Tribal member Gene Bruno and his business partner received assistance from Citizen Potawatomi Nation in 1987 to found Alko Enterprises Inc. More than three decades later, the Oklahoma City-based business, built on Potawatomi values and ethics, still provides top-quality service.
“The Potawatomi have always been traders or business people,” Bruno said, “so I do use a lot of that because it just seemed to come naturally.”
After attending Connors State College in Warner, Oklahoma, he joined the Army in between the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“It was very good for me because I had no direction,” he said.
Bruno began working in the medical industry in 1957 as a delivery driver. He eventually connected with the Tribe and served in several leadership roles throughout the years including gaming commissioner and treasurer of the Business Committee.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It was a great experience.” He also fondly remembers working with CPN Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett, Vice-Chairman Linda Capps and other Tribal leaders.
When Bruno represented the Tribe, it looked tremendously different than it does now.
“Rocky always talks about we started with a little-bitty house, and it’s not a little-bitty house anymore — we’re a huge corporation,” he said.
Bruno told the Hownikan that, while speaking with other Tribal members one time, “Rocky happened to walk in, and he said, ‘Why don’t you start your own company?’”
The Nation helped Bruno obtain a loan and grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to get Alko Enterprises Inc., off the ground.
Alko opened its doors in 1987, providing medical wholesale services to governmental agencies and Native American nations. It now averages $8 to $9 million in annual revenue and employs seven employees.
“You look at the viewpoint of what the tribes are doing — how they’re doing it, and you can see that most of the tribes are doing tons of health care. They take their money and put it back into health care, so that fit right into what I was doing,” he said. “After we looked at it, we thought, ‘Hey, this is a big opportunity because the Indian Health Service is huge.’”
Bruno attributes some of Alko’s growth to the Buy Indian Act and Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance or Office (TERO). More than 300 tribes across the United States are covered by TERO ordinances and utilize the group’s preferred vendor list comprised of Native-owned businesses.
“It has helped Indian companies do business with the tribes and with their enterprises and all that stuff because they do Indian preference,” he said. “Indian preference is very big with Indian companies right now.”
Alko sells everything needed to run a clinic, excluding pharmaceuticals.
Bruno’s voice softened as he spoke about his Potawatomi heritage.
“I don’t know as much as I should, and I’m very sorry for that,” Bruno said. “My grandfather and grandmother could speak (Potawatomi), and I wish I had paid more attention, but I didn’t.”
Although Bruno did not connect with the Nation in his youth, he said he is proud of his service to CPN and encourages his family to participate with the Tribe.
“I think we’re more aware now, and I think our children are now getting more educated into the Indian way with the businesses because all the tribes are hiring some of our children, and they’re learning more of what we’re doing as a Tribe.”
He believes CPN’s investment in education will seal the long-term success of the Nation.
“You see the tribes that are really doing well are really educating their children, and that’s one thing that I am really proud of with our Tribe is our scholarship program — it’s huge, and it’s probably the smartest thing we’ve ever done because a lot of those kids will come back,” he said. “Sooner or later, they’ll come back, and that’s going to help us.”
Although Bruno began working in the medical industry more than 60 years ago, he does not plan to slow down anytime soon.
“I don’t know what to do. I can’t play enough golf,” he said, then laughed. “I like the challenge of every day seeing what can happen. That’s what’s kept me going, and when you’re only 81 years old, it’s not time to quit.”
More than anything, he hopes his legacy is the importance of family which includes his wife of 57 years, Mary Lou, their two daughters and two grandsons.
“I think that comes from being Potawatomi too, because we are family,” he said. “We had what, 40 families in our Tribe? I think that is where we all came together. We all take care of our children. We’re family people.”
For more information
Alko Enterprises Inc.
7416 N. Broadway
Extension, Suite H
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma