Dr. Zach F. Williams was never quite sure why he wanted to be a pharmacist. After he earned a doctorate to help himself achieve that goal, he still wasn’t sure why.
“Once I started with the Chickasaw Nation, here in Ada, Oklahoma, I quickly began to realize that pharmacy wasn’t for me,” he said. “Nothing against pharmacy, but being a pharmacist wasn’t my thing. I just had a son and realized, ‘Wow. I just spent 10 years of my life and got my doctorate degree, and here I am doing something that is not for me.’”
Luckily for Williams, he was in the perfect spot for a sudden change of career direction. The Director of Pharmacy for the Chickasaw Nation, Carrie Law, allowed him to slowly begin work on the business aspect of the pharmacy. Williams steadily provided eye-popping results, so he became a full-time pharmacist billing and contracting manager, a first for the Chickasaw Nation.
As business grew and Williams built a support staff of seven pharmacy techs and a pharmacist, he began to realize he needed to add to his skill set, which led Williams to the online Master of Business Administration with an emphasis in Native American Leadership program at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
“We have all of the healthcare-related background, but we don’t have the business background,” he said. “I had to connect our accounts receivable software package without ever having spent a day in accounts receivable or ever having an accounting class. So, I realized the MBA was going to be very important to us as a tribe.”
Williams talked pharmacist and good friend Brian Goodwin into going through the MBA program with him. They both graduated in 2017. Williams was recently named the 2016 Chickasaw Nation Department of Health Employee of the Year.
“It’s kind of a neat way to get into the MBA program because it’s usually the other way around — you get into it looking for the knowledge to land a job,” Williams said. “The way I got into it was I had a job, but I needed the knowledge.”
Two for One
Williams has been able to utilize the business acumen he acquired in the MBA program not only to advance his career with the Chickasaw Nation but also to feed his passion for entrepreneurship. He helped his wife, Laurie, and her two partners, one of whom is his younger sister, Ariel Stinnett, open an online boutique called Vogualicious in October 2016.
Laurie earned an MBA from the University of Central Oklahoma, where Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in 2005.
“The boutique’s slowly taking off,” Williams said. “It’s been interesting. It’s a whole new deal. She’s been a stay-at-home mom, but she wanted to do something. I had a business plan in mind outside of pharmacy for myself, but then I got to thinking that she already had a business plan.
“Her business plan is online, where the whole world is your customer. Right now, that’s where you need to be if you’re going to be a business. I thought, ‘Well, I have two full-time employees who could run this business basically for free and be online. Let’s try this first.’ It wasn’t too much of an investment up front.”
The knowledge Williams acquired in the MBA program will likely pay dividends for the remainder of his career.
“I don’t know where the MBA will take me and the whole team within the Chickasaw Nation, but there are so many different areas where it can expand and help in ways you don’t even realize,” he said. “A lot of my friends and family were shocked that I would be going back to get my MBA. It was just something I felt at the time needed to be done, not just for myself but also for the tribe. It helped us all out.”
A Perfect Fit
Williams, whose doctorate is from the University of Oklahoma, said the biggest reason he chose SOSU was the Native American Leadership emphasis.
“There might be a couple more schools now but at the time I started, SOSU was the only one,” he said. “I’m Native American myself. I know what the tribe has taught me since I’ve been here, but I don’t know much beyond that. I wanted to know more, like where we come from, sovereignty and all it encompasses. That’s really one of the biggest factors — that and cost. Cost is pretty hard to beat when it comes to Southeastern Oklahoma.”
Williams’ travel-filled work schedule made the online format his only viable option.
“I also have twin little girls who are two years old,” Williams said. “I also coach tee-ball. There’s no way I could have traveled and gone to class.”
Williams said his two favorite MBA courses were NAL 5013: Current Topics in Indian Country and ACCT 5233: Accounting for Managers, the latter of which was particularly rich in insights.
“I run our third-party management system and our accounts receivable package, so you need to know accounting,” he said. “I understood the numbers to a point, but I never really understood the columns, the headers and what they actually meant. All of a sudden I have this aha moment once I start to realize what everything means. I can explain it to people a lot more easily and more accurately.”
Because he already had business experience, Williams said he was able to easily digest all of the information he learned.
“I was already in a position where I was doing business things and not exactly knowing what they were,” he said. “It actually made it easier for me to go through the classes and be able to directly apply [what I was learning] to something I had already been doing versus theoretically trying to learn something and understand the concept.”
Williams, who loves to spend time with his family and is a huge sports fan, is now in a good spot with plenty still on his plate to keep him going. However, if he decides to someday try something different, he will be prepared to do so with the MBA.
“I love pharmacy and love helping patients, but I do believe that I’m a better business person than I am a pharmacy person,” he said. “That’s not necessarily bad, but I really think that’s more my personality. I could see myself stepping outside of the boundaries of the pharmacy.”
For now, though, he wants to continue to help lead the way in the Chickasaw Nation.
“My team’s mantra is to synergistically collaborate and create programs and processes that lie outside our normal box of thinking that allows for maximized patient healthcare while simultaneously increasing third party revenue,” he said. “That’s really what we do. Luckily, here at Chickasaw Nation we have a really good leadership team. They allow us to be progressive, think outside of the box, do things like we’re doing and create programs and processes that benefit our patients as well as the tribe financially.”
Lear more about the SOSU online MBA with an emphasis in Native American Leadership program.