Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Deb Billingsley, Executive Assistant to the President of NANA Development Corporation

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


Deb Billingsley, a shareholder originally from Kotzebue, is NDC President Helvi Sandvik’s executive assistant. Photo by Brian Adams, a NANA shareholder.


What is your Iñupiaq name?

Kumak. I was named after my aana’s (grandmother’s) father.

What is your position?

I’m the executive assistant to Helvi Sandvik, the president of NANA Development Corporation (NDC).

How many years have you been with NANA?

Over 25 years! I started in 1989, when my family moved back to Alaska. My husband, Jim, served in the military, and was transferred to Elmendorf Air Force Base. My sons, Eric and Craig, both work at NANA now.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Kotzebue.

Who has inspired you?

My grandparents were great role models. They were hard workers who weren’t afraid of life’s challenges.

My taata (grandfather) was the superintendent of the Friends Church in the region. Before he had a snow machine, he went by dog team. My aana (grandmother) made him warm clothes for his travels to the villages.

Watching them, I learned how important it was to be prepared and to take care of things.

What was it like growing up in Kotzebue?

I was my taata’s sidekick.

In winter, he used to haul ice from a lake in the hills behind Kotzebue. That was our drinking water. When I was little, those hills seemed so far away.

We spent summers at camp in Sisaulik, across Kotzebue Sound, where we’d fish and hunt. To pick berries, we traveled by boat upriver. By the time we got back to Kotzebue, in early fall, the grass had grown taller and faded, the tundra had changed color, and the air felt different, like we’d been gone a long time.

What was your first job?

My first paying job was as a sales clerk at Val-U-House, a general store in Kotzebue that sold everything from fabric to furniture. 

My taata’s advice to me was, “Paniiŋ (daughter), you need to show up for work at least 15 minutes early, so you can put your coat away, make coffee, and get set up, so that you are ready to open for business. At the end of the day, take time to prepare for the next day.” That advice has stayed with me all my life. (Deb is routinely at work by 7:00, and is often the last to leave.)

What is your first memory of NANA?

I remember seeing NANA representatives meet with Elders in the 1970s. They gathered in homes—ours was one—to look at land maps, possibly to map out allotments.

What do you like best about your job?

The opportunity to always learn new things.

What do you hope to achieve?

To carry out my job to the best of my ability. I want to encourage others who might have some apprehension about trying new things.

What are important lessons that you have learned?

Treat people with respect, and go the extra mile when serving others.

What advice do you have for young shareholders?

Learn. Get a good education; it opens doors to the world of possibilities.

What do you want people to know about NANA?

There are so many people within the company who want great things for NANA and its shareholders. I’m grateful for these people, past and present, who have encouraged growth.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I used to be timid and shy—and, to a point, I still am. Over the years, I’ve had wonderful managers and mentors who have helped me come out of my shell.


Deb Billingsley was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.