Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Jason Rutman, Corporate HSE Director and Operations Advisor at NANA Development Corporation

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

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Jason Rutman, a shareholder whose family originates in Noorvik, directs the Health, Safety, and Environment program for NANA Development Corporation. He’s worked in the environmental field for 15 years. Photo by Brian Adams, a NANA shareholder.

 

What is your Iñupiaq name?

I was the first grandson, so I was named Kuugauraq, after my late taata (grandfather) Billy Sheldon, Sr. from Noorvik. Kuugauraq means “creek” in Iñupiaq.

What is your position?

Since April 2015, I’ve been the corporate HSE director and operations advisor for NANA Development Corporation (NDC). (HSE stands for Heath, Safety, and Environment.)

What are your main job responsibilities?

I manage the HSE program for NDC. I evaluate our companies’ safety performance, provide HSE guidance and support to employees, and work with our companies (across the enterprise) on HSE issues. Basically, my role is to ensure the protection of people, property, and the environment.

Have you had other jobs within NANA?

I was the NDC director of operational projects for a year and a half.  Before that, I worked for NANA Regional Corporation, in the natural resources department, as the environmental manager. I created an environmental program with the goal to ensure that operations were fully compliant with environmental regulations, and to foster proactive environmental stewardship. As the director of natural resources, I oversaw the environmental aspects of resource development projects in the NANA region, including the Upper Kobuk Mineral Projects. In that role, I was also NANA’s liaison to NovaCopper.

Where are you from? Where did you grow up?

My parents are both school teachers. In the region, we lived in Kiana, Kotzebue, Noorvik, Buckland, and Shungnak. I graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe High School, the boarding school in Sitka.

My mom’s family is from Noorvik. I spent time with my grandparents at Ikpichiaq, our spring and summer whitefish camp, and falltime at Ninnuq, our salmon fish camp near Sivunniigvik, which is not far from Noorvik.

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

I remember going to an annual meeting with my aana and taata (grandparents) when I was about four or five years old.

Where did you study? Do you have special training?

While working at Red Dog, I studied environmental technology online through the University of Alaska Southeast. My studies continued when I worked for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.

I also received my Associate Safety Professional (ASP) credential, and I’m currently pursuing several more certifications in the HSE field (CSP, CET, REM).

I’ve been working in the environmental field for 15 years. I’m still learning.

What was your first job?

When I was 10, I was a paperboy in Fairbanks. It wasn’t what I expected—from watching kids on TV, riding their bikes, slinging newspapers onto grassy yards. (Birds tweeting, bright blue skies.) Instead, it was dark and 30 below and I had to drag a toboggan through the snow. That job ended when my dad got tired of getting up at 5:30 in the morning on weekends to deliver the papers when he couldn’t get me out of bed.

My first “real job” was as a waiter at the Nullaġvik Hotel restaurant in Kotzebue, the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. After high school, I worked briefly as a janitor at NDC in Anchorage, and then at Red Dog Mine, as a mill ops laborer, before heading to Oregon for my first year of college. The next fall, I went to work fulltime at Red Dog, eventually ending up in the environmental department. I spent nearly 10 years working for Teck, including time at Pogo Mine during its construction, as the environmental field team leader.

I also worked as an environmental coordinator for Alyeska, covering 600 miles of the Trans Alaska Pipeline (Pump Stations 5-12) in two-week shifts. I drove every day, two or three-hour trip segments, stopping at multiple projects and facilities, from Valdez north to Prudhoe Bay.

Why work at NANA?

I always saw myself coming back to NANA, after those early experiences. I’ve come full circle and now I have an opportunity to develop another program. Having a deep connection, growing up with NANA, makes it mean even more. As a shareholder, I feel a special responsibility. You see yourself in the people you serve.

I see a lot of passion in the people who work for NANA. We have the same end goal in mind. We want to see NANA succeed.

Who has inspired you?

My taata (grandfather) is my biggest inspiration. He would say things once that would always stick in my head. As we walked through the tundra at camp, looking for animals or birds, I listened to his advice and wisdom. Even today, when I’m faced with a hard decision or challenge, I still ask myself, “What would my taata say?”

What is your favorite memory of this person?

I loved spending time with my grandparents at fish camp. I looked forward to going back every spring. It was something stable and unchanging, which was especially good for me, since my parents were teaching where they were needed and I was always the new kid at school.

What are important lessons that you have learned?

I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to have mentors who helped me to get where I am today. You don’t have to be in an official mentoring program to have a mentor. Find someone who believes in you, who will challenge you, and who has the skills and traits you want to acquire. Ever since I could remember, I’ve always looked up to others and thought, that’s how I want to be treated—or how I should treat others. I still do it today. At some point in your career, you move from mentee to mentor, but there’s always something to learn, regardless of the circumstances or people you work with.

What do you like best about your job?

I’ve found that the higher the pressure, the better I perform. I first noticed that when I was 20 and a firefighter at Red Dog Mine. All my experiences have prepared me for what I’m doing today.

What advice do you have for young shareholders?

Never stop learning or asking questions.

Look for opportunities and look at challenges as opportunities, rather than as roadblocks. They may not seem so at first, but challenges are blessings in disguise.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

When I was an 8th-grader in Buckland, four friends and I were presented an award for bravery-heroism from the State of Alaska.

A couple of younger boys, Fred Lee and Carl Hadley, were ice skating on Two Mile Lake near Buckland. It was mid-October and the lake was frozen, but the ice was too thin and both boys fell through. We older boys lay flat and formed a human chain. Evans Geary was closest and he pulled Carl out. Then Evans stripped off his boots and clothes and jumped in after Fred. Fred’s skin was blue when Evans got him out. Johnny Sheldon and Jessi Ahkpuk, Jr. stayed with Evans and the boys, huddling to keep them warm. I ran the two miles into town to get help.

Fred and Carl are dads now.

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Jason Rutman was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.