Business and gaming industry veterans were appointed to top-level positions at tribally owned enterprises and casinos this year for both their experience and “empowerment, passion and perseverance.” This round-up of four new hires happens to be a venerable, all-female lineup, representative of the growing number of women assuming CEO and other executive level positions at tribal corporations, as well as in the historically male-dominant gaming world.
Michele Palomaki: CEO of Wewinabi, Inc.
Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures (MLCV) recently named Michele Palomaki, a Mille Lacs Band member, the CEO of Wewinabi, Inc., a wholly owned corporation that includes its non-gaming businesses within the three Districts of the Mille Lacs Band Reservation. As CEO, Palomaki will oversee non-gaming businesses including the Grand Market, Grand Makwa Cinema, a Subway and Taco John’s franchise, Eddy’s Resort, Big Sandy Lodge, Grindstone Laundry, the Hinckley Medical Office Building and four convenience stores.
Palomaki is a proven leader. Prior to this position, she served the Mille Lacs Band’s Executive Branch as the Assistant Commissioner of Administration. In that role, she demonstrated remarkable leadership as she oversaw Human Resources, IT, grant writing, the Department of Labor, Circle of Health, Tribal Child Support Enforcement, Mille Lacs Band of Indian Rights department and Government Affairs in addition to managing all Mille Lacs Band District Community Centers as well as the Urban office.
“Developing an executive team with experience that spans a range of our businesses has always been an important part of managing our company for long-term successes,” said Joe Nayquonabe, CEO of Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures and Commissioner of Corporate Affairs for the Mille Lacs Band. “We recognize that her experience and education is an ideal fit to lead our non-gaming businesses well into the future, but what interested us more was her examples of empowerment, passion and perseverance, all of which are cornerstones of the culture at Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures.”
Palomaki graduated from the College of St. Scholastica, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management. Palomaki began her new role on July 5.
Bobbi Quintavell: President & CEO of Sitnasuak Native Corporation
Sitnasuak Native Corporation (SNC) recently announced that Roberta “Bobbi” Quintavell, Inupiaq and originally from Utqiagvik, has been selected as the new President and CEO. Quintavell began her position on May 8, 2017. She replaces retired, former CEO Richard Strutz.
Quintavell’s strong leadership and successful executive experiences merge corporate priorities with community service. “It is a distinct privilege to have been selected by the Sitnasuak Board of Directors. I am looking forward to working with the Board, to advance the businesses of the Sitnasuak family of companies, while remaining grounded in our values and upholding our cultural sustainability,” Quintavell previously said in an official statement.
Over the past 20 years, Quintavell has contributed her expertise in helping Alaska Native Corporations and their subsidiaries grow in shareholder equity and operational profitability by establishing financial controls, formalizing business processes, aggressively pursuing acquisitions, and building teams of highly skilled and forward-thinking leaders. Over the course of her career, she has served as Executive Director of Arctic Slope Native Association,
President/CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) Constructors and ASRC Construction Holding Company, President/CEO and Board Member of ASRC, and subsequently as Chief Operating Officer of Doyon Limited. She has also served on the boards of various nonprofits including the Alaska Federation of Natives, Alaska Municipal League and the Rasmuson Foundation. She received a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Alaska in Anchorage and graduated with an Executive Master’s in Business Administration from the Harvard Graduate School of Business. Quintavell will work in the Anchorage office with Sitnasuak.
According to Bobby Evans, Board Chairman, “Ms. Quintavell brings great talents and backgrounds in Alaska Business and Alaska Native Corporations.”
SNC is headquartered in Nome, Alaska, with operations in Nome, Anchorage, Wasilla, California, Virginia and Puerto Rico. Sitnasuak’s family of companies and brands include Bonanza Fuel, Bonanza Express, Fidelity Title, Mat-Su Title, Nanuaq, Mocean, SNC Technical Services, and Sitnasuak Construction Services. SNC is one of the Alaska Native village
corporations created in 1971 under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). Today, SNC is the largest of 16 village corporations in the Bering Straits region with over $130 million in annual revenues. SNC is owned by almost 2,900 Alaska Native shareholders.
