Michell Hicks, CPA, has served the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) for nearly 30 years. A three-term Principal Chief of a sovereign nation, and former executive director of budget and finance for the EBCI, Michell led the 15,000-member tribe through a period of remarkable economic, developmental, and cultural advancement. Through this era of advancement, he displayed significant foresight and resolve in the financial and strategic progress of the Tribe. He established himself as a national leader in “Indian Country” by initiating and maintaining multiple relationships with Tribal leaders, banking and financial institutions, federal and state officials, and national political leaders.
While serving as executive director he negotiated numerous lending agreements on behalf of the Tribe and Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, and established multiple tiers of internal controls to safeguard Tribal assets while creating a standardized review process for all major operating and construction contracts. As Principal Chief, Michell continued to focus on ways for the Tribe to operate transparently and efficiently, creating a comprehensive annual report that focused on the financial position and summary of program initiatives and operations. Accomplishments while serving as the top executive include:
• establishing a management team of skilled professionals,
• improving the budgeting process through the implementation of needs-based budgeting,
• successfully negotiating a 30-year gaming compact with the state of North Carolina,
• successfully renegotiating a 7-year management agreement with Caesars Entertainment,
• revitalizing fleet management policies while creating efficiencies, and
• advancing transaction, communication, and financial processes by utilizing advanced technology.
Remarkably, through Michell’s strategic leadership the net position of the Tribe more than doubled from $366 million to nearly $800 million. Gaming has been a major contributor to this increase; however, through a major focus on non-gaming revenues, governmental funding increased by $250 million through charges for services, as well as through operating grants and capital grants, local taxes, investment income, and other revenues. In 2013, Michell’s administration successfully completed a $650-million casino expansion that was the sixth-largest construction project in the US at the time of construction. As his administration focused on job creation and diversity, the total employee base of the Tribe and its entities grew from 2,500 to 5,500 during his tenure in office.
Michell has been continuously recognized for his exceptional leadership and accomplishments. In 2013 he was awarded the Tribal Gaming Visionary and Small Business Empowerment Award by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, recognizing his leadership in the $650-million expansion of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and the involvement of American Indian-owned businesses in the project. In 2015, he was recognized by the Native American Finance Officers Association as the Tribal Leader of the Year. This award is given annually to a Tribal leader displaying exceptional foresight and resolve in the economic advancement of his or her nation. Later in 2015 Michell was recognized by his alma mater, Western Carolina University, with the Professional Achievement Award at the annual Alumni Awards Ceremony. In 2015 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of North Carolina – Asheville.
Michell is a graduate of Western Carolina University with a bachelor of science in business administration; Southwestern Community College with an associate of applied science in accounting; and has been a North Carolina Certified Public Accountant for over 20 years. Michell has spent many years as a girls’ basketball coach in the local Cherokee and Asheville communities. He is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
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