Taking care of business
- NC Raine | August 22, 2023
Thomas Benjoe, president and CEO of File Hills Qu’Appelle (FHQ) Developments is working to bring success and prosperity to the communities he serves by changing industry norms.
“I’m always challenging the status quo,” said Benjoe. “We’re not okay with just going with what everyone else is doing. We’re always going to look at ways we can improve.”
FHQ Developments is the investment, economic development, and Indigenous employment strategy branch of the FHQ Tribal Council, which aims to build businesses with a focus on sustainability, capacity development, and community impact.
“We changed the rules about how we do business and changed the rules of how our customers do business with Indigenous businesses,” he said. “Which meant us doing a lot of work around Indigenous procurement policy and process.”
For the last six years, Benjoe says his team is working to identify and remove barriers for Indigenous people and businesses to find success.
Previously, FHQ Developments would chase one big contract to the next, creating joint ventures to pursue the next contract. He said the model was unsustainable because the major projects would eventually end.
“We made the decision to change our business model to move away from joint ventures and towards limited partnership agreements that put a lot more onus on building capacity within our companies and building a real business with our partners,” said Benjoe. “That change and shift allowed us to take more control of our businesses without having to invest a great deal of capital.”
The goal is to make certain business is set up to actually benefit Indigenous people for the long term.
The success of this forward-thinking has been well documented – last year, FHQ Developments made headlines for selling its IT services business, PLATO Sask Testing. An $80,000 investment turned into $1 million – a 1,150 percent return.
Those results weren’t just a one-off.
All the companies FHQ Developments has formed since that change have been multi-million dollar companies within the first year.
Most recently, Benjoe was nominated for a 2023 Economic Developer of the Year Award by the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers (CANDO) for the impact his work at FHQ Developments has made on Indigenous communities.
“It was really humbling to be nominated for the award,” said Benjoe. “I think we’re on a really strong path forward in showing what Indigenous business could look like across Canada.”
He said they are hiring between two to ten people every week for different positions in their various companies or partner businesses, which in turn is creating career opportunities for Indigenous people. This is having a major impact on the local economy.
“It’s about respect,” said Benjoe. “We don’t want our business community looking at us with our hands out looking for an opportunity. We are here to partner.”
His desire to help build success for his local communities has always been his goal. In high school, he read an article about an Indigenous CEO creating opportunities for his people and it was then Benjoe knew what he wanted to work towards.
“I think it’s part of our value system to be focused on the future – incorporating our culture and values into what we do,” he said. “I think I get this work ethic and drive from my grandfather, who instilled those values in me.”
Always looking ahead, Benjoe and his team are planning to release several Indigenous procurement tools – essentially a playbook on how to do it more effectively. They’re not going to charge a consulting fee in hopes that non-Indigenous business use it as a template around building procurement policies of their own.
“This will significantly increase new contracting opportunities that Indigenous business can proceed towards,” said Benjoe.