Fred Elvsaas is the general manager of NANA Construction.
Where did you grow up?
Seldovia. It used to be the old Homer. That was until the earthquake, when the whole town sank. That was before my time .
My mom, sister, brother, aunts and uncles still live there.
Tell us about your family.
I’m named after my dad, Fred S. My grandfather was Fred H., and we named one of my sons Fred H. So, there were four Freds in our family. It worked out to be a real George Foreman situation. [George Foreman, the professional boxer, named each of five sons George Foreman.]
My grandfather was quite the guy. He was a big deal in Seldovia. He started our village corporation and served on the CIRI board of directors. He was our equivalent of NANA’s Willie Hensley.
What was your first job?
I worked for my grandpa. He was a commercial fisherman with three big crab boats and tenders. [Tenders are the vessels that meet the fishing boats and transport the yield to the processing plant.]
We were on the boats all summer, from May until school started in the fall. There was no time to get into trouble. There was always something to do, from rebuilding motors to rigging. Out on the water, you had to figure out a way to fix things.
Who has inspired you?
A lot of people. My biggest inspiration will always be my grandfather. When he talked, the entire room listened.
He came from humble beginnings. He shares that with other leaders from Seldovia. It’s neat to see people who grew up in a village of 300 people on the news or read about their accomplishments in the paper. Carl Marrs [retired CIRI president] used to fish at my family’s fish camp. Our health aide was Katherine Gottlieb and now she heads up Southcentral Foundation, where she turned the focus to the clients, which is something we also do at NANA Construction.
What was your first job at NANA Construction?
I started out as an estimator, became a project manager and then the general manager. I became Mr. Fixit and absorbed more responsibility. I was happy to take the opportunity and to run with it. For 10 years straight, before coming to NANA, I was on the Slope, so I’m used to remote work situations.
What do you like best about working at NANA?
Working for a Native corporation was important for me. I like the culture and support you get working for a Native-owned business. I relate to NANA’s core values. [Fred serves on the board of his village corporation.]
NANA Construction participates in the BWISE program. [BWISE stands for “businesses working in school environments.” The program is a partnership between schools in the NANA region and our companies.] Our assigned community is Deering. It’s super neat going out to the villages. A hiring manager and I have been able to attend some of the informal meetings, so we get to meet shareholders and the SRCs face-to-face. [NANA’s shareholder resource coordinators, SRCs, work in every community in the region.]
We train shareholders and tap local resources. The best employee I ever had was a NANA shareholder, Peggy [Karmun] Spindler. She was a one-woman wrecking ball. [Peggy worked for various NANA companies throughout her life. She passed away in 2016.]
What’s going on now at NANA Construction?
We’ve become a major force (for NANA) in the construction industry. We’ve completed the expansion of the Big Lake fabrication bay and process modules for ConocoPhillips. We’ve wrapped up the new shop in Prudhoe Bay, BP’s GC2 (Gathering Center 2 facility) blast-resistant modules and Red Dog Mine’s industrial camps.
The Norwegian Rat Saloon was a project on our job list that we didn’t think was real. You see “The Rat” on TV’s “Deadliest Catch.” [NANA Construction built the modules and shipped them to the remote island on the Bering Sea.]
What important lessons have you learned?
I’ve had to learn when to talk and when to listen. You always meet those people who have an answer for everything. I don’t want to be one of those guys. I want to keep learning, to learn something from everything and from everyone.
What advice do you have?
Keep a positive attitude. Work hard. Things change from day to day, so you have to be nimble.