TOP 49ers Special Section | KONIAG


Values first and poised for growth

By Tasha Anderson

Koniag shareholders in traditional regalia.

© Josh Corbett | Koniag


his marks the fifth consecutive year of profitability for Koniag, a record of success that Senior Director of Shareholder Services Stacey Simmons attributes to the effort of Koniag’s Board of Directors and leadership team to work together to make informed decisions, weighing industry data and research with the input and opinions from the regional corporation’s shareholders.

“Koniag does a phenomenal job communicating with our shareholders, but we are always looking to do more,” Simmons says, an endeavor that she facilities through her role on a daily basis.

Born into Koniag

Simmons is a shareholder and the daughter of two of Koniag’s original shareholders; as a youth she spent time in Anchorage, Old Harbor, and Sitka, where her father was a commercial fisherman. While in Sitka she connected with an international leadership program called Up With People, through which she traveled across the United States and to international locations including Canada, Europe, Mexico, and Japan. “[The tour group] was about 150 people representing twenty-two different countries, and it was this great force of young voices from all over the world that came together… promoting peace and understanding.”

Like many who feel the subtle tug of the Last Frontier, while on the road she realized that she wanted to end up living on Kodiak Island. “When traveling I knew I wanted to come home,” she says. After returning to Alaska, she worked for the Kodiak Area Native Association and the Sun’aq Tribe before pursing an education with the aid of a scholarship from the Koniag Education Foundation, graduating from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a bachelor’s degree in rural development. Shortly thereafter her current position at Koniag became available. “I was so excited at the opportunity. I’ve been at Koniag for three years and this is definitely a role that I take a lot of pride in. I feel like this was a long journey that started at birth and came full-circle.”

As the senior director of shareholder services, the majority of Simmons’ daily work revolves around building, improving, and maintaining various lines of communication with Koniag’s shareholders. She organizes informational meetings for shareholders, attends shareholder committee meetings, organizes and attends events like holiday parties and picnics, oversees shareholder records, and coordinates community service projects within the region. On top of that, she manages Koniag’s social media presence, website, and newsletters. Essentially, Simmons ensures there’s a strong conduit of communication between Koniag’s leadership, shareholders, and communities as a whole. “Listening to shareholders is job number one for me.”

Sharing the Catch

An area of focus for Koniag is its effort to strengthen its connection to young shareholders and those who live outside of Alaska, making sure they know “they are a part of Koniag and that they’re important to all of us.” The company took concrete action earlier this year by distributing a survey to its shareholders. The survey asked shareholders about what potential benefits they’re interested in, what their priorities are, and how they view the corporation and the board: “The survey helped us get a sense of how they’re feeling about Koniag and what they want to see for the future,” Simmons says.

The survey ran from February to mid-April, and more than 40 percent of Koniag’s shareholders responded, which is an exceptional participation rate. “Everyone was excited to get their information and ideas to us,” she says, and Koniag’s leadership was eager to determine priorities and make decisions based on the feedback.

One result? Koniag will offer its first Elder distribution on November 1. “Our Elders have paved the way for us, and now we’re able to give back to them. We’re sharing the catch, and that’s exciting,” Simmons says. The inaugural benefit is $500, and the timing of the distribution is fortuitous, as it could be used for the holiday season, to supplement heating costs, to purchase much needed (and sometimes hard to come by) fresh produce or supplies, or, as one Elder communicated to Simmons, to cover car insurance for a year. “We announced [the distribution] at an Elder’s banquet… and they were just so thankful. It was very humbling, and I’ll be excited when those checks hit our Elders’ mailboxes.”

Another direct result of shareholder feedback is that Koniag is increasing the amount of money available for scholarships for youth to attend cultural camps and other programs from $500 to $750 per child per year. “We were also able to lower the age of eligibility so preschool students can participate,” Simmons explains. “This all centers around sharing the catch.”

Sharing the catch is actually one of Koniag’s six core values—the other five are “planning for the long term, honoring our heritage and our culture, embracing diversity, being open and honest, and having pride in our work.”

