TULSA – From his working class childhood living in Miami in Indian housing, to his career as president and owner of the Native-owned RedStone Construction, Chris Samples has carried his values.
Those values have shown in Samples' work, most recently with the construction of Cherokee Casino Grove and Indigo Sky in rural Wyandotte.
Both projects exemplify RedStone's standard of excellence under Samples' direction.
RedStone is a general contractor based in Tulsa. It has design/build experience on projects totaling more than $87 million and single projects worth more than $340 million in a variety of industries including hospitality, casino, retail, office buildings and more.
The company is licensed and able to work in 33 states and Canada
Path to success
The path for the 45-year-old Eastern Shawnee Tribal member for attaining success was winding, but each experience he said, helped developed him into a leader with insight and genuine commitment to each project.
Samples' family has lived in northeast Oklahoma for multiple generations. He grew up in Miami, attending grade school at Washington Elementary, and graduated from Commerce High School in 1989, where he played football.
“I'll tell you what I respect and appreciate the most coming from Miami, is that we knew how to work hard and we knew how to appreciate those efforts," Samples said. "I saw my dad and my mom and my family just work so hard and I knew and was taught to appreciate that value.
"I think that's probably one of the biggest things I take from the area is that I wasn't scared of hard work.”
Samples earned an associates degree in criminal justice at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M with a goal to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Initially, Samples said, he set his sights to work for the the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. He said there were hundreds of candidates the year he applied, and although he was ranked 74th he did not make the final cut.
That early failure did not defeat Sample, but taught him perseverance.
“It was bittersweet," Samples said. "I was in the top 100 and didn't get hired. It was frustrating, but at the same time I had to open my eyes and realize I needed to go on, go to school, be committed and stay committed, and work even harder."
Samples briefly attended the University of Oklahoma, but found he could not afford to stay.
“It was a great experience but I was way out of my comfort zone,” he said. “But at the end of the day I found my home at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. It's a great school. I paid my way through and I worked the whole time I went to school too.
"I did anything and every job available, and you work extra shifts to pay bills and live. That was crucial because I learned to manage my time and it was where I got to succeed. It's commitment, it was dedication to get to a goal.”
With a double major in sociology and psychology, he graduated in 2000 and went to work right away for the Cherokee Nation for the next six years in youth services programs, specifically with the Job Corps Center.
“You know, I grew up in Indian housing, HUD tribal housing, and I saw a lot of kids get left behind,” Samples said. “We had a few kids graduate in the neighborhood, but I was the only kid that graduated on that block.
"I saw a lot of good people that I went to school with, you know, they fell through the gaps. It happens everywhere, but I did not want to get left behind. I made a personal commitment to do things different and stuck to it.
"Continuing to do the right thing pays off in academia, and that’s when you can compete. I’ve got good marks, I’m committed, I’m driven, and I can speak and write well and can sell my personal accomplishment to an employer and make those same commitments to my employer. ”
Samples said his time with the Cherokee Nation served as a business model marked with diversity and opportunity.
“They treated their employees well and if you worked hard for them they rewarded them. There was a ton of opportunity,” Samples said. “I learned more about the love and passion of giving back to people.
"It only takes one comment, one statement, one pat on the back, one handshake, to change the life of a young person.”
Samples is a big believer in finding the skill set in each person to build upon for success, something he strives for at RedStone.
“You’re able to produce more out of that person and once they realize they can produce, then they flourish,” he said. “I think a diverse background over time makes you really, really good when you get where you want to be.
"Thinking and solution discovery and all this experience allows you to be really creative and brings a sincere and genuine process when you’re getting to a solution.”
In 2005, Samples returned to northeast Oklahoma to help establish economic security for his own tribe, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, where he served on the economic development team for six years.
In 2008, Samples was elected treasurer of the Business Committee and RedStone was founded in 2009.
“I came in at a tough time for the tribe. I didn’t even have an office when I went to work for the tribe,” he said. “My grandmother had passed away. She lived before the assistance programs supported by gaming. That didn’t exist in my grandmother’s time.
"The opportunity came to come back and work for my tribe. I had the experience of a large tribe and I took what I learned that I could grow on.