Holly Gagnon: President & CEO of Seneca Gaming Corporation
Following a national search, Seneca Gaming Corporation named Holly Gagnon its new president & CEO. A recognized leader in the gaming industry, Gagnon most recently served as CEO of Chumash Enterprises for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, located near Santa Barbara, California, where she oversaw the operations of the tribe’s Chumash Casino Resort. Prior to that, Gagnon was President & CEO at Pearl River Resort in Mississippi, which is owned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
“Having a visionary leader like Holly [Gagnon] will help our three world class casino properties continue to expand our brand and stand out in an increasingly competitive gaming landscape,” said Barry E. Snyder, Sr., chairman of the Seneca Gaming Corporation board of directors.
Gagnon began her gaming industry career more than 20 years ago, with the opening of Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, before moving on to serve in executive positions with Harrah’s/Caesar’s Entertainment. In 2016, she was honored by the Native American Finance Officers Association as its Executive of the Year. “I’m grateful to the board of directors for their confidence,” Gagnon said. “In meeting and speaking with the Seneca Gaming Corporation board and executive team, and in visiting their three incredible properties, it was abundantly clear to me why the company has been so successful over the past 15 years. As an organization, from the Board to the front-line employees, everyone takes pride in perfecting the guest experience. That’s clear in the investments the company has made at the Seneca Niagara, Seneca Allegany and Seneca Buffalo Creek properties. I am excited to get to work and to be part of this organization.”
Gagnon is a graduate of Bentley University in Massachusetts, and earned an MBA from Chaminade University in Honolulu. She is a founding board member and mentorship committee chair of Global Gaming Women, an organization dedicated to helping women in the gaming industry around the world develop professionally.
Seneca Gaming Corporation operates Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls, NY, Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino in Salamanca, NY and Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo, NY on behalf of the Seneca Nation of Indians. Since opening Seneca Niagara Casino in 2002, Seneca Gaming Corporation has grown into one of the largest private sector employers in Western New York, with 4,000 employees at its three locations. In that time, the company has invested more than $1 billion in construction projects at its three locations, including a recently-completed $40 million expansion at Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino.
Today, the casinos collectively attract approximately 15 million guests per year, and offer more than 6,400 slot machines, 140 table games, 1,000 hotel rooms, a championship golf course and other related amenities. For more information, visit www.SenecaCasinos.com.
Shannon Weidauer: Vice President of Human Resources and Talent Management at Pechanga Resort Casino
In April, Shannon Weidauer, a dedicated Pechanga Resort & Casino employee, was promoted to Vice President of Human Resources and Talent Management at California’s largest resort-casino, voted No. 1 in the country by the readers of USA Today. Weidauer has been a Pechanga team member for more than four years, starting out as Director of Human Resources Operations, where she significantly contributed to several progressive human resources/talent management initiatives.
In her current role as Vice President, Weidauer oversees the Human Resources and Talent Management division, which employs 30 team members. With Pechanga’s current $285 million expansion, she’s also been instrumental in heading the onboarding of 750 new team members. Her new leadership role was secured just in time to recruit hundreds of talented individuals across Southern California and beyond.
Previous to Pechanga, Weidauer served 20 years in the Human Resources industry with three of the largest health care organizations in the nation, holding executive roles for more than a decade. She’s passionate about her profession and building team member morale and engagement, with a focus on a progressive and innovative work environment and strives to elevate Pechanga to “Employer of Choice” within the gaming and hospitality industry. Weidauer is dedicated to her profession and is a member of a number of industry professional affiliations including the Employer Advisory Council (EAC), Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA), Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), and Professional Women’s Roundtable.
The current $285 million resort expansion set to open at the end of the year includes the addition of 568 rooms and suites, 70,000 additional square feet of indoor/outdoor event space, a luxury, two-story spa and salon, a four-acre resort pool complex with eight new pools, two new restaurants, and a now open 2,400-space parking garage. Pechanga just celebrated the grand opening of the brand new 2,400-space parking garage featuring 44 electric vehicle charging stations and three Tesla Superchargers, marking the completion of the first phase of the expansion. Enough solar to power 100 homes along with a moving sidewalk to the casino entrance will be added to the new East Parking Garage this summer. With the expansion, there will be a need for 750 new Pechanga team members in addition to the current approximate 4,000, headed up by Weidauer and her team.
Weidauer earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration/Management and holds several senior level industry and Tribal certifications.