How Bill Anoatubby, Governor of The Chickasaw Nation, became a leader
By Melissa Ellis
Governor Bill Anoatubby’s name is attached to many successful ventures. One of the most important things he has done was to modernize the Chickasaw tribe through accounting, something he studied in college and perfected in his early business career.
As the leader of The Chickasaw Nation, and recently declared the “Most Influential Oklahoman,” Anoatubby seeks to enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people.
From a humble upbringing, to the people he met, to the skillset he achieved along the way, Anoatubby’s accomplishments are plentiful.
After graduating from East Central University with a degree in accounting, young Bill Anoatubby dreamed as much as you might think a fresh graduate may. Searching for a door to open in the accounting field, he found one at an investing company.
Hired on as a beginning accountant at the small firm Little Giant Corporation, Anoatubby experienced a range of accounting functions from managerial, tax, overhead and consulting. He helped the firm grow. The owner of the business became someone he looked up to as a mentor through excellent guidance and experience.
Though, as the firm began to develop, opportunities opened up outside of the state, and Anoatubby found himself dedicated to staying close to his family and tribe. He did not wish to leave so he moved on to a manufacturing firm. There, he was exposed to a variation of accounting practices, while remaining close to his family and friends.
Foreign exchange, hedge funds and tracking variances internationally became the hallmarks of the practice. Anoatubby had always longed to work for the Chickasaw Nation, though. He kept up with its growth and evolving expansion. Governor Overton James was pursuing a vision of a well-established Sovereign Nation.
As time went on, opportunities to work elsewhere came about. Anoatubby put in applications at a local firm in Oklahoma City along with an application for the Chickasaw Nation as a Health Manager in Tishomingo. The one in Oklahoma City was accepted first, and he withdrew the application for the Chickasaw Nation.
Governor Overton James took notice of Anoatubby’s withdrawal. Anoatubby received a call from Overton his first day on the new job. Overton was interested in Anoatubby’s expertise in accounting he had achieved in such a short time after college. He offered Anoatubby the Health Manager position over the phone, and Anoatubby accepted in 1975.
“I had a longing in my heart to work for the Nation,” said Anoatubby. So he worked two jobs until he was able to commit his full attention to the new manager position at the Chickasaw Nation.
At that time, the Nation needed help moving forward. They had only four departments at the time and not one of them was in accounting or finance.
“Without an Accounting structure a tribe is like a boat without a paddle,” Anoatubby said. He immediately saw that the Nation was lacking in the accounting structure and Overton knew it. They worked tirelessly for a year to establish a centralized accounting system which would accommodate the tribal needs. Everything was set up by function and recorded manually on the books. The Motor Inn was the only business and source of earned revenue. Thus, the accounting of tribal ventures was being handled, but it was growing and it needed to be managed quickly in order to establish a clear line of control over the revenues and expenses.
Every operation of a business must have an accounting system to properly track the money coming in and going out. It also assists in proper management of funds and saving funds. Anoatubby had a base to build and he knew what a good foundation was supposed to look like. It started with a small team of employees to establish internal controls. They cross-trained in many areas and theorized new beginnings. The strong network the tribe holds with IBM today all started with a search for a new computer.
Anoatubby found it in NASA’s overstock in 1976. This computer held some of the first accounting policies, plans and reporting. The computer required careful, manual input. Anoatubby and six others took time to learn the programming language. In and out of work they studied to keep up with the changing times. Anoatubby said he even enjoyed learning to program so much that he bought himself a personal computer to practice programming from home.
This early experience is one good example of how Governor Bill Anoatubby’s perseverance and broad perspectives have brought the Chickasaw Nation to the level it is known for today.
“ECU allowed me to do everything I’ve done here,” Anoatubby said.