Q & A with Shareholder Employees
Washington, D.C. August 20, 2015
A Conversation with Kutraluk Bolton, Senior Director of Government Affairs for NANA Development Corporation
This is part of a series of interviews with NANA’s shareholder-employees.
Kutraluk Bolton, a NANA shareholder originally from Kotzebue, is the senior director of government affairs, based in Washington, D.C.
Tell us about your name.
I was named Kutraluk after my aana (grandmother) Blanche Lincoln’s uncle.
When I went away to college, I started going by Kutraluk, my Iñupiaq name—as a way to show others and remind myself of my identity as an Iñupiaq man.
What is your position?
I’m the Senior Director of Government Affairs, based in Washington, D.C.
How many years have you been with NANA?
What are your main job responsibilities?
My job is to stay on top of new governmental rules and regulations that may impact our businesses. Often, because Alaska and Native businesses are not considered in rule-making, laws and regulations might have unintended consequences to NANA’s interests. Since I am not an expert on every aspect of our large company, I work with others to identify potential problems and, if needed, possible solutions. Another key part of my job is to communicate directly with lawmakers, as well as other stakeholders, to educate them on how their actions affect NANA.
It’s akin to being a fireman. You watch for fires. When it’s quiet, after you’ve put out the fires, you maintain relationships with key legislators and their staff. You watch for developments. You consider what would happen if certain laws are passed. Recently SBA 8(a), oil & gas, and Department of Transportation legislation have been top-of-mind.
Where are you from?
I’m from Kotzebue.
What is your first memory of NANA and of being a NANA shareholder?
In 1975, my dad said we owned the Nullaġvik Hotel in Kotzebue. My brother and I were very excited. We ran over to the hotel to check out our new possession. We swung through the doors like we owned the place.
What was your first job?
In Kotzebue, I swept the floors at Walsh’s Store, in an old log cabin on Front Street. I was about 12, and I saved all the money that Mabel Walsh paid me.
My first jobs at NANA, during breaks from school, were with Purcell Security and NMS. At Purcell, I worked as a courier, driving to Valdez or hopping a flight to Kodiak Island. Clyde Gooden trained me. At Red Dog Mine, I worked summers washing dishes and running laundry. Ducky (Lewis Hitzel) was my supervisor. Funny how it circled around, all these years later, to me working in D.C. with Clyde and Ducky.
Where did you study?
I went to high school in Anchorage, at Bartlett. Through the Johnson-O’Malley Program, I got job advice and learned about internships and summer jobs. In high school, I told everyone I wanted to be a lawyer. I even got a job at the Court House.
In high school, I was pretty naive about schools. To be honest, I applied to Cornell University mainly because astronomer Carl Sagan taught there. I was a big fan of Cosmos, his science-themed TV series on PBS. After studying anthropology at Cornell, I went to UC Berkeley for my master’s degree in linguistics, and then to Stanford for a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology.
I am a Japan specialist. My grandfather, George Ito, came to Alaska from Japan.
Who has inspired you?
When I was a kid in Kotzebue, Father Gurr made me feel important. For three years, I was his altar boy, his sidekick. As a Jesuit priest, Father Gurr was humble and kind; I remember watching him pick up trash around town. He was also smart and educated; he had written and published a book. Knowing him broadened my world view. This was before we had TV.
Tell us about someone who has inspired you to work at NANA.
I always wanted to work for NANA. I grew up in Kotzebue in the 1970s, when NANA was just getting started. I admired our first presidents, John Schaeffer and Willie Hensley. I think Willie was the first Native man I ever saw wearing a suit and tie.
What has surprised you most about working at NANA?
NANA's growth over the past 20 years came as a big surprise. In 1991, I went to Japan, where I was in a different world—about as far away from Alaska as anyone could get. This was before internet and Facebook and Skype. When I came back, the size and growth and possibility of NANA astounded me.
What is the best thing that has happened since you started working with NANA?
For me, the best thing about NANA is how I’m connected to my community and my people.
What are important lessons that you have learned?
NANA's success is the result of sacrifice. I admire Helvi Sandvik and (retired NANA President/CEO) Marie Greene, because I’ve seen their devotion to NANA. The time they’ve spent away from their families, in service to NANA, is time that they’ll never get back. There are so many people who have dedicated themselves to NANA, and it is humbling to be a part of this tradition.
What do you like best about your job?
NANA’s success has real, physical consequences for people I care about. That’s something that was missing for me in the academic world. Most of my studies were about things I was curious about, but my efforts did not change or help others. I want my work to matter.
What are your strongest beliefs about what you do?
I am one of 14,000 shareholders. The work we do ultimately does benefit our shareholders. That’s the only message. It’s very clear.
What advice do you have for young shareholders?
If you want to accomplish anything—see the world, or make a million dollars—it all starts with a good education. For me, there’s been no better investment, in time or money, than my college education.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I have a black belt in karate.
What do you want people to know about NANA?
In a typical public company, the hierarchy is employees first, then clients and, finally, shareholders. We prioritize differently, because we're different.
Where do you hope to be in five years?
I hope to still be here at NANA, with more complex and satisfying challenges and opportunities to serve the NANA region.
What’s your vision of NANA in 10 or 20 years?
Continuous growth, both financially (revenues and profits) and in terms of maturity (benefits, career development, mission fulfilment). NANA is an amazing tool that will continue to help us transform our region and ourselves.
What are you most grateful for?
To be loved and cared for at home makes me strong enough to take on whatever is thrown my way.
Kutraluk Bolton was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.