Over the past 40 years, Eeyou Istchee has experienced remarkable economic growth. The opportunities that abound in the region are reflected by the career of William MacLeod. From being the first Cree Wildlife Conservation Officer to being president of Cree Construction and Development Company (CCDC) for 11 years, MacLeod has had a long and varied career as a businessman and community leader. His lifetime of work has left an indelible mark on the region and to honour his achievements, MacLeod has been inducted as the 20th member of the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame (ABHF).
Since 2005, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business has been honouring those who have risen up as leaders in the business community amongst First Nations, Inuit and Métis people across Canada. Past laureates include the late Billy Diamond who was inducted in the inaugural year of the ABHF.
“When I got the letter I was quite honoured. I thought to myself, ‘Hey, did I do something right here?’” MacLeod joked. “I knew the late Billy Diamond received the award as well as other Aboriginal business leaders from across Canada so I was a bit awestruck when I received the award.”
Growing up in Mistissini, Macleod was exposed to business from a young age as he watched his father run a fur trade. “All my brothers and sisters got involved in that business in one aspect or another,” MacLeod said. “I ended up going to the United States for school. While there, I stayed with my dad’s family, who owned a construction company. That was my first experience with the construction industry. I was young at the time, but I got to see what the business was all about.”
From family members to instructors, MacLeod had many mentors who helped him along his diverse career path and his community work.
Overseeing the CCDC from 2002 to 2013, MacLeod presided over a period of incredible growth for the company. Having already been a member of the company’s board of directors, he was familiar with the inner workings and the work of the previous two presidents – Albert Diamond and Steven Bearskin.
“It was one of the first companies founded by the Cree. A lot of it was already setup when I joined. The expertise was there and so was the management,” MacLeod said about his early days of presidency. “In 2002, we had the EM1 project, so I jumped right into a huge amount of work from the get-go.”
The CCDC had become a major player in the regional construction industry and worked alongside and in competition with big names in the construction business, such as Nielsen and Sodexo. “The EM1 project was the point when the CCDC started to show that it was really competitive and that we could do the job ourselves,” he said. “We were building dams and dealing with a major client like Hydro-Québec that had a rigid schedule. We had to be competitive as they were bringing outside estimations of job completion which we matched.”
Constructing buildings and developing infrastructure was not the CCDC’s only goal. MacLeod recounted the many success stories of former employees who had moved on and set up their own businesses. “We were not only doing construction, we were developing people,” he said. “Starting off as labourers, people worked their way up the ladder and eventually they saw what it took to run a business. That’s what I’m most proud, the First Nations people we developed.”
Focusing on resource development and energy has been quite the boon for Cree communities and businesses. However as Macleod sees it the greatest resource are the people of Eeyou Istchee and investing in education and training.
“The mining companies are not building towns. Instead, they build camps for large groups of workers, and once the work is done they tear them down,” said MacLeod on the need to focus on growth in the service sector in Cree communities.
As he approaches retirement, MacLeod is looking forward to spending time with his family and grandchildren. Yet, he still maintains positions in the community of Mistissini as a councillor and mentor to future Cree business leaders.