Honoring Heritage and Culture

For the last three years Simmons coordinated community service projects that directly speak to how Koniag honors its history and people. The first year’s project was in Larsen Bay, and included building and installing crosses, cleaning up grave sites, and inviting a priest to bless the cemetery site. The next year, in Old Harbor, volunteers went to the village’s culture camp, Nuniaq Camp, to clean up the site (including tearing down an old kitchen while preserving the wood) and build a portable smokehouse.

This year the service project was in the community of Port Lions and included picking up fallen crosses, building and installing new crosses, building flower boxes, and other maintenance at the cemetery. “Our board of directors and our leadership team went down… and we rolled up our sleeves and got in there and got dirty,” Simmons says.

To highlight the project and connect with the other regional corporations, the Koniag team initiated a lip sync challenge as part of the community project. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we were there for a great reason and we had a lot of fun connecting with the community. Maybe this will inspire other regional corporations to do something similar.”

A music video of the lip sync challenge is currently available through Koniag’s website and Facebook page, and Bristol Bay Native Corporation has already accepted the challenge.

Pride in One’s Work

Simmons says that while the leadership and employees at Koniag don’t take themselves too seriously, they do take their work seriously, demonstrating a deep drive to do good work on behalf of their shareholders and communities, through good times and bad, and in the midst of changes.

Koniag experienced a significant change last December when then-CEO Elizabeth Perry resigned to relocate to the Lower 48 to be closer to her family. Board Chairman Ron Unger stepped up as interim CEO and Shauna Hegna took on the role of president.

“With Shauna and Ron, we’ve obviously come out of that transition in a strong position,” Simmons says, referring to the company’s fifth year of profitability. “Shauna is phenomenal—she just makes things happen… She’s doing a great job, and it’s because of where her heart is. She loves our people and she has that passion and drive to get things going.” And Unger’s long history with Koniag has been an asset during and after the transition. “Ron has been our chairman for a number of years and has a deep working knowledge of everything that’s going on. They’re both very personable and work really hard for our corporation.”

Hegna and Unger’s pride and passion for their work has set the tone company-­wide. “At Koniag, we respect all people that work for our company or walk through our doors. We value productive employees, and happy employees are productive,” Simmons says. The corporation also focuses on giving employees opportunities for education and growth, both at work and in their personal lives.

Volunteers construct flower boxes for the graveyard in Port Lions, 2018.

Stacey Simmons | Koniag

“Koniag is great at encouraging employee passion,” she says. “When I came onboard I was teaching at a cultural camp, and I asked if it was something I could continue. They said ‘of course’ and really supported me.”

Simmons is currently the president of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce and the co-chair of Discover Kodiak, the island’s convention and visitor bureau. Through supporting employee efforts as well as pursuing its own community initiatives, “Koniag does a really good job of uniting for a purpose and working together to get the best outcome for our region and the state,” Simmons says.

Planning for the Long Term

And a significant way that Koniag contributes to the good of its community and the state as a whole is through contributions to the state’s economy, finding fiscal success as a corporation. “We have a diverse portfolio, and we look to grow our companies through acquisitions and partnerships,” Simmons states.

Specifically looking at growth in Alaska, Koniag recently acquired Glacier Services, Inc. This Anchorage-based company offers “support for data analytics, implementing and insuring process safety and cyber security, and development of custom software applications when commercially available options do not meet a client’s criteria.” Glacier Services’ range of offerings marry well with another Koniag subsidiary, Dowland-Bach Corporation, which “has set the standard in excellence for control systems, process modules, and stainless-steel fabrication,” according to the company.

Another exciting acquisition for Koniag has come in the form of a new team member. In August the longtime CEO for Koniag’s Government Services Sector retired, and Kevin Wideman joined the company in late August to take over the position. Wideman has more than thirty years of experience leading govern­ment contracting organizations and is “expected to play a critical role in [Koniag Government Services’] next phase of strategic growth.”

Simmons says, “Koniag is poised for continued growth to create more benefits for our shareholders, and we look forward to partnering with companies in Alaska or across the country that are profitable and that share in our values.”