Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Cathleen Mala, Operations Manager of NMS Camp Services

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


Cathleen Mala, a NANA shareholder, is the operations manager of NMS Camp Services. Photo by Brian Adams, a NANA shareholder.


What is your Iñupiaq name?

Utauyuk. I was named after my great grandfather, my mother’s grandfather. Since I was a girl, he said I could have his name only if I learned to speak English—and if I wore dresses.

Where are you from originally?

My parents were raised in the region. My father grew up in Candle and in Kotzebue, and my mother is originally from Selawik.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I grew up in the city (Anchorage), but we’ve always practiced a subsistence lifestyle. With our extended family and friends, we hunted and fished together. We didn’t have a lot of money, but I never felt anything was missing. We always had more than enough food to share with others. We were always busy. Even now, in summer and fall, we’re most active outside. We’re fishing, filling our freezers.

I was taught the value of hard work, which has carried over to every aspect of my life.

What is your job?

I’m the operations manager with NMS’ Camp Services division.

My job is to provide town-based management support for some of our remote work sites, mostly at Deadhorse (on the North Slope). I’m responsible for personnel management and budgeting. Some specific projects or initiatives include reaching our shareholder hire and development goals. The job is a unique balance between HR regulations and requirements—and operations and service delivery.

How many years have you been with NANA?

My career at NANA, as it was, started back in high school and continued through college. During breaks from school, I worked in various administrative jobs in nearly every department of NANA Development Corporation (NDC).

Immediately after I graduated from college, I worked with a NANA partner, NANA/Willis. I started there as an intern, in an entry level position, and stayed for four years. By the time I left, I was an account executive, handling several clients. I was the primary contact for NANA, and other large accounts.

I’ve been with NANA now for 11 years, the last five at NMS.

Where did you study or train?

I have a degree in business administration from Seattle Pacific University. I went to college thinking I wanted to become a marine biologist, but I switched to business. Working at NANA, while in school, pointed me in that direction.

Who has inspired you?

My dad, Harvey Sinaaqquq Vestal, was a benefits administrator for NANA. I followed his footsteps, but not consciously. While I was at Willis, I was able to work directly with him. Then, eventually, I moved into his role.

What has surprised you most about working at NANA?

I continue to be surprised by how well known NANA is throughout Alaska.

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

In our community, I receive positive feedback about how well our employees are treated. I’ve seen firsthand how NANA has shown a commitment to providing employees with a good work environment.

What do you like best about your job?

I’ve learned a lot, especially when working on teams with employees who bring different points of view, knowledge, and experience. That broad perspective benefits me and our company. Each of us contributes something unique. Ultimately, we have the same goal: to succeed and be profitable.

What are your strongest beliefs about what you do?  

I’m grateful for the opportunities. I have to prove myself worthy by working hard. My goal is to provide the highest level of service to our clients and employees. No matter what the task is, I want to over-deliver—to achieve a strong, positive reputation for our company. I’ll do the best job I can, because each task contributes to a larger goal.

Can you talk a little about sharing knowledge?

A great thing about NANA is that mentors have shown an interest in my growth and development. Having been mentored myself, it’s an honor to hear someone say that I have positively influenced them.

What advice do you have for young shareholders?

Set goals, whatever they are. Write them down, map them out. Then take the steps needed to achieve them. Step by step, you can achieve your goals. It’s okay to change direction. Your goals might change. List short-term and long-term goals. Keep an eye on the next goal. Keep moving forward with determination, despite setbacks. Never give up, no matter how difficult things get or how out of reach your goals may seem. Nothing will stop you from achieving your goals.

What do you want people to know about NANA?

NANA is each of us. It is what we make of it—how we each contribute to help NANA to grow. When we each focus on our area of responsibility, we provide an example to others. Collectively, we can make a difference on an even larger scale.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

My niece told me to say that I don’t have 2020 vision. (Get it? 2020.) Seriously, in five years, I hope to be with NANA in a leadership role, whatever position that might be. I want to continue to contribute to our corporation’s success.

What is your vision of NANA in 10 or 20 years?

I want to see more shareholders in leadership roles, at all levels. Experience and exposure increases comfort level. The better prepared you are, the more successful you’ll be.

What are you most grateful for?

Family time.


Cathleen Mala was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.