Junior Achievement
2023 Alaska Business Hall of Fame Laureates
By Tasha Anderson

he Alaska Business Hall of Fame honors Alaskans who have made ongoing, significant contributions to the Alaska business community. They have established strong relationships within that community, donated their time and expertise to nonprofit and charitable causes, and built up the Alaska economy through their dedication, innovation, and leadership. The path that each laureate takes is highly varied, but they all start with a first job.

Below, we get to know the 2023 Alaska Business Hall of Fame laureates a little better, starting with their origin stories. To learn more about the laureates, the induction ceremony is being held January 19. Visit Alaska.ja.org for more details.

Greg Romack headshot
Greg Romack, Davis Constructors & Engineers
Greg Romack’s introduction to earning money was a common one: delivering morning newspapers. “My parents came out of World War II,” he explains, “so there wasn’t a lot of extra money. They were generous, but they just didn’t have anything to be generous with. So if I wanted a new bike or something, I would have to earn it, so that motivated me.”

Romack grew up in a farm community in Idaho and attended college there. “The day after I graduated from college, three of us, we got into a car and drove to Alaska,” he recalls. “The phrase I use, and I’ve used this quite a lot, is: I wasn’t born here, but I got here as soon as I could.”

Romack and his friends planned to fight fires in Alaska. Unfortunately for their plans (but fortunately for local communities) it was a wet summer and there were no fires to fight. “So we stayed in town and, out of all things, the three of us bought a car wash,” Romack says.

The car wash was on the site where the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa now sits and was called the Splash & Dash. “Regular people would drive through for their car wash, but we also had some clients who were [auto] dealers. If someone bought a car, they sent it somewhere to get it all cleaned up, so we had both the retail and commercial side.”

Romack says he knew from a young age that he was an entrepreneur and had a mind for business. He was initially hired by Jeff Davis, Davis Constructors & Engineers’ namesake, and he “knew right away that I liked everything about contracting. You make a bid, you get the work, you do the work, and you get paid for the work—it just fit really nicely for me.”

He attributes his and the company’s success in part to ethical and honest client relationships. He gives the example of the recently completed Aloft Anchorage Hotel at 36th Avenue and C Street. “We started the hotel just before the pandemic, and then tourism dropped off and was non-existent. We started on the job site and needed to decide where to stop it. The conversation was: should we stop with the deep utilities in and then just complete the site work, or should we put the foundation in and freeze the foundation in? I remember telling them that, if it was my money, I wouldn’t put the foundation in,” Romack recalls. “It was so uncertain at those times that, as much as I would love to have done the job—and I ended up doing it—at the time I just didn’t think it was appropriate for them to spend their money when there was no occupancy of the hotel. We certainly could have used the work, but it just didn’t seem appropriate.”

Jeanine St. John headshot
Jeanine St. John, Lynden Logistics
“I have to think about my first job, because I wouldn’t go back to babysitting or something like that,” says Jeanine St. John. “My very first job where I actually paid taxes was working for the Internal Revenue Service,” she recalls with a laugh.

She believes she was about 15 years old, because she was able to work but unable to drive herself there and relied on her dad for rides. “I did learn a lot about how I didn’t want to work for the government,” she says. “But it was a great experience working. All my jobs have been great experiences.”

From working for the government, she moved into customer service, selling smoked meats and ice cream. There, she realized, “’Huh, I don’t think I want to be in the front-line of the customer interaction.’ So every job I’ve learned something new.”

It was after that job that she moved to Alaska and found her career.

“I went to a job center, and the job center back then would give you a typing test and other different tests and things to see what you had available in your skillset.” After the testing, the job center contacted St. John to see if she’d be willing to interview at Sohio, which became part of BP in the late ’70s. “I knew nothing about the oil industry,” she recalls. “It turned out I got a job at Sohio in the old C Street building which is now Northrim Bank’s headquarters.”

The next day the job center called to see if St. John would interview with the Anchorage Mayor’s office, but she had already accepted the Sohio job. “Who knows, I could have ended up being in the political spectrum as opposed to working for an oil industry company,” she speculates.

It was after working at BP that St. John accepted a position at Lynden. “I went from a big, multinational company to a family-owned private company, and I learned completely different skills. You are much closer to the actual business side of business when you’re in a smaller private company in Alaska—and that was Lynden. And they were a fabulous family; they are a fabulous company … I miss them so much because I’m retired now, but I still see them, and they’re my friends and my family.”

For St. John, work has always been a rewarding experience, and her advice to young people is to find their own path to that same outcome. “I tell every young person—it doesn’t matter who it is—find what you like; find out what you’re good at. Make sure whatever you do, you love your job… If you don’t love your job, go find something else, because if you love your job you’re going to be honest, you’re going to be forthright, you’re going to enjoy going to work every day.”

