WisBusiness: Randolph batting for Potawatomi tribe now
By Brian Clark
Former UW-Madison baseball player Pepi Randolph sees his three years as president of Forward Wisconsin as good preparation for expanding the business reach of the Potawatomi tribe.
"What I'm doing here is kind of a continuation of what I did at Forward," said Randolph, vice president for the national sales and marketing department of the Potawatomi Business Development Corp.
"I'm really kind of the connect-the-dots guy for the PBDC," said Randolph, who traveled to India last month looking for opportunities for the tribe's architectural design firm. He noted that Glendale-based Johnson Controls has nine offices and more than 450 employees in India.
Randolph said his work with the PBDC isn't much different than what he tried to do at Forward.
"I'm trying to take relationships and grow them ... so they are mutually beneficial for all parties," he said. "Or where we don't have relationships, create them and opportunities."
"When I was promoting Wisconsin, it was the same thing," said Randolph, who said he did all he could -- in spite of what he called meager resources -- to sell the state and its business opportunities to companies that were considering locating in Wisconsin.
"Now, though, I'm selling the goods and services that come from the firms that are in our portfolio," said Randolph.
"Unfortunately, at Forward, we couldn't hold a candle to what other states were doing because our budget didn't allow us to be in as many places as we needed to be to promote the state. We were somewhat hamstrung. It was frustrating."
Randolph said annual funding from the state Forward was only $350,000 during his tenure, which was $150,000 less than it received when it was created more than 20 years ago.
Still, all things considered, Randolph said he thought he and his staff did a good job. Since he left, Forward has been rolled into the state Commerce Department.
Randolph, a UW-Madison law school graduate, took his job with the 5-year-old diversification arm of the Potawatomi Tribe in April of 2007. The PBDC is based in Milwaukee's historic Third Ward neighborhood.
His wife, Laura Arbuckle, who grew up on the Bad River Chippewa Reservation in northern Wisconsin, is also a UW law school graduate. She is currently the human resources director of the Potawatomi casino in Milwaukee. The tribe recently completed a major expansion of the tribe's Milwaukee casino, which tripled its size to 750,000 square feet.
For the first few years, Randolph said the PBDC invested tribal profits in existing companies. But when the new CEO, Carol Leese, was hired two years ago, the PBDC's model came to include acquisition of other firms.
The PBDC now has four service companies in its portfolio, and Randolph said it is his role to work with those firms to help them grow. Two of the companies -- Advancia, which provides professional technical services to the federal government, and the Potawatomi Design Group, an architecture and engineering company -- are based in Oklahoma, while the others -- Howl Fire, a public relations firm and One Prospect Technologies, an IT firm -- are headquartered in Wisconsin.
Randolph said he's enjoying his work with the PBDC and the chance it's giving him to advance the tribe.
"We are doing a lot on the business side and growing people's understanding of the sophistication of the tribe," he said. "It opens people eyes. It's an exciting place to be."