2020 top 49ers special section
How Gana-A’Yoo is creating
jobs and expanding services
By Tasha Anderson

his is the first year that Gana-A’Yoo has been ranked in the Alaska Business Top 49ers; the Alaska Native Village Corporation (ANC) jumped into the rankings with 2019 gross revenue of just under $62 million, which is more than double the gross revenue that Gana-A’Yoo earned in 2018. According to Gana-A’Yoo CEO Dena Sommer-Pedebone, this extraordinary one-year revenue increase was possible because of the corporation’s vision of focusing on long-term opportunities and building relationships. “What happened in 2018—as far as business development—didn’t necessarily set the groundwork for 2019; it was 2016 and 2017 and the work that was being done that transposed over time that got us to where we are today.”

Sommer-Pedebone says the corporation’s board of directors is “very forward-thinking” and has long placed an emphasis on long-term, sustainable growth. “Our board recognized several years ago that reliance on the natural resource revenues that many ANCs receive was not going to be sustainable, so while we have that resource, that’s not something that the company wants to rely on.”

Diverse and Expanding Lines of Business
Instead, most of Gana-A’Yoo’s operations are in federal government contracting, though within that particular business line it provides a range of services. “We started with camp and facility type work, and just in the last five years or so have started expanding into more construction and facility maintenance work,” Sommer-Pedebone says.
Today Gana-A’Yoo has several subsidiaries: Gana-A’Yoo Services Corporation, in operation for more than two decades, provides food, janitorial, and administrative services; Kaiyuh Services has more than twenty years of federal contracting experience in construction, renovation, and facility support services; Khotol Services Corporation focuses on project and construction management, facilities support, and job order contracting; Kaiyuh Information Technologies delivers professional services, logistics, and technology solutions to the federal government and industry clients; Yukon Management specializes in facilities management; and Six Mile, with services that include waste management, remediation, logistics, project management, remote management, and facility support.
Construction site from Gana-A'Yoo
Kaiyuh Services and Gana-A’Yoo Services Corporation were both highlighted in the Summer 2020 ’ (Gana-A’Yoo’s newsletter) for their ongoing dedication during the COVID-19 pandemic. These subsidiaries provide janitorial services at military facilities in Wisconsin and Illinois, respectively, and adapted quickly and efficiently to ensure the facilities they serve remained safe for Gana-A’Yoo employees and military personnel.
Yukon Management is one of Gana-A’Yoo’s growing subsidiaries and successfully executed two projects recently. “Yukon completed a complex of engineered retaining walls at a federally operated fish hatchery along the banks of the Mississippi. This project was self-performed by our own teams and provided a very good outcome for our customer,” Sommer-Pedebone reports. “Yukon also recently completed the movement of an older railcar used for training at a nearby US Army installation. The car needed to be lifted from its original position and transported via truck to its new location for repositioning. The car’s age and other nuances made this a unique situation, one that was carried out safely and flawlessly.” She continues to say that Yukon Management is positioning itself for a strong future in the facilities management industry and is looking forward to specific opportunities in that sector in the next twelve months.
man in front of McMurdo Station sign
Six Mile is Gana-A’Yoo’s newest subsidiary, acquired in 2019, in part because of the company’s expertise in the area of remote waste management. Six Mile is a subcontractor for Leidos, which provides station support services for the National Science Foundation’s three stations and additional field camps in Antarctica. Six Mile’s role in the Antarctic includes camp and food services, janitorial work, and some construction.

Sommer-Pedebone explains that the name Six Mile draws on Gana-A’Yoo’s history: “We’re a people that live on the river, so culturally that’s the reference we would use to describe a place maybe between the villages, ‘Oh, that’s Six Mile,’” she laughs.

‘Mission, Vision, and Values’
Not surprisingly, Gana-A’Yoo is guided today, as it has been since the beginning, by the cultural values of its people and region. The corporation represents four villages—Galena, Koyukuk, Nulato, and Kaltag—whose shareholders decided in 1978 to join together to form Gana-A’Yoo, which means “friends” or “friends together” translated from Koyukon Athabascan.

Sommer-Pedebone directly ties the corporation’s success in business to its mission, vision, and values.

The Gana-A’Yoo mission reads: “We are a unique company and people, Tleeyegge Hūt’aané [which means ‘the people of the land’], thriving for thousands of years by adapting to the environment.”

“This whole notion of adaptability and being able to adapt to changes in our industry, changes in our locations, changes in the staffing structure, changes to leadership—adaptability is something we’re very good at,” she says.

Shareholder and Gana-A’Yoo employee Gordon Reisland (second from the right) works at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.


Sommer-Pedebone continues to say that the board and leadership team rely on the corporation’s vision to help guide their decision-making: “We continually invest in our people to promote healthy communities as they thrive and prosper; we will make strategic decisions for future growth—targeted gross revenue, operating profit, and return on investment; we will be a global company in diverse markets with a balanced portfolio; we partner with companies that share our values and foster our tradition of excellence in service to our customer; [and] we continue to work and communicate guided by our values.”

Sommer-Pedebone describes those values by saying, “We are respectful of our land, culture, language, traditions, and one another; we are trustworthy, we are responsible, we are transparent, we are ethical.”

The company’s mission, vision, and values have allowed it to distribute regular shareholder dividends; support the Gana-A’Yoo Foundation, which provides scholarships to shareholders and their descendants who attend accredited colleges and universities or trade, technical, or vocational schools; and establish the Gana-A’Yoo Settlement Trust [approved by shareholders to be a ANCSA Settlement Trust in August], which will promote the health, education, and welfare of its beneficiaries. “Sustainability and economic preservation for our communities is always important,” she says.

