“I made it a mission with my own company and myself that I will stand up and I will defend those who can’t defend themselves,” says Massey Whiteknife, owner and president of ICEIS Safety Consulting based in Fort McMurray, Alberta. His company provides safety consulting and training to clients, as well as safety manuals and supplies, and basic camp supplies.
As an openly gay, aboriginal man living in a small community, Whiteknife has fought discrimination and bullying his entire life, including when he started his company. “When I was younger, a lot of the industry was telling me that I’d never make it because ‘you have to be straight,’” he says. “‘You have to tell people you’re married with two kids and that you have the picket fence. You have to dress like everyone else.’ I was just cringing.”
Whiteknife believes he was the first openly gay man in Fort McMurray, a situation that helped him develop a strong sense of self. “I’ve been told all my life, over and over, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ just because of my sexuality.”
He embraces his sexuality, performing drag and not hiding who he is. He even went so far as to name his company after his drag persona, Iceis Rain. “I thought about what I wanted my company to be and I knew that I would be a little fish in a big pond, that I was going to have to work twice as hard,” he says. “I wasn’t going to go out there and be that scared little company. I’m going to be bold and aggressive and dominate the competition. I’m going to be proud of my company, stand tall, and look good.”
Whiteknife’s commanding ideology has led to much success. In a few short years, ICEIS Safety went from a $100,000 company to a multimillion-dollar company. He has also landed a spot on the board of the Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association, (a position elected by his peers), won the 2011 Youth Entrepreneur of Alberta Award of Distinction, and was nominated in March for the Eagle Feather Business Award of Distinction by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce.
He attributes his success to getting his hands dirty and never giving up. After working as a custodian then a manager, he went into safety, learning the business from the ground-up. When he first started his company, it failed, as many fledgling companies do. Instead of giving up, Whiteknife worked, saved up enough money, and started again.
“I worked really hard for one year with a $3,000 beat-up bus. Clients would laugh and say ‘Oh, here comes ICEIS Safety with their beat-up bus.’ I told them to just give me a shot.” Luckily, his customers gave him a year, after which he hired employees, bought proper transportation, and really began to see growth. He now has 14 employees and many major clients.
After all his challenges, Whiteknife is living his dream, and encourages other young people to follow their entrepreneurial spirit too. “If you’re thinking of starting a business, do what you have a passion for, not what you think is a quick money-maker,” he says. “Stay positive, never burn bridges, and when you have to roll up your sleeves and get down and dirty, do it with a smile.”