Peter Grunwaldt headshot
Peter Grunwaldt and Tim Worthen, Premier Alaska Tours
Peter Grunwaldt and Tim Worthen are co-owners and co-CEOs of their “third-party tour company,” as Worthen describes it. Premier Alaska Tours arranges hotel rooms, buses, trains, and every other component of an Alaska tour for Lower 48 tour operators. The Lower 48 tourism brand is executed and operated by Alaskan experts with the mission to “provide the highest quality Alaska land tours for guests that come to our state,” Worthen says.

The unique company—and unique partnership—has been working for Grunwaldt and Worthen since 1995. At the time, both men were working for another tour company that decided to shut down its operations. The pair contacted all of that company’s tourism clients and asked, “Would you like to do tours with us now and our brand new company that we just started today?” Their clients all agreed, says Worthen, which was the catalyst that Premier Alaska Tours needed to launch.

Today the two CEOs run the company in equal partnership. This allows them to meet separately with clients as decision makers while leaning on their unique strengths and skills to move the company forward. “Tim and I have a different style, and we have partnered incredibly well together over the last almost thirty years,” Grunwaldt says. “He has a conservative style of, ‘We’re going to keep costs down; we’re going to watch the finances closely,’ and my style is more, ‘Gosh, I want to have really shiny wheels! I want to have a really nice building with all the bells and whistles.’”

Tim Worthen headshot
He continues, “We’ve had a really nice balance of ‘How do we make sure that this partnership is successful together?’ and it’s been great.”

What they share in equal measure is a love for Alaska, their employees, and the tourism industry.

“One of the passions I have in life now in my old age is that I love talking to young people who are working around the company and say, Where are you going? What are your desires in life? How can we move you through a job?” says Worthen. “Because you can be a mechanic on the train, you can drive a bus, you can rep at the airport when you’re young and getting started.”

Grunwaldt adds, “We’ve created an environment and a team in which we are really proud to be Alaskan, and we’re really proud to be not only an Alaskan company but to contribute to other Alaskan businesses: stay at local Alaskan hotels, buy products where we can for our food and beverage operation, only serve Alaska beers on our train… If we can continue down that line of contributing to local Alaskan businesses, helping our friends grow their successful businesses, and buying Alaskan artwork to hang in our rail cars… Tourism is going to continue to grow, and I look forward to more and more Alaskans being involved in it.”

Gail Schubert headshot
Gail Schubert, Bering Straits Native Corporation
Gail Schubert entered the workforce at the tender age of 6 or 7, participating in a youth corps program. She doesn’t remember how much she was paid or who exactly ran the program, but “it was thrilling to get a job,” she remembers. She and other young people did various jobs, such as operating floor polishers.

“I was really blessed along this road of life to be able to look at opportunities and really go from there,” Schubert says. “I’ve always worked and worked hard.”

Another job from her youth was working on a fish line, long before the process was mechanized. “My aunt would cut the heads off of the fish, and I always stood next to her. My job was to slit the belly, pull the guts out, then slit the blood line, and then pass the fish down. It was really dirty work,” she says, laughing.

Like many of her fellow laureates, Schubert learned at a young age that she would need to work for the things she wanted. “Coming from a really large family, and there wasn’t always steady work for my dad or mom. You really had to do what you could if you wanted things for yourself; you really had to work for it. That was something that really stuck with me.”

Schubert’s large family comprised nine children that reached adulthood; two of her siblings passed in infancy because of childhood diseases “that would otherwise be cured nowadays,” she says. Her role model was one of her sisters, Rose, who became a nurse. As time went on, she decided to pursue medicine as a doctor. Schubert was the third sister to attend Stanford University, and by the time she graduated her attention had shifted to business. She attended Cornell University for business school, followed that up with law school, and worked as a lawyer in New York City, “where I worked for eight years until I decided that I just had to have a life,” she says with a laugh. “So I moved back to Alaska in 1992.”

When she joined Bering Straits Native Corporation, it had annual revenue of approximately $10 million, and Schubert worked with a small staff out of a small office. As the company has grown to see revenues above $450 million annually, Schubert says it has continually focused on hiring and training young people. “I think we have a moral obligation to do that,” she explains.

Schubert is inspired by young people today who know how to work hard and have an entrepreneurial spirit. “Sometimes when I’m watching TV, I see youth—and really young youth—that become successful to the point where they’re making a really great living. It just never ceases to amaze me how they look at something and decide, ‘There’s a void here,’ and decide to fill that void, and they see success from that.”