Elena Artiaga has grown accustomed to hearing from her industry peers that she doesn’t look like the typical gaming resort CFO. A 31-year-old female senior executive for the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort Casino in Mescalero, New Mexico, Artiaga has some keen and friendly advice for the numerous CEOs, CFOs and COOs from other properties who feel compelled to comment on her age: “Watch out for us young people.”
A member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, Artiaga grew up on the reservation in New Mexico, and is extremely proud of the way she has positioned herself to make such a significant impact on the success of her entire community.
“Growing up on a reservation, there are many distractions that could derail a young person’s life,” Artiaga explains. “I came face to face with many challenges that could have prevented me from graduating from high school and college, but I never gave up. I worked diligently to earn an associate degree in pre-business, a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finally a master’s degree of accountancy. I persevered through a great deal to obtain my education, and then earned my first position as casino controller before assuming my current CFO role.
“Success in my job is not just about me; every achievement is something I am able to share with my family and my tribe,” she adds. “I have a personal stake and vested interest in our collective success. I encourage all Native Americans to seek education and/or experience that can open doors to opportunities that may not exist otherwise.”
While Artiaga is quick to offer witty comebacks to peers who challenge her for her age, she recognizes that she needed specific skill sets and personality traits to offset her lack of experience in the beginning. “Versatility, ambition and hard work helped me achieve my goals,” Artiaga asserts. “I am always eager to learn and ask questions, and encourage all of my emerging industry peers to never let yourself feel like you know more than everyone else. The only way you can be out of your league because of your age is if you refuse to ask questions and learn. Sitting on the sidelines will prevent you from growing and achieving even greater things. A true leader—at any age—has to be committed to ongoing learning as well as teaching. ”
Proving that you are never too young to be a mentor to others, Artiaga works closely with other young professionals at Inn of the Mountain Gods and the Mescalero Tribe to help advance their careers. “I encourage my emerging peers not to fear change or failure, because it is failure that teaches us the greatest lessons,” she says.
Artiaga’s professional achievements are all the more impressive when considered in conjunction with another role she balances—mother of four children, including one just born in 2013. “My highest priority is being a good role model for my children,” Artiaga says. “My husband is my No. 1 fan, and I could not have achieved what I have at such an early age without the love and support of my family.”
Watch out for the young people, indeed. The best from Artiaga is likely yet to come.