Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Annette Zella, Business Partner in NANA's Shareholder Employment and Development Department

This is part of a series of interviews with NANA’s shareholder-employees.


Annette Zella, a shareholder originally from Kotzebue, leads NANA’s college support (internship) program. She works with NANA companies to help them achieve their shareholder employment and development goals. Photo by Brian Adams, a NANA shareholder.


What is your Iñupiaq name?

Uluqsik. I was named after Mildred Black from Shungnak, who was a good friend of my aana (grandma) Annie Mills. Mildred still hunts and fishes, and she’s almost 80.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Kotzebue, so I was fortunate to live in the same community as my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Huge family!

My aana Annie Mills lived to be 100. She gave birth to eight children, seven sons and one daughter. She lived a healthy lifestyle: she ate niqipiaq (traditional food), never drank or smoked, and was active in the Friends Church. My grandpa, Levi Mills, Sr., lived to be 96. Levi Mills, Jr. was my dad.

My mom is Allie Croll. Her parents, Art and Marie Fields, had six kids. My grandpa Art had 14 brothers and sisters!

What is your position?

I am the business partner in NANA’s shareholder employment and development department.

What are your main job responsibilities?

I lead the college support (internship) program. I assist shareholders with their job search and I work with our companies to meet their shareholder employment and development goals.

Tell us about someone who has inspired you to work at NANA.

My dad, Levi Mills, Jr.—for many years, he was the Kotzebue Job Center manager for the Department of Labor. He suggested that I apply at NANA and referred me to Hilda Haas who then hired me as a temporary records clerk.

Basically, I’m now doing the same kind of work that my dad did. It wasn’t part of a big plan. Until career day in middle school, I didn’t really understand what he did. At home, he was just my dad.

Have you had other jobs within NANA?

While in high school, I worked at the Nullaġvik Hotel in the gift shop, selling arts and crafts. We had busloads of tourists in the summer back then.

What is your first memory of NANA and of being a NANA shareholder?

In high school, I remember hearing that people were getting hired on at Red Dog Mine, so I began to learn more about all that NANA did.

Where did you study or train?

After graduating from high school in Kotzebue, I wanted to move to the big city, which meant Anchorage.

I started studying business at the University of Alaska Anchorage, then at Alaska Pacific University (APU). I’m enrolled in a new degree program at APU in Alaska Native Governance.

What was your first job?

My very first job was as an inventory clerk at Rotman’s Store in Kotzebue. I think I was 14. Then I got a job at Hanson’s Store as a cashier, where I interacted with more people.

Who has inspired you?

My aana Annie Mills and I were close. She was like a second mother to me. She was a good person who strived to see the good in everybody.

In school, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Zona Hogan, always encouraged me. The Hogans were always part of the community. Mr. Ron Hogan was my mom’s teacher.

At work, Ron Adams inspires our team daily. He teaches us through his example of being respectful and spiritual. He keeps us grounded.

What is your favorite memory of your grandmother?

If I had to narrow it down, my aana Annie’s dedication to her family and church uplifted me. I was so fortunate. She was the sweetest person, but she was also strong.

She was the postmistress in Deering and she used to meet the planes when bush pilots like Bob Baker delivered mail. She once received a commendation letter from President Kennedy for her assistance with the Selective Service System.

What is the best thing that has happened since you started working with NANA?

I’ve met so many people. I’ve traveled to every village in the region. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to do that without my job. I feel very connected to our people through the work we do.

What are important lessons that you have learned?

Believe in yourself. You have to come first, before you can help others. You need to take care of yourself to be strong and healthy.

What do you like best about your job?

It’s very satisfying work, knowing that I can make a difference in people’s lives. It’s not just helping people get that job. It’s effecting whole families, even extended families. 

What advice do you have for young shareholders?

I try to encourage students to complete their education now. If you wait, like I did, it becomes a lot harder. I tell them we need their skills at NANA right now.

Be adaptable. You have to be able to change.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I ride a motorcycle. I got my motorcycle license three years ago. My husband rides; he encouraged me. I like the freedom, the wind in my hair (under my helmet). I try to be safe and remember my training.

What has surprised you most about working at NANA?

Change. NANA continues to change every year, but our mission stays the same. Change is good. We need it to grow, even if that comes with growing pains.

What do you want people to know about NANA?

We will always need our shareholders to help fulfill our mission. We need to encourage our people to get trained and educated, to be a part of a great corporation.

What is the best news you’ve heard lately?

Our college interns are being offered jobs at NANA companies. Fifty past interns are currently employed at NANA companies. At some point in their careers, 84% of past interns have worked for NANA in regular positions.

What are you most grateful for?

I’m grateful to have a job that I enjoy. I feel fortunate to be part of a great team, and to do the work we do for our people.


Annette Zella was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.