Junior Achievement special section
JA Q&A with Rex A. Rock Sr.
Providing for My People

ex A. Rock Sr.—president and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC)—knew from a young age that he wanted to support and build his community and has taken on many roles in his personal and professional lives to that end. Below, Rock shares a few of his experiences in the business community and some insights on how we can prepare the youth of today for the world they’ll work in.

Alaska Business: How did you get your start?

Rex A. Rock Sr.: Interestingly, even as a very young man I knew I wanted to serve my community at some capacity. I remember being in grade school and telling my friends that what I wanted to do when I grew up is be the president and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.

Rex A. Rock Sr.
Junior Achievement of Alaska
Later in life I had a relative, John C. Oktollik Sr., who thankfully saw my potential as a leader in my hometown of Tikiġaq and collected the necessary signatures for me to run for a seat on the ASRC board of directors. I was a bit reluctant to do it (because I would have to run against other family members), but they gave their consent and convinced me to run. I’m very grateful they did.

When I started on the ASRC board in the early ‘90s (1993), I was one of the youngest members and had to quickly learn about a large corporate structure and way of business. It was very intimidating at the time, but I learned so much from the other board members at the time—people like Joe Upicksoun, Eddie Hopson, and even Jacob Anaġi Adams Sr. and Oliver Leavitt.

AB: Where did you grow up?

Rock: I was born in North Pole, but grew up in the Iñupiaq community of Tikiġaq, or Point Hope, the longest inhabited community in North America. I still live in my community today and have raised my four kids here.

AB: What were your parents like, and what was your family life and upbringing like?

Rock: I was raised by my grandparents, Allen and Frances Rock. My grandfather (who I always considered to be my father) passed away when I was around 11 years old, and I spent a considerable amount of time helping my grandmother at the family lodge/coffee shop, which she operated in town. I grew up understanding the importance of Iñupiat values—helping others, working hard, and having respect for our elders.

Whaling is a part of our culture and the center of our community. I grew up with so much respect for whaling captains and those that provided for our people, and I’m proud to have been able to continue the legacy by eventually becoming a whaling captain myself and providing for the members of my village.

I’ve served in many capacities in my hometown, to include whaling captain and head coach for the Tikiġaq High School boys’ varsity basketball team—which I held for more than twenty years. During that time, we were fortunate enough to win four state championships. In 2015, I was honored by being inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.

AB: What opportunities led to the early success of your business?

Rock: ASRC signed oil and gas exploration leases with several industry leaders in the ‘70s and ‘80s, which provided the start-up capital for many of our subsidiaries. We created Eskimos, Inc. and Tundra Tours, which eventually built the Top of the World Hotel. Our goal in creating these businesses was to provide jobs and services to our Iñupiat shareholders.

The strength of ASRC is the long-term vision of our board of directors and our commitment to finding the best people. Now, nearly fifty years after incorporation, ASRC has grown into the largest locally-owned and -operated company in Alaska (a title we’ve held for twenty-six consecutive years), and that success has not been by accident. It’s been a team effort the entire time.

AB: Do you believe there is value in educating young people about free enterprise? If so, why?

Rock: Certainly yes—I think it’s important to instill the values of hard work, of preparing for success and of taking responsibility for yourself. We are not entitled to anything; we create our own opportunities and this generation has to understand that.

As I’ve said to others—the best experience for learning to run a major corporation is to start by running your village store. You’ll learn a lot about customer service, tending to the books, and solving problems. I found it invaluable!

AB: What can schools and parents do to ensure that young people don’t encounter financial pitfalls?

Rock: I strongly believe basic economics should be taught to students at a young age—things like balancing a checkbook, paying bills, and prioritizing spending.

AB: What can the business community offer to young people?

Rock: The corporate community should be involved in the schools to explain what opportunities are out there—and to explain what roadmap they would follow to get there. ASRC can play a role in that, and this education should start at a very young age.

In my region, a robust oil and gas industry is vital to our future. Taxes from this industry provide infrastructure, our local government, and even services like search and rescue. We have to better explain this to the next generation. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to a time before when we had no running water, flush toilets, or reliable heat. It will take a viable oil and gas industry in order for us to protect our future.

AB: Did you have a role model growing up? Do you think young people benefit from role models?

Rock: Certainly my grandparents Allen and Frances Rock were my role models growing up. I learned that it’s never about me, it’s about my community, and I’ve tried my best to always remember that. I also learned so much from my fellow board members and former North Slope leaders. Dr. Jake Adams Sr. was also one of my role models: I saw what he did for his people and I hope I can continue that legacy.

Young people today also need role models, those who can show them a path to success if they work hard and keep their eye on their goals.

AB: What can we do to prepare young people to succeed in a global economy?

Rock: Again, education is the key. That’s why ASRC set up the Arctic Education Foundation, as a way to create the next generation of Iñupiat leaders.

AB: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Rock: Through coaching, I’ve had the opportunity to teach my players some life lessons, and I’m humbled when I hear back from a player who is doing well and I know I somehow made a difference in their life.

In the workplace, the benefits ASRC provides make a real, significant difference in our communities—and these benefits are our highest priority.

AB: What do you hope for your own future and/or the future of Alaska?

Rock: For Alaska’s future, I’d like to see our economy be able to stabilize. I’m encouraged by the news that we’ll see resumed development in our region later this year. We still have enormous potential here, but it will take leaders who can make the tough decisions, sometimes unpopular long-term decisions, to turn that potential into reality.

Also, of course, I also pray that we can all come out of this COVID-19 pandemic as safely and as quickly as possible.

AB: What do you want your legacy to be?

Rock: I’ve never really thought about my “legacy,” but I do hope to be remembered as someone who always wanted to provide for his people, now and long into the future. I work with that goal in mind—creating opportunities for the Iñupiaq community—every day.