Rob Joe has joined SWCA as our Principal Tribal Liaison for Native community and sovereign Tribal government relations. With over two decades of private sector experience and 12 years working with Native American Tribal communities, Rob will combine his personal Native American Tribal perspective and understanding with his business acumen to facilitate partnerships and build mutually beneficial relationships between Native communities and SWCA on projects nationwide. In this role, Rob will also focus on increasing awareness, education, and appreciation of Native American Tribal culture and history within the company.
Q: Where did you grow up/ go to school? What were you interested in doing?
A: I grew up on the Navajo Nation community south of Seba Dalkai, AZ with no running water or electricity in a small 1,000 square foot home. I lived in a Bureau of Indian Affairs dormitory for junior high and high school in Winslow, Arizona (literally grew up standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona). I didn’t like seeing how the Federal Indian Policies at the time essentially programed other Natives. The silver lining is I had a seventh-grade science teacher who opened my eyes to engineering. I started out coding ATMs and robots for manufacturing, always solving variety of operations problems. I attended college at Arizona State University to study manufacturing engineering.
Q: You have an impressive resume of experience in the business and energy sectors. Can you talk a bit about your career path and how you ended up in this role?
A: While I was in school, I started working for Allied Signal (now Honeywell) Factory Modernization group incorporating technology into operations and later earned my Master of Energy Business from the University of Tulsa. My whole corporate career was working for S&P/Fortune 100 companies solving problems. [Rob once led an S&P 100 technology company site from $20 million to over $1.5 billion impact]. I was an executive for 11 years, then I realized if I could manage and improve the performance of these large companies, I could do the same for Native Tribes. So, I left the corporate grind in 2011 and have been working with Tribes the last 12 years as a consultant or agent for private and public companies.
Q: What are some of the most meaningful things you’ve worked on throughout your career?
A: Looking back, everything I have worked on has been meaningful and made contributions to the world in different ways. My son Tyler always says, just a little bit of a change makes a significant difference for people.
One instance that stands that out was in 2016. I helped the Navajo Nation negotiate the terms of shutting down the Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal-fired powerplant in the west, located on Navajo Nation land in Arizona. The Tribal leadership asked me to help negotiate with the five utility companies. The lead negotiator on the utility side offered to shut it down for $1.4 million; we pushed them to settle for over $168 million to the Navajo Nation. It’s funny, near the end of these negotiations these utility companies offered me positions on their teams, but my commitment was to the Navajo Nation and helping them through the process. Another highlight of my career has been writing a book on economic development for Native American Tribes that is now used by the University of New Mexico and two of the largest Tribal Colleges in the country.
Q: What are some of the things that this role as Tribal Liaison entails? How does your specific skillset transfer over?
A: As a Native American, this role is about how SWCA engages and works with Native American Tribes and Communities to establish a mutually beneficial relationship. My background and skill set align with a position like this because I can see things from both perspectives – the corporate lens and the Native American Tribal lens.
Q: Why is it important to have a Tribal Liaison position at a company like SWCA?
A: Any company that engages with Native American Tribes should have a Tribal Liaison, especially SWCA because of its size and the area it covers across the United States. It is so important to understand the Native American historical and cultural sensitivities in the areas where we are working. Every Native American Tribe is unique in its language, culture, traditions, and ancestorial ties to the land and environment.
It is important for a company to have a liaison that understands how Tribes operate – their governmental structure, who their leaders are, their culture, traditions, and history. A lot of times companies do not know how to approach Tribes. When the Native American Tribes and communities are heard, understood, and respected and there is an alignment of goals, there is a much better chance of reaching a successful outcome.
Q: Anything you are excited to do in this position? Specific projects or initiatives on the horizon?
A: I’m excited for the opportunity to shape and frame this position to be beneficial to both SWCA and Native American Tribes. I am still just starting out, but a general initiative of mine is increasing the appreciation of Native American heritage, historical significance, cultural knowledge, and sovereign governance.