Inside Track: Giving back to his tribe
Kurt Trevan leaves full-time banking job to help Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians expand economy outside of gaming.
Around 5 a.m. every Monday morning for six months, Kurt Trevan hit the road and made the three-hour drive from Grand Rapids to Chicago.
During the week, Trevan was a vice president and relationship manager for Silicon Valley Bank in the Windy City. But on the weekends, he would return to West Michigan to work at Gun Lake Casino as an operations manager.
Trevan saw his weekend role at the casino as his way of giving back to his tribe, the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians. But with each Monday morning commute back to Chicago, he began to realize he was leaving his passion in the rearview mirror.
“When you’re in the car alone for three hours, you either listen to crappy radio or you just think a lot,” Trevan said. “And every time that I left on Monday morning to go back to my job in Chicago, I just felt unfulfilled.”
So, Trevan made a leap of faith, leaving behind his career in banking for something new with the tribe.
“No one could believe it, because I went from a relatively senior position to a relatively junior position in a completely different industry, but it wasn’t even so much about that,” Trevan said. “It was about coming back here and being a resource for my tribe.”
After starting full time at the casino, Trevan began to rise up the ranks, securing a position on the board of directors and serving on the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Tribal Council.
Recently, Trevan had the opportunity to become an even bigger resource for his tribe, being selected as the first chief executive officer of Gun Lake Investments, a new endeavor for the tribe. Created in 2015, Gun Lake Investments has a focus on expanding the tribal economy beyond the scope of gaming through strategic investment and economic development in the region.
Trevan assumed the role of CEO of Gun Lake Investments in March, and his first few months were consumed with establishing the initial parameters for the types of endeavors worthy of investing. Once those were set, Trevan’s first order of business was conducting due diligence and securing approval for Gun Lake Investment’s first opportunity — a gas station located across the street from the casino.
Following the diligence period, Trevan worked with his team to conceptualize and design the gas station, continually updating the GLI board of directors with the project’s progress. Trevan said construction on the project broke ground in September.
“Gas stations in themselves aren’t really sexy,” he said. “But at the end of the day, that gas station represents that we can do things and diversify our economy outside of gaming. The sole purpose of Gun Lake Investments is economic development, and if we can do it on trust land like (the gas station), that’s a perfect opportunity. “
Trevan said it’s “kind of scary” to start exploring opportunities outside of the gaming industry, in which the tribe has established itself. But Trevan is well accustomed to exploring the unknown.
Following his graduation from Western Michigan University, Trevan found a job in the commercial real estate department of Flagstar Bank, where he happily worked in Detroit until he made the decision to leave for another opportunity in banking. However, Trevan struggled to adjust to the bank’s business philosophy and general culture, and after about eight months, he left the company.
Trevan took the next several months off from working and, during this time, came to the realization whatever his next move would be, it would be for a company that he could buy into. It wasn’t long until a contact he had met while working at Flagstar encouraged him to look at Silicon Valley Bank, which mainly focused on venture-backed technology and life sciences — two industries Trevan was unfamiliar with.
But, Trevan’s friend assured him, it wasn’t about the industries — it was about relationships.
“You hear that a lot in banking, but it often isn’t true,” he said. “But that truly was, it was the only way that business model could work. Because venture-backed companies are so volatile, there are so many different pieces and so many people you’re dependent on for the success of the company, from the capital to the operations, to the ideas, that you have to know how people react and behave and think.”
For Trevan, it was a completely new way of doing business from what he had previously been accustomed to, and the change was refreshing. Through his experience working at Silicon Valley Bank, he found how much he enjoyed working with people and building those relationships, which eventually led to his position with the tribe.
“It’s odd to think I went from that into gaming, but it made me realize that 80 percent of most industries are the same,” Trevan said. “You have to build relationships, and the same way we did that with technology banking, we had to do that with gaming. So, the next step didn’t feel all that unnatural, because I was still dealing with people.”
One of the most important lessons Trevan learned in his young career is for him, it’s not about making money or accruing power or status. He found joy in his work simply because he’s doing something he’s passionate about, working to improve a community he cares about at a deep and personal level.
Instead of generating revenue and profits that go to “a thousand people you’ll never meet,” Trevan found the only way for him to be happy in his career is to figure out the why — why is he doing this?
“And as I focused on the why, I realized I was doing it for the tribe, for my family, and it just felt a lot better,” he said. “And from that point on, I looked at myself as a resource for the tribe, and how I could serve them to my best and highest use. And that’s what made me happy.
“I worry less about the money and more about everyone else in the tribe benefitting from this and also seeing the community benefit from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo. There’s a larger meaning to what I was doing.”
Trevan knows he’s fortunate to have found a career he’s passionate about. It may have taken a couple false starts and a winding road that led him from Detroit to San Francisco and Chicago before landing back in West Michigan. But he’s no longer feeling a sense of unfulfillment when he wakes up Monday mornings.
“Sometimes, it just takes a long time to figure it out,” he said. “Some people feel that right away, they know what they’re going to do and who they’re going to work for when they’re in high school. It just took me a little longer to find that passion. And once I found that passion and followed it, not only is it more enjoyable, but I think it’s easier to do these things day after day. It’s not a job, and you’re doing the things you love to do. You’re not working, you’re just living.”