Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Rachel McClanahan, President of NIQI, LLC

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

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Rachel McClanahan, a shareholder from Kotzebue, serves at the president of NIQI LLC, an Akima company owned by NANA Development Corporation.

 

What is your Iñupiaq name?

Kutuk. I was named by my grandmother­­­. I was always told it had no specific meaning, so as I got older I injected it with attributes because I couldn’t be described as one thing.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Kotzebue. My parents are Rebecca Towksjhea Harris and Paul Harris. My grandparents were Reuben and Ruth Towksjhea from ­­ Point Hope. Here’s a photo of my aana (grandmother) Ruth Towksjhea. The sod house my mother grew up in is on the left. When materials became available, a window was added. http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/2853/rec/2

My father came up to Kotzebue (and Nome) from Florida to work for the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs). 

What is your position?

I serve as the president of NIQI, an Akima company owned by NANA Development Corporation.

Tell us about NIQI.

The name NIQI came from the Iñupiaq word for our traditional foods, niqipiaq. In 2007, the NIQI brand was created within NANA Services, and then, in 2012, rolled out into its own company.

NIQI provides food products—and healthy options—to the U.S. military. An example is dairy products (cheese, yogurt and ice cream) for use in mess halls, overseas and in the states. It can make a difference to the service men and women, to get a taste of home. Especially a treat like ice cream! It’s more than food, it’s a reminder of home.

My customer is the prime vendor who buys our products and moves them for the government.  Our end user is the military, so interaction with them is invaluable. My husband, Shane, was a loadmaster in the Air Force. When he was in Afghanistan, I told him to try the cheese (that we supplied)! And to tell all his friends to eat all the cheese!

What are your main job responsibilities?

I wear all the hats: everything from marketing and business strategy, financials, and client relationships.

I get great support from Akima in all these areas to help me develop strategies into working models. I am blessed to be surrounded by great leadership in Akima. I reach out to them whenever I need an opinion or help in thinking out a solution.

How did you come to work at NANA?

In 2005, I was living in Washington state; my husband was stationed at McChord (Air Force Base). I was working at a desk job when I received a postcard inviting me to a job fair for shareholders. Before then, I didn’t know that there were NANA jobs Outside (anywhere outside Alaska, that is).

It took some persistence on my end. Eventually (in 2006), I was hired by NANA Services as an administrative assistant, and then promoted, a year later, to executive assistant. In late 2007, I started working with NIQI in 2008, since its launch, and I’ve been NIQI’s president since 2012.

Where did you study or train?

I was an education major at the University of South Florida. Although it might not seem related, every job I’ve ever had has involved teaching, including my current position. I find that teaching others to better understand all aspects of a job is rewarding. Eventually, I would love to teach a shareholder how to run NIQI. 

What was your first job?

My parents were part owners of the Dairy Queen in Kotzebue. An old newspaper story said, “Even when it’s so cold it gives you a headache, residents of this tiny community north of the Arctic Circle still line up for ice cream.”

I worked there when I was 14. In a way, I’m selling ice cream again! It always amazes me how God puts things in your life for a purpose. I needed that early training to prepare me for what I am doing today.

Who has inspired you?

My dad and mom have always inspired me. My parents have worked hard to create a life of their own. Thirty years ago, they started a citrus business in Florida, with no understanding of the industry, and today they have one of the largest citrus nurseries. The USDA comes to my parents to learn from them, and have them grow some of their products.

I am inspired by my husband, he gives humbly to so many. He served his country for 20+ years honorably. When he retired, he has integrated into the civilian world easily. He makes so many things look easy.  

I’m also amazed by my son, Gage. At the age of seven, he knew what he wanted to do. He hasn’t stopped. To see someone so young with an idea of where they’re going is impressive. He has a confidence that shows and he is so approachable.

Tell us about someone who has inspired you at NANA.

I’m grateful for the different role models I’ve had. The (former and current) board members always keep me motivated and grounded. In particular, Dood Lincoln, Henry Horner, Linda Lee, and Charlie Curtis were always willing to sit and talk with me about NANA and the vision of the board. They helped me to grow my understanding of NANA and the road we have traveled.

I have learned a lot from the other women in my parent company. Juvy McCarthy, the president of TKC Global Solutions, has set an example for me. She’s a real people person, very savvy, and she connects well with clients and shareholders alike.

What are important lessons that you have learned?

I’ve never let my title define me. How you carry yourself can reveal more than any title. When I was an administrative assistant, I worked just as hard and had as much pride in my work as I do now, as a company president.

Do what you can to fill the gaps where you are working, and help wherever you’re needed. Expand your knowledge and your responsibilities. Have the persistence to learn more and contribute more. Let your bosses know that you’re open to learning as much as you can. Whenever I’ve done that, opportunities have come to me.

Finally, be patient. I always say, God’s plan is often not our own, and it’s always true. Dream and hold that dream in your mind. Take steps toward it each day, and you will reach it, eventually.

What do you like best about your job?

What we do goes back to our shareholders. It’s what drives so many good people to work for us, and makes them value what they do, because they know they are making a difference. It also makes our clients feel good about doing business with us.

Being a shareholder, working at NANA, has made an impact. I’m able to say (to clients) that I was in the region when NANA was created and that I am one of the original shareholders.

What advice do you have for young shareholders?

Things take time. Focus on yourself and your own development—and not on your perceptions of others, which can be all-consuming and unproductive. Focus on your goals and where you want to be, learn, and ask questions. Focus on what you can control, and let go of all the rest.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I was once quiet and shy, but I’m not shy now! I still get emotional when I’m speaking about something very close to my heart. I have always felt I am truly living in two worlds, my father’s and my mother’s. Both have made me who I am.

What has surprised you most about working at NANA?

NANA wasn’t at all big, in my mind, when I was young. It wasn’t everywhere. It belonged to the NANA region. Now, we have companies around the world. NIQI’s products have even been served in Antarctica and Afghanistan!

What do you want people to know about NANA?

We apply technology in new ways. For example, on the North Slope, state-of-the-art ground surveillance is used to monitor polar bear activity. And we use radar for mapping. This advancement and adaptation is part of who we are. Our humility is our strength in creating solutions.

Our approach to problem solving is driven by a need. We’re not just status quo. 

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Rachel McClanahan was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.