Turning obstacles into opportunities

Category: Indigenous business Business planning Operations Success stories

We had the pleasure of introducing you to our client Massey Whiteknife, a successful Indigenous business owner, in the June 2016 blog post: “First Nation entrepreneur stays true to himself”. His tremendously successful company, ICEIS Safety, continues to grow while Massey also takes time to pursue other interests.

Last month, we had the opportunity to catch up with Massey and talk to him about his business and the changes he has had to make to stay competitive in his industry. He faced a number of business and personal challenges during the year, but in the end was able to connect both himself and his business to his roots.

Dealing with an economy in decline

As he built a successful multi-million dollar company, won multiple awards, and fulfilled his dream of buying his mother a home, Massey Whiteknife seemed to be living the dream. However, a lot has happened in Massey’s life since we last spoke with him. Feeling the effects of the economic downturn, he realized that he had to make adjustments to his business to survive. He knew that he needed to decrease his company’s overhead and increase revenue just to keep on par.

After a lot of evaluation, Massey decided to shut down the supply department of his company, sell off some of the company’s assets, and close two locations. He recalls feeling like he was failing after doing so, but after speaking with business colleagues he found that others were forced to do the same. He quickly realized that in the current economy, you have to be able to diversify to stay viable.

Getting back to his roots

Massey thought that in order to stay competitive, he would need to look at the company’s situation in a positive way. He felt as if the Creator was guiding him to return to doing what he started the company for in the first place, which was the Get Ready Program. While developing the Get Ready Program, Massey stepped away from attending every gala and event to start focusing more on his priorities to make ends meet by cutting out unnecessary costs and closely monitoring spending.

Refocusing on the Get Ready Program and introducing it to the First Nations community with an 80% success rate represented a new avenue of revenue for Massey and a significant change for the company. He took further steps to improve his company by investing profits into online training. He is proud that his is the only Indigenous company that offers this program, which is dually credited across the world.

Working through obstacles to success

Just when Massey thought his business operations were getting back on track, a devastating wildfire swept through Fort McMurray, which put everything on hold for four months. He was eventually able to return to resume business operations, but shortly after, experienced a flood in four of his offices and was also involved in a serious car accident after which he lost his memory for a month.

Massey began dealing with all of this trauma and openly talking about being depressed and struggling with addictions. He wanted to be able to connect with and encourage others to live a fulfilling life, even if he wasn’t able to himself. He was determined not to let everything he had worked so hard for slip through his fingers. Massey started reconnecting with his culture and focused on healing himself by attending sweats and meeting people who taught him about his culture, including protocols, respect for elders, tobacco offerings, etc. He felt as if the Creator was taking care of him, and a lot of great opportunities presented themselves because of it.

“I just kept fighting; all I could do was just keep thanking the Creator. I have my health, I have my family, I have my friends, and my business. It may not be going the way I want it to go, but who gets to live a life of luxury consistently 24/7 right?”

Advice for other entrepreneurs

With everything Massey has learned over the last year, he has some advice he would like to share with others:

  • Don’t be afraid to diversify – figure out how you can diversify your business in case the commodity you are offering no longer exists or is no longer in demand.

  • Think outside the box, keep an open mind, and have conversations with other like-minded people to create diversity and opportunities within your organization.

  • Ask yourself how you can give back. As a business owner and a person of influence, it is important to Massey to give back to social enterprise and social development.

Massey’s current plans are to build ICEIS Safety and the Get Ready Program to the point where they are self-sustaining because his focus has moved to Iceis Rain. Being two spirited, he’s on a journey to find out who he really is, questioning if he wants to continue as Iceis Rain for the next 30 years or continue as Massey and Iceis Rain. Iceis Rain is also expanding her business ventures; she is working on a second album, a documentary of her and Massey’s life, her own reality show, and her own clothing line.

Want to follow this amazing entrepreneur's journey? Learn more about ICEIS Safety online or follow them on 

 

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If you are looking for one-on-one support for your small business, give our Business Advisors a call at 1-800-272-9675 or email askus@businesslink.ca.

About the Author

Headshot of Sammy Zoerb

Sammy Zoerb

Business Link

Sammy enjoys being the “quarterback” of the Indigenous Services (IS) team by handling the logistics and coordination of many different events. She is also excited to grow her client base by building relationships with Indigenous entrepreneurs and providing advice and support to ensure their success. When she isn’t taking her kids to hockey practice and dance class, Sammy enjoys taking her family to cultural events.

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