"When you’re Native American, you want to come back and help your people. I watched the Cherokee Nation take care of their people and they treated me with the same respect, so I am in debt to them forever is the way I look at that.
"When I was recruited I wanted to help my people because I saw my grandmother struggle. In my heart I think I wanted to come back to the people, the Eastern Shawnee, to make sure all of our citizens knew about and had services available.”
Using what he learned, knowledge of resources, and new skills, Samples worked to earn trust and respect within the tribe.
He chaired the board of Eastern Shawnee Enterprises for business opportunities outside of gaming, which led to the development of RedStone.
“Getting my feet wet in construction occurred when Chief Enyart came in the door and said ‘here’s three grants that total $5 to $6 million worth of construction and we really need to get started on these.'
"So I put a team together that I felt would be capable of supporting our efforts. I’m an organizer and believe I’m good at recognizing talent and putting the right people together.”
The rest is history as the company has grown, faced and met challenges and evolved from a handful of employees to 66 today with numerous multi-million dollar projects.
Samples is proud of how RedStone is able to understand and incorporate cultural elements in tribal projects.
“I endured the pain of trying to align an architect and a contractor to capture everything that the owner wanted in their project and make sure that happened," Samples said. "You know the communication, the collaboration, in a design and build team is crucial. If you can’t do that, somebody misses out and the client loses a fraction of the essence of what they’re trying to accomplish
“For tribes to, the old philosophy of, ‘we’ll design it, bid it, and build it’’ in the old delivery model, owner input is really left out. With RedStone we accepted the design/build philosophy with the designers and builders at the same table together and then produce the construction. ”
Samples said RedStone incorporates a team approach from the start with all involved using all vitally important and relevant factors including functionality and costs to create one-of-a-kind, customized projects.
Although Samples said each RedStone project is unique, he lists three projects as examples he feels best exemplify their work: Indigo Sky, for the Eastern Shawnee Tribe, Margaritaville at River Spirit for the Muscogee Creek Nation, and Cherokee Casino Grove, for the Cherokee Nation.
Cherokee Casino Grove opened its doors on Monday, Dec. 19, in what tribal leaders are calling a "soft opening." The grand opening for the facility is expected to come in January.
“It’s always special to go back and build at home," Samples said. "For us, [Cherokee Casino Grove is a] fast track project. It’s a tight schedule and you have to hit your deliverables.
"It’s a great crew and RedStone Superintendent Jason Dunham has done a great job. He’s a great builder but he’s also a great relationship person, he cares about relationships. I think that’s what’s different about RedStone, it’s really about the client experience. We can deliver a construction project, but it’s really about having the owner participate and being part of everything that goes into a project.”
Indigo Sky, Samples said, was a chance to help build a project for his tribe.
"It’s a 64-acre site and it is very well balanced," Samples said. "It’s truly amazing, the biggest thing is when I occasionally go into Indigo Sky it still looks new and fabulous."
The final project, Margaritaville at River Spirit, came through a working partnership the Manhattan Construction, for the Muscogee Creek Nation.
"Just to be a part of River Spirit’s expansion was great," Samples said. "It’s absolutely amazing to be over there.”
Tribal projects such as these and others have brought Samples full circle from living in tribal assistance housing as a child to building projects benefiting tribal citizens today.
RedStone’s momentum in the industry is something Samples by which he is pleased.
“You can give back to your community and to young people," Samples said. "It certainly warms your heart when you are building tribal projects that truly are changing people’s lives.
"Being Native, and growing up Native, and being part of the Native community, definitely you want to make the right decision, and there’s a certain value to that. Another component is having a good heart and doing the right thing even when nobody is looking.”
Reflecting on his life and his work with RedStone, Samples is moved by emotion to tears when asked what his grandmother would think of his accomplishments.
“You know, I wouldn’t change any of it. When you’re the underdog, the smaller guy and you can go deliver what the bigger guy does and better, that’s the greatest thing," Samples said. "There are a lot of big companies and we’re not, but we’re growing and we have a plan and we execute our plan, and we take care of our clients.
"We want to do it better and we want to do it better every project. We were challenged financially most of my life growing up, but at the end of the day you don’t have to have a penny in your pocket to tell the truth and you don’t have to have money to have desire.
"Those things are free, but you have to find them within yourself.”