Fueling Alaska

Alaska couple forges separate careers under Saltchuk umbrella

This article was originally published on People of Saltchuk on June 11, 2018

Delta Western Safety Director Leon Dwiggins and Carlile Senior Project Manager Christen Van Treeck are always ready for the next adventure.

By Hilary Reeves

Leon Dwiggins and Christen Van Treeck could have been high school sweethearts.

Delta Western Safety Director Leon Dwiggins and Carlile Senior Project Manager Christen Van Treeck are always ready for the next adventure

“We actually met right out of high school,” Dwiggins explained, “and I knew she was the one. We dated for about eight years before we got married. We’ve been together 24 years, married for almost 16.”

Both Dwiggins, Safety Director at Delta Western/NorthStar Energy, and Van Treeck, Senior Project Manager at Carlile Transportation, attended Dimond High School in Anchorage after moving to Alaska as children. Dwiggins was born in San Diego, but was quickly whisked back to his parents’ home state. Van Treeck was born in South Dakota, but spent much of her early childhood in Missouri.

“We lived in Missouri until 1985 when my dad accepted a job in Alaska running Matanuska Maid Dairy – one of Carlile’s first customers,” said Van Treeck. “When people ask me about my childhood, I always tell them that I came from the ultimate “Beaver Cleaver” family: mom, dad, brother, and cat. My parents have been married for 46 years, and my dad still calls my mom his ‘bride.’”

Prior to graduating high school, Van Treeck began searching for a summer job.

“My brother was already working at Carlile, so I mailed my resume to Harry McDonald. I started at Carlile a week before my high school graduation, and I worked full-time while putting myself through college at the University of Alaska Anchorage.”

Van Treeck eventually graduated with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Global Logistics Management. But growing up, her dream was to own a Chevrolet dealership.

Carlile Senior Project Manager Christen Van Treeck

“I’ve always loved cars from a young age,” she said. “My friends in high school always laughed at me because my favorite pastime was washing and waxing my car.”

Meanwhile, sports were Dwiggins passion growing up. He held state records in track and football.

“I learned at a young age that I needed to work hard to get the things I wanted out of life,” he said.

Dwiggins spent much of his childhood outdoors, “snow-machining,” teaching children to ski as a high school ski instructor, and fishing at his grandparents’ cabin in Kenai. He grew up wanting to be a teacher and a coach.

“I have three adopted younger brothers, so a lot of my teenage years were spent taking care of them while my parents worked.”

“Safety doesn’t have a ‘typical’ day”

Delta Western Safety Director Leon Dwiggins

After high school, Dwiggins worked road construction in the summer and at VECO (now Jacobs) in the winter. He said his early years working as a laborer led to a passion for safety.

“I personally experienced some very unsafe situations at other companies I’d worked for, and I decided that if I could be in a safety role, I could be proactive and prevent coworkers from having injuries or incidents,” he explained.

One of his greatest challenges, he said, is the fact that if someone gets hurt on the job in a remote location, he can’t always be there.

“Safety doesn’t have a ‘typical’ day,” he said. “We work through daily challenges on a variety of different issues ranging from hazard recognition, near misses, employee concerns and suggestions, to special projects. Dealing with Alaska’s increment weather conditions is always a challenge.”

Van Treeck has spent the past 23 years in the transportation industry.

“When I started working at Carlile just before I graduated high school, we were a small office building on Ship Avenue, and I was a file clerk.”

She transitioned to billing clerk, then billing supervisor while in college. After graduation, she said she wasn’t sure what she was going to do with her degree.

“As luck should have it, about six months after I graduated, Carlile was awarded an all-encompassing transportation and logistics contract that required a single point of contact to manage the customers’ day-to-day logistical needs; at that time, I was promoted to Senior Logistics Manager. That role, and the Alaska Logistics department, gradually grew over time.”

Van Treeck’s greatest challenge in her new role was earning the respect of the company’s Prudhoe Bay customers.

“I remember the first time I had to call a field manager and report that we couldn’t find a valve,” she said. “I told the customer they’d have to file a claim and reorder – only to be angrily told that the specialized valve had a 12 week lead time, and that they had to shut down in two weeks so, ‘figure it out!’ We found the valve and delivered it just in time, but that first year for me was a tough one. I learned a lot, and as I gained the respect of those customers, the barriers came down and they knew they could count on me to do what I said I was going to do.”

In her current role, Van Treeck is working on a project that allows the company’s dispatchers to send load offers to drivers digitally.

“This allows our drivers to have their dispatches at their fingertips, reducing phone interaction an offering real-time information flow.”

Fostering strong relationships

Working for companies under the same corporate umbrella, Dwiggins and Van Treeck often cross paths – most often at industry events, according to Van Treeck.

“Anytime Leon has the opportunity to refer someone to Carlile, he does, and tells them to ‘call Christen Van Treeck – she’ll take care of you.’ He’s a pretty good unpaid salesman for Carlile,” she laughed.