Additionally, “In 2019 we were able to take advantage of the Alaska Education Tax Credit and we provided each of our four village schools with $25,000.” This is a substantial increase over contributions that Gana-A’Yoo has been able to make in the past. “It goes such a long way,” she says. “It’s such a feel-good to be able to do something like that.”

Compassion and Communication
Sommer-Pedebone, herself a Gana-A’Yoo descendent, has been the corporation’s CEO for about two years, though her journey to the job was in some ways atypical. “I wasn’t necessarily even looking for a position,” she says. “I’ve lived in Anchorage for the majority of my adult life, and so the opportunity to work for my own region, my own village—while staying here in Anchorage where I’m raising my family—was just too good to be true.”
But it was nearly the case that Sommer-Pedebone missed hearing about the position entirely. “I’ve always known that Gana-A’Yoo was my village corporation, but because I was a descendent and not a shareholder I wasn’t necessarily privy to shareholder letters and checking the website daily, so I didn’t know the job was going to be posted. It was just by coincidence I ran into some shareholders at a high school basketball game and they told me what was coming, and I thought to myself that was something I could do and kept an eye out for it.”
construction of a dock
Now that she’s in the role, what she enjoys most is that it’s a slightly different job every day. “I’m always learning; there’s always something new, whether it be the type of work that we’re doing or something that I’m learning about the history of the corporation and our shareholders,” she says. “There’s just always something new—it’s a learning environment.”

For Sommer-Pedebone, leadership is rooted in compassion. “Remembering that everybody has a story, and a history, and a background, and being cognizant of that when we make business decisions—and any type of decision—when it comes to employees and your team, they’re multifaceted individuals with many things going on.”

She also considers collaboration and communication as essential elements in strong leadership. “You have to be collaborative with your team and have those crucial conversations. At the end of the day, we’re all in it for the 1,288 shareholders and descendants that we’re serving,” she says. “I’ve always been very communicative, but, especially now in the last six months, increasing that communication and making sure that others know they can reach out to me has been huge.”

Essential Employees
Gana-A’Yoo is quite geographically diverse, with subsidiaries, projects, and employees in Alaska and far beyond. While this diversity provides stability for the Native corporation, it’s also one of its obstacles, Sommer-Pedebone says. “Getting the whole team together for strategy or annual planning has been the biggest challenge for me.” With COVID-19 that challenge has only been exacerbated. “This has now been the longest amount of time between visits that we’ve had… we’re making it work remotely, but sometimes it’s just that face-to-face collaboration that I think everybody needs every once in a while.”
Crane lifting
Gana-A’Yoo has 250 employees working around the world “from Antarctica to Alaska,” Sommer-Pedebone says. Before and throughout COVID-19, she credits the company’s excellent managers and HR teams with building and keeping open lines of communication between employees and corporation leadership.

“We’ve implemented things like daily huddles and have used technology to its fullest to make sure that we’re connecting with everybody.” More than just making sure everyone is on the same business page, she says it’s also important to the corporation that employees can see and identify with its core values.

Shareholder and Gana-A’Yoo employee Gordon Reisland (second from the right) works at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.


“We recently hired an accounting and finance manager; we didn’t offer her as much as another potential employer, but she chose us,” Sommer-Pedebone says. “And I think that speaks volumes to creating a workplace that employees are comfortable being in and want to come to work.”

That happens from the top down through a collaborative, open-door approach, she explains. “I know it sounds cliché, but anyone really can approach the CEO or our VPs. We’ve just really emphasized a culture of communication and transparency where employees feel like they have a voice.”

To build and maintain communication with employees across the company as the COVID-19 pandemic has developed, Sommer-Pedebone took it upon herself to launch her “CEO Chronicles.” They’re routine updates in which she writes “things for employees to think about, whether it be ‘Has your household started a new tradition during this hunker-down phase?’ or ‘This is a story about my life.’” In a recent CEO Chronicle communication, she asked employees to think about “What is your purpose?” or “What is your why?”

“I was so impressed to see how for many employees, their why—why Gana-A’Yoo—was because they appreciated our values and those are values that they hold very similarly themselves,” she reports.

Next Steps
According to Sommer-Pedebone, Gana-A’Yoo is currently working to build up its internal infrastructure to better support its expanding operations. “Support services—meaning accounting, compliance, and human resources—are typically two to three years behind your operations as far as what resources are needed,” she says. While it may be typical for many corporations, it’s not ideal, and “having fewer people [than needed] several years ago was a huge challenge, and still is.”

To that end, she says Gana-A’Yoo is currently working on its behind-the-scenes process to strengthen those internal departments. “One of the highlights of 2019 and 2020 is that our board gave us the go-ahead to really look at building the infrastructure we need to be supportive [of our own operations] and have sustainable long-term growth. Recognizing that building human capital, or bringing in the resources that we need, definitely increases your G&A [general and administrative expenses] and things like that, the board has still allowed us to do that,” Sommer-Pedebone says.

Thus far the company’s business development team has grown from one person to three; Gana-A’Yoo has hired four new project managers; one of the corporation’s general managers now has the support of an assistant general manager; and the accounting department, in the last few months, has added four positions. “It’s definitely been a lot of change.”

While many of those jobs are in Anchorage at the ANC’s headquarters, many are Outside, as “we’ve recognized the need to put accounting people in different locations,” she says.

Looking forward, Sommer-Pedebone is optimistic for Gana-A’Yoo and the state in general, despite the current difficult economic environment. “Our state has so much opportunity,” Sommer-Pedebone says. “As a state we must continually invest in our people and communities to make sure that we are successful and will thrive and prosper.”