Q & A with Shareholder Employees
Anchorage, AK July 13, 2016
A Conversation with Craig Billingsley, HRIS Manager, Human Resources Department of NANA Development Corporation
This is part of a series of interviews with NANA’s shareholder-employees.
Craig Billingsley, a NANA shareholder, is a human resources information system manager. Photo by Brian Adams, a NANA shareholder.
What is your Iñupiaq name?
My mom (Deb Billingsley) named me after her surrogate big brother, Noah Walton. When they were kids in Kotzebue, he looked out for her and he made toys for her—wooden boats and paper airplanes. Mom and Noah were related. Noah’s namesake was my great-great-great-grandfather, Noah Anuġi Webster, whose brother was named Daniel Webster. (In the late 1890s, missionaries came to northwest Alaska and gave Iñupiat converts American names, like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Noah Webster.)
Mom says Anuġi means “stormy”—a name that suited me, when I was little and threw tantrums.
What is your current job?
I’m the HRIS manager. HRIS stands for human resources information system. It’s basically where human resources and information technology intersect. My role is to support the commercial sector of NDC and its electronic systems used for recruiting, onboarding new hires, and training staff.
What are your main job responsibilities?
I manage HR’s electronic systems. This means I manage the systems support software for recruiting and onboarding new hires, and our online learning software for employees, as well as controlling the flow of data between these systems. I work closely with our IT department to ensure that our systems communicate with each other. This cuts down the amount of manual data entry required, so our team can work smarter and more efficiently. It also decreases the possibility of errors in data management.
How long have you been working at NANA?
When I was in high school, I worked part-time in NDC’s IT department with my brother Eric. I learned how to configure and setup computers for the staff. Later, I interned in NANA Pacific’s communications department, and built its first website. (The original NANA Pacific was an engineering company. The current NANA Pacific delivers IT, telecom, staffing, and consulting services.) Six years ago, I started back in IT as a web developer. Then I moved over to human resources as the HRIS manager.
Where did you study or train?
I’m tech-oriented and learn a lot by doing. Before moving into the HRIS role, I studied up on programming languages and pored over software documentation.
Since the fall of 2015, I’ve been enrolled at Alaska Pacific University studying business administration management. I’ve discovered that it’s tough going to school when you’re working full-time. I have a lot of support from family and friends, and some great role models.
Who has inspired you?
At work, I feel challenged by my manager, Patty Hickok. She pushes me to broaden my skillset, giving me tasks that might be outside my comfort zone. (Patty is the senior director of employee relations and HRIS). After moving to Alaska from Mexico, she worked full-time, while getting her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She’s constantly encouraging me to stay in school.
My dad (Jim Billingsley) was very vocal about education. If I ever missed an assignment, I was going to hear about it. But, it’s the quiet ones you need to worry about, like my mom (Deb Billingsley). I never wanted to see any hint of disappointment on her face.
What was your last job before coming back to work at NANA?
Getting hired as a bellhop, at a new luxury hotel in Dallas, was a turning point for me. The bellhop is usually the first and last person the guests sees. We’re ambassadors, of sorts, for both the hotel and the city, so we work hard to make customers feel welcome. Before, I wasn’t very good at breaking the ice and holding conversations with people I just met, but I learned to be more outgoing. I really improved my communications skills, to speak clearly and be more focused.
Another takeaway was learning to think on my feet. When issues arise, I want to quickly find solutions. At the hotel, that problem-solving ability and attention to customer service allowed my guests to enjoy their stay.
Did you meet any famous people at the hotel?
I had the pleasure of meeting a handful of celebrities—musicians, athletes, even royalty. These included some members of N’Sync (Joey Fatone and Lance Bass), Janet Jackson, Brittney Spears, and various professional athletes. The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, was gracious and thanked everyone at the hotel, from the line cooks on up.
My first celebrity encounter was with the comedian Wanda Sykes. I was very nervous and constantly had to tell myself to call her by her pseudonym. (Celebrities use pseudonyms to protect their privacy.) I’m sure she could see how nervous I was, so she said, “Just call me Wanda.”
What are your strongest beliefs about what you do and what you hope to achieve?
By improving our systems and simplifying a process, I can save people time. The team can be more effective and productive. We’re always improving, always progressing. I strive to make sure I’m a contributing team member, so we can achieve our company’s mission.
What has surprised you most about working at NANA?
How big NANA has grown, and how widespread. Growing up in Anchorage, my focus was on NANA’s operations here. Now, NANA has a global presence—with Akima’s essential work on military sites and with GIS’s remote locations, for example.
What advice do you have for young shareholders?
Don’t be afraid to try something new. Unless you try, you’ll never know what you might be good at. Each new experience, whether at work or in life, can be a building block to your development. Sometimes you just need to say “Yes!” When you jump into a new role or activity, you might surprise yourself with how well you did or how much fun you had.
What important lessons have you learned?
Three lessons: the value of team work, continuous improvement, and accepting new challenges outside your comfort zone.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I love taking photos. I’ve done weddings, family portraits, and red carpet events (like the Raven’s Ball, a fundraiser for the Healthy Alaska Natives Foundation). My dad is getting into photography now, too. So, it’s nice to share a hobby with him.
What’s the best thing that has happened since you started working at NANA?
A couple of years ago, I had the chance to work with NANANordic. (The program brings cross-country skiing to the NANA region). Through NANANordic, kids pick up a new way to be healthy and active.
I worked on a “Healthy Portraits” project with staff from the Alaska Native EpiCenter. We took photos of kids learning to cross country ski in Noatak and Shungnak. Then, we hung the portraits in the school gyms, so the kids are celebrities in their home towns! The project highlights positive stories of Alaskans who are celebrating health and wellness. To learn more (scroll down to see the photos): http://anthctoday.org/epicenter/healthyportraits/
Craig Billingsley was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.