so at that point she started talking in terms of ‘we.' ‘What are ‘we' going to do to deal with this kind of stuff?' And I said, ‘She's like Patty Hearst.' We were going to make her an honorary member of our tribe after that and they lost all credibility.
We took the time to educate Nebraska and then we showed them the dirty side of what we face. And the term we always use is 'jealousism,' that's our little term. It's not racism, it's jealousism 'cause they don't like it for us. We've lost our place a little bit. But we also did some other things in advance of before we started. We felt that the current taxation system was based upon the color of your skin and I think sometimes we're so used to making that distinction that we don't even think how crazy it is. You go on to the reservation, the Native American pays one price, the non-Indian pays the other. Now how in the hell is that right? Where else in America do you make a racial distinction based upon taxation? It's all about jurisdiction and it's all about...it's all about the entity. And I said, ‘We're not going to stand for this anymore' and so our PR campaign was going to be based on race. We were not going to do this anymore. If you come to our jurisdiction, you pay our tax and it sold with everybody. We had a reporter who wrote a couple weeks after we implemented our tax, on the front page of the Sioux City paper, she said, ‘A cashier...when you buy gas in Winnebago, the cashier has to determine the color of your...he knows what to charge you by the color of your skin. In Winnebago, race matters on what to charge and the Winnebago Tribe has implemented the race-neutral tax.' So we invented these terms, race-based taxation, race neutral. Republicans, they loved it. The Democrats, we give them a lot of money. So they basically backed off.
And the fact that we also were offering to negotiate...when we implemented our tax we wrote a three-page letter. The first half talked about how their legal system wasn't worth the paper it was written on and it was just very much rhetoric. And the last part talked about our strong, strong legal arguments that we put in place. The pre-emption argument, the fuel blending, the manufacturing, all these kind of things are very, very strong legal arguments on our side. We thought we had a very high chance of winning in court under this situation and at the end we said, ‘We will negotiate.' And we thought that if we said, ‘We will negotiate', that three, four, five months at least, we'd get to do this. And after a while everything died down and the state actually met with us in a very contentious relationship, contentious meeting, and when we laid out all of our legal arguments and all of the rationale behind it, they really got on board with us and then we did negotiate. The primary thing that turned the tide was we showed...on our reservation we have half the land and one third of the roads and you've got...the county got $1.6 million for excise tax money for gasoline to fix the roads and none of those roads are in our neighborhood and we got zero. So when we show our blending process and all our investment in these trucks and fuel additive things and gas stations and the people on the jobs and show how much money you're getting and how we're getting nothing, I said, ‘I can't wait to get to court with that. I said we're on a war footing.' And they said, ‘Okay.' But all this was planned. Our eventual goal internally was to get our tax agreement and that's all we wanted, that recognized our jurisdiction and we ended up getting it. But we did it with a combination of kind of PR, of political thing, of operational, of legal buffing, and it worked for us. But there was a lot of attacks along the way. But you've got to plan this out in advance.
We wrote a very interesting memo for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe that balanced the business, who now have their own gasoline-blending and taxation system on their reservation. And it was not a legal memo, it was a combination legal and business memo that balanced these interests, talked about their PR strategy, talked about their legal strategy, talked about how to do this operationally, an all encompassing kind of thought process that you don't normally get in these environments. You only get those piece...tribes never quite pull those pieces together and we were lucky that we had all those pieces in our organization. And we now think strategically about how, and automatically about how to develop our sovereignty to strengthen our institutions. It's very strange, but it's kind of a natural evolution of what went on."
"Can you talk a little bit more about leadership in the business side of your programs and where or what is that continuity? Obviously you're a good example of continuity, but the other issue is what about other leaders within your tribe? And how is that coming with respect to, I guess, leadership development and how that works in terms of the business side of things in the different entities that you're working with?"
"We talk about systematic approaches. We have the exact same thing on what we're doing. We have a general tribal preference of employees, but we target internally our best and our brightest. We've had every valedictorian the last several years working for us at some point, summer jobs or coming back from college. We have our own internship program. We've actually expanded to other tribes. We've had lawyers actually from a couple of other tribes come and work. They've stayed at my house and they work with us for a little while to get some insight into what we're doing. We've kind of...our internship program to me is my ability to directly nurture kind of the up and coming people. We've gotten so big now that some of our companies and departments are now going to start their internship program this year and we're just starting that so that they can have them too. We just hired one of our tribal members who just graduated, or is about to graduate from college with a computer degree to do research for us in our planning and non-profit company. And so we've kind of systemized it and now have expanded it.
On leadership on the business side, I think it's very important, and we talked about this a little before -- not here -- and I think tribes pass these corporations, they form these entities and then they just run off and they expect them to be successful. And I think the real effort needs to be when you form the entity. You have to set up principles of governance between the corporation board and the tribal government and you need to go through all the possible abilities of interaction from how do you handle your finances? How do you handle personnel? You don't want the tribe's personnel policies. You don't want to use the tribe's accounting system, you'll never get a check written; somebody won't sign it, they'll take the day off. You have to decide how you're going to send money back to the government, what you can retain. You need to do all of this stuff up front and we have a list of 10 or 12 things depending on the tribe and then once you have those, you need a leader with the courage to stick to that and hold them to it, because a lot of tribes have corporations that don't... and their CEOs are puppets and they just do what the tribal council says and they're afraid to make decisions.
I've had meetings with tribal councils where I've whipped out the long-term plan from 1994. I said, ‘Let me refresh your memory,' and I've read from it. And one of the sentences said, ‘If we did that, that would contradict the very reason for our existence.' Everyone else said, ‘Oh, yeah.' But if you don't do that up front, then you have no chance of saving it later because the tribal government is a very flexible dynamic entity. They'll adapt their mindset to whatever is politically expedient at the time, whatever they feel they have to deal with, they'll rationalize their approach to it. And so you have to stick...you have to do your homework and be willing to have the courage to stick to it and not in a disrespectful way. You don't have to do that. I have a lot of respect for our council leaders, but really sometimes you have to remind them...and since we have this kind of institutional knowledge base and memory of these things, people say, ‘Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Okay, okay. We can't do that,' and they deal with it some other way. And so it really isn't just leadership, it's planning and leadership and sticking to it over a period of time."