Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Dawn Kimberlin, Director of Marketing & Communications, NMS

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


Dawn Kimberlin, the director of marketing and communications for NMS, is a NANA shareholder with family ties to Kotzebue.


What is your Iñupiaq name?

Mammiyauk, after my great-grandmother, Mamie Reich from Kotzebue.

What is your job? 

I’m the director of marketing for NMS. I manage a variety of projects, from creating recruiting material to signage, to achieve our company’s goals.

But the short answer (especially to people inside NMS) is, “I work with Penny.” (Penny Cotten, the VP of marketing and communications, has been with NMS since 1998.) It’s almost like in the NANA region when you say, I’m related to so-and-so. With Penny, you come with good stuff.

How many years have you been with NMS? 

Nearly six years.

Have you had other jobs within NANA?

My first NANA job was at WorkSafe (a drug-testing company that NANA sold five years ago). After that I worked in NANA communications.

I also worked at CIRI. Working for another Alaska Native corporation has rounded out my perspective. While at CIRI, I learned a lot about the southcentral area and the Dena’ina, the region’s original inhabitants. I met Aaron Leggett who was earning his degree in anthropology at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His grandmother was from Eklutna, where my grandfather went to BIA boarding school. Aaron is passionate about his Dena’ina culture and language.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Fairbanks—in the same year that my grandparents, Tom and Dorothy Richards, moved to Anchorage—in 1973. (They’re originally from Kotzebue.) Growing up, I split time between my mom, my grandparents, and my dad. When I started kindergarten, I lived full-time with my dad.

It must have been an adjustment for everyone, because I was a kid who knew her own mind. One time my stepmom made me a sandwich and I wouldn’t eat it because Gram used to cut the crusts off for me. I sat at the table for two hours. That was the big bread crust standoff of 1978.

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

The way Grandma and Grandpa talked about NANA, I knew it was important. However, I didn’t understand what being a shareholder meant until I was in high school. I knew it had to do with where we came from, but it’s more than that.

What was your first job?

When I was a kid, I ironed my dad’s shirts. He paid me per shirt, so I was making bank at nine years old. Allowance=chores. I also had to make dinner once a week, mainly casseroles.

After my freshman year of college, for four straight summers, I worked for Princess Tours. I was a customer service rep, which is like customer service boot camp. I was always in motion: meeting flights, greeting people, herding tourists, finding lost bags. I was a hostess on the Princess Rail, narrating tours—like Julie, the cruise director on The Love Boat. Our name tags were printed with Princess on top and our names at the bottom. I was Princess Dawn and one of my co-workers was Princess Brian.  One of our ships was named Dawn of the Seas, so the tourists would say, “Oh, they named the ship after you!”

What are important lessons that you have learned?

Working for Princess, on the frontlines, I learned how to deal with angry, frustrated customers. People just want to be listened to. Sometimes they just need to vent. One customer threatened to come back and give me malaria when his bag (and, more importantly, his prescription medicine inside the bag) was lost. His next destination was Papua New Guinea, where there was a high risk of malaria. All the clinics were closed, so a family doctor was called to get him the antimalarial medication he needed to take before, during, and after his trip.

Where did you study or train?

I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a master’s degree in business administration from Alaska Pacific University.

Who has inspired you at NANA?

Several years ago, I was contemplating going to grad school. Carolyn Smith told me I had a choice: “You can be here in two years with your MBA, or you can just be here in two years.” So, I went back to school, while working full-time at NANA. That was good advice. Thanks, Carolyn.

What do you like best about your job?

I like working with different people across the company—across divisions, all with different roles and responsibilities. It’s pretty amazing, the diversity we have at NMS. All kinds of people, from all different backgrounds and ethnicities, keep our company going.

People work really hard. When I see someone working hard next to me, I don’t want to slow down. All the oars are rowing the boat.

What are your strongest beliefs about what you do?

As a NANA shareholder-employee, I have a responsibility to do a really good job. I set high standards for myself, and I expect others to do the same. Nothing should ever be taken for granted.

What has surprised you most about working at NANA?

NANA’s growth, especially over the last 15 years, has surprised me. The goal to be a billion-dollar corporation was reached (and exceeded), but not without some growing pains.

What is the best thing that has happened since you started working with NANA?

I like the family atmosphere at NANA. We say we’re family, and that’s true. My favorite thing is that, literally, I get to work with family members. People say, “That’s your cousin, too?” Yup, another cousin. (Carol Richards, who’s interviewing me, is my aunt.)

What advice do you have for young shareholders?

When a good opportunity is presented to you, you should always say yes. It may be difficult, at first, and it may put you out of your comfort zone, but that’s how you’re going to grow.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane once, and only once. The prop wash (wind generated by the propeller) is like being under a helicopter. I’ll never do that again.

While in high school, I lived in Denmark for a year, as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. I became fluent in Danish.  I also learned how to be even more independent, how to handle homesickness and different situations, and interact with people.

Experiencing other places gives you a different perspective. It helps you appreciate being here.

What is the best news you’ve heard lately?

NMS’s new president (Matthew Daggett) is great news!

What do you want people to know about NANA?

I refer to our values all the time. That’s part of my responsibility. We follow our core values. We are reinforcing them in all we do. If you don’t follow them, you shouldn’t be here.

What is your vision of NANA in 10 or 20 years?

No matter how much technology progresses, we’ll always need people.


Dawn Kimberlin was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.