Q & A with Shareholder Employees

A Conversation with Robin Kornfield, President of Piksik

This is part of a series of interviews with our shareholder employees.

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Robin Kornfield is president of Piksik, a film and television support services company owned by NANA Development Corporation. (Photo by Brian Adams, a NANA shareholder.)

 

What is your Iñupiaq name?

Taapsuuk. I was named after Effie Atoruk.

What is your job?

As president of Piksik, I’m responsible for turning it into a media company that serves a global audience. I have a creative role helping develop ideas for our programs, but my main responsibility is to pull together a great team that can build the company. 

What does Piksik do?

Piksik is a film production company that was formed in 2012. We produce our own films and we support other creators of advertising, television and film. We work with agencies who come up to Alaska to film national ad campaigns for brands like Carhartt, Samsung, and Volkswagen. We seek cast members and provide training. More than 200 NANA shareholder are in our casting data base. We scout locations (often mountains with snow and ice), assemble crews, and secure equipment (anything from snow machines to hydraulic lifts). One of our jobs was getting a cast and 40-person crew on Knik Glacier for a few days of shooting. We have to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. It requires planning and specialized skills. piksik.com

Tell us about the name, Piksik.

Piksik is an Iñupiaq word that means to jump up, rebound, and respond quickly. We named the company Piksik because of the need, in the film business, to be resourceful, to quickly adapt when a producer has a new idea, and to make the best use of time and money.

How many years have you been with NANA?

I was first hired in 1997 to create a communications department for NANA—both Regional and Development Corporations. Maude Blair worked with me and, later, Dawn Kimberlin, along with a freelance crew of writers and designers. We produced the marketing and communications materials for NANA—from the Hunter and Drumbeat newsletters, to the annual report, presentations, events, and business correspondence. In 2008, I came back as the vice president of marketing and communications for NANA Development Corporation. I began working for Piksik full-time in 2014.

Where did you grow up?

My family is from Kiana. My parents were Ruth and Peter Sandvik. Since the mid-1930s, my mother’s side of the family owned Blankenship Trading Post in Kiana. I grew up in an unusual lifestyle. We traveled back and forth between Kiana to wherever my father’s job (as a geologist) took him. I went to school in California and Illinois. Outside Alaska, we participated in urban activities, like riding the bus to school, taking violin and piano lessons, and visiting museums. In Kiana, we played on the beach, fished, picked berries, drove our boat up and down the Kobuk, met the mail plane, and worked in our store.

What was your first job?

In March, the merchandise was ordered for our store, and in July the order was delivered by ship to Kotzebue. Rob Blankenship, my mother’s cousin and business partner, traveled by tugboat from Kiana to pick up the goods. The trip on the Kobuk River took a week and a half, round-trip. When I was five, I got to go along for the first time. My job was to heat canned beans for Rob and Walter Morris, our crew member from Noorvik. I took my job pretty seriously.

When I was in junior high, we had a lodge about a mile downriver from Kiana. At first, our clients were fishermen, and then we took care of geological crews exploring for oil. My sister Kara and I woke up at 5 AM to cook, clean, haul water, and pack lunches for the crews. We got one paycheck at the end of the summer, which probably worked out to about ten cents an hour.

Where did you study or train?

I graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. I grew up in business, so I intentionally didn’t study it until later. Instead, I studied music. I loved to sing, and wanted to do that as well as I could. Performing has helped me in business, because I learned the importance of preparation and practice, and how to stand up in front of an audience. I sang in multiple languages and, like an athlete, I had to work on breathing and endurance. Much later, I went back to school to earn a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Who has inspired you?

I mentioned Rob Blankenship, who knew everything about everything and taught us how to navigate the Kobuk River. Also, I admired Esther Curtis who was a single, working mother in Kiana. She did a great job of raising her five kids. And, she always seemed happy to see me. She spent time with me—talking, visiting, and teaching me how to sew mukluks. I gave my daughter Esther’s Iñupiaq name, Paniaq.

Who has influenced you in business?

My mother was my biggest influence. My siblings and I were her workforce, and she expected competent, good, on-time service. I learned that when you cook a meal, it’s not enough just to get it done; it has to be well-prepared, attractive, and served hot. Those skills apply to just about everything I do in business.

What has interested you most about working at NANA?

I’ve watched how the NANA board makes decisions, and I see what an impact they have on running our corporation. They are very articulate when presenting their thoughts. Their decision-making is based on consensus, for the benefit of all.

What are important lessons that you have learned?

I’ve learned there is no one perfect path, but we do need to be together, on whatever path we choose. If we make a wrong move, we can turn a corner and make another decision. If we hit a sandbar, we must get out, reposition the boat, and move on.

What advice do you have for young shareholders?

Be someone who says “Yes.” I really believe in being of service. Learn a skill. It’s easier to contribute to your community when you have a skill to share. Get the highest level of education or training that you can. Take advantage of the internships, training opportunities, and scholarships that NANA and the Aqqaluk Trust offer. NANA has many job openings, but NANA isn’t the only choice. The world also needs educators, artists, the military, medical professionals, and more.  Find what you want to contribute, as a human, and then do it.

What do you want people to know about NANA?

NANA is big. More than 50 companies are owned by NANA Development Corporation. We lead the way in employing our own shareholders. NANA has opportunities—from accounting, engineering and computers, to film production, truck driving and food service. These jobs are available in all 50 states. When I first started working at NANA, there was just a fraction of what we have now. Let’s not forget how far we have come.

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

In 2011, Lars Flora, an Olympian in cross country skiing, offered to bring champion skiers like himself to the NANA region to teach our children to ski. Since then, Lars and I—with the support of NANA, Teck, Bering Air, the schools, and many others—work together to bring coaches and equipment to our villages every year. Today, all the kids in the NANA region can ski, and the program has expanded to the Calista, Bering Straits, and Arctic Slope regions. Across Alaska, five thousand new skiers are out enjoying the country. I love to see kids on skis, and I am so appreciative of NANA’s support. nananordic.com

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Robin Kornfield was interviewed by Carol Richards, Director of Brand Communications for NANA Development Corporation.