Native American Female Business Owners Find Success as Vendors in Competitive Utility Industry

For S.C. Anderson, Inc. and ADPRO, developing relationships with large utilities like SCE has helped drive their success.

October 31, 2013 | By Caroline Aoyagi-Stom

For Leigh Ann Anderson, family roots are deep, so deep that she can trace her heritage back hundreds of years to the Algonquian-speaking Native Americans who once occupied the Great Lakes region: The Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

As a fourth-generation descendant of one of the 33 original tribal members of the Potawatomi Nation in Shawnee, Okla., Anderson takes pride in the heritage of her people and the success she has enjoyed as one of the few, yet growing successful Native American business owners.

“I am extremely proud to be a Native American and never want to stop learning of my heritage,” she said.

Anderson is co-owner of S.C. Anderson, Inc., a full-service construction firm founded in 1983 and centered in Bakersfield, Calif. One of her first clients was Southern California Edison (SCE) and for more than 30 years she has worked with the utility, helping build several maintenance and service centers and infrastructure construction such as wires and poles.

“SCE has been an instrumental part in our company’s growth and staying power through these down years, and we appreciate the confidence SCE has in our team,” she said, noting the utility’s support of diverse business vendors like herself.

In addition to the important business SCE brings to her company, Anderson has enjoyed the support and encouragement she has received. SCE recently sponsored Anderson in an 18-month women’s entrepreneur class where she learned business management and effective sales strategies. She also attended other SCE workshops on how to effectively run a business.

“They have ongoing education for diverse businesses. I found it to be very beneficial,” she said, noting that in 2012 her company was named Supplier of the Year.

In 2012, SCE’s spending with diverse business vendors reached $1.5 billion, 38.2 percent of its procurement budget and a number even higher than the 21.5 percent set by the California Public Utilities Commission for that year. The utility aims to reach a target goal of 40 percent by 2016.

Tracy Stanhoff, owner of ADPRO, an advertising and graphic design company in Huntington Beach, has worked as a vendor for SCE for almost 10 years. She has enjoyed the support she has received from SCE over the years and appreciates the knowledge she has gained about the utility industry.  

As president of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce and former tribal chief of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Stanhoff intricately understands the importance of Native American businesses taking the lead in determining their own financial future.

“We are a very small minority group that can play a critical role in the energy industry,” she said. “When SCE does business with our Native businesses, you assist in our community's goal of economic self-sufficiency through business ownership. Our businesses can become greater economic engines for this region and more efficient users of energy by partnering with you.”

Stanhoff encourages fellow Native American business owners to pursue contracts with large utilities like SCE and offers this advice: “Learn about SCE and how SCE works in delivering and obtaining power for their service territory — then implement what you have learned to evolve your business into a supplier of SCE.”

Stanhoff credits Joe Alderete, SCE director of Supplier Diversity and Development, with helping Native American businesses like hers prosper in California.

“Working with a large and diverse base of suppliers is critical to our mission of providing affordable, reliable and safe electricity to our customers,” said Alderete. “We now work with nearly 800 diverse businesses, more than any other California utility.”

For Anderson and Stanhoff, their working relationships with SCE continue to play a large part in their successful businesses.

“I suggest you know your limits and your financial capacity. And always strive for quality and pay special attention to details,” said Anderson. “SCE is a very high profile client and wants nothing more than to see Native American businesses succeed.”

“There is also, I believe, a ‘win’ for SCE also as your team members learn more about our culture and businesses,” said Stanhoff. “Tribal lands play a role in energy transmission and hopefully renewable energy generation. This greater understanding of Indian Country will only aid in SCE's relations with our tribes and community.”  

Topics: People