And for Delta Western.

“Delta Western is one of the premier fuel and lubrication companies in Alaska,” he said. “We work long hours in very adverse conditions. We work safely in remote, isolated locations, and we have a culture built around safety, supported and backed up by the fact that we are one of Saltchuk’s safest performers according to safety statistics. This accomplishment by our team brings me much pride, and that’s what I’d like the public to know about our company.”

“Live life to the fullest”

Escaping the Alaska winters in their favorite travel destination, Hawaii

In terms of his personal journey, Dwiggins said he wishes he would’ve learned sooner to channel his passion.

“I give 110 percent to everything I do,” he explained, “whether it’s personal or professional. I’ve had to learn how to channel those passions so I don’t come off as ‘in your face’ or ‘aggressive.’ It’s been a process, but over the years I’ve been able to communicate better by changing my delivery, and listening more thoroughly. I’m much more open and understanding of the needs of others.”

Van Treeck is most proud of the fact that she’s always stood by her personal and professional morals and ethics.

“Early on in my career, I learned quickly that being open and honest is key when building and sustaining relationships with customers,” she said. “Delivering bad news isn’t easy, but if you’re honest with your customers and provide solutions when problems arise, that’s paramount in fostering strong relationships.”

Like Van Treeck at Carlile, Dwiggins hopes to continue his career at Delta Western.

“I take a lot of pride in and am passionate about what I do, and I want to become the Vice President of Safety for Delta Western/NorthStar Energy.”

The couple enjoys traveling – their favorite vacation spot is Hawaii – and working at home in Anchorage (Dwiggins, on the “greenest yard in the neighborhood,” and Van Treeck, washing and waxing cars in the garage), and hours north of Anchorage at their cabin, accessible only by snowmachine in the winter and four-wheeler in the summer.

“We built the cabin from the ground up with the help of some great friends,” she said. “It’s been a labor of love and a lot of hard work; when you don’t have road access, everything becomes a logistical challenge. The cabin offers us a place to go and disconnect, and just get back to the basics. It’s a pretty humbling experience to live and work in such a beautiful place. I always say people pay thousands of dollars to come see the things that are just in our back yard, and that’s pretty neat.”

“Words that I live by: live life to the fullest, because you may not be here tomorrow,” Dwiggins concluded.

Delta Western Payroll Specialist works to connect communities

This article was originally published on People of Saltchuk on January 29, 2019.

Michaela Naidoo in Seattle.

Michaela Naidoo on family, photography and bringing people together.

By Hilary Reeves

When Michaela Naidoo is out on the streets of Seattle and sees people taking pictures of each other in front of city landmarks and scenic vistas, she stops.

“I say, ‘Let me take the picture – you go get in it,’” she explained. “I absolutely love being able to do that for people. There’s a photographer that I follow whose mantra is ‘exist in photos.’ Everyone should exist in their photos. No one should be left out.”
Naidoo, born in Seattle and raised in the city’s Magnolia neighborhood, is a Payroll Specialist for Delta Western, a company that provides fuel to Alaska. Before her official hire, she spent her summers as a sort of intern.

“My mom worked for Delta Western, and I would go in with her during the summers to file and make copies and whatever else they could give a kid to do,” she said. “After I graduated from high school in 2002, I was managing a restaurant – Ivar’s Seafood,” she said. “My mom was the IT Director at Delta Western and she told me the company was hiring an Administrative Assistant.”

Naidoo applied, and was hired.

“I’d never officially worked in an office environment before,” she said, “but by that point, I’d been there almost every summer working and it felt very natural. I already knew everyone. About a year into my time here, I was able to start working with a lot of different departments through various projects. I’ve been here for 13 years and I still enjoy learning about the different facets of the company.”

Bridging the geographical gap

Naidoo’s strong interest in business led her to pursue an associate’s degree while working full time at her job at Delta Western. She hopes to continue her education in the coming year and entrench more firmly into the world of Human Resources.

Naidoo’s work often takes her to Anchorage, where she makes time to capture the surrounding dramatic landscape. Photo: Michaela Naidoo.

“I’ve always had a really strong interest in people and entrepreneurial things,” she said. “When I came out of high school, I got a lot of support from my mom. She encouraged me to go to school. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I started working to figure it out.”

Last July, Naidoo earned the accreditation of Certified Payroll Professional. She currently splits her time between the company’s Seattle and Anchorage offices to provide support and help bridge the geographical gap.

“Some days are spent doing the basic things you would expect: paperwork, filing, etc.,” she said. “But a lot of what I do now is helping employees. There are a lot of moving parts and every day is different. Even though I’m officially in HR, I still try to connect our corporate community – employees, managers, families and the public – and get information out. For example, I started the years of service and recognition awards for the employees this year.”

Naidoo also coordinates the company’s scholarship program, awarding funds to high school graduates in rural communities where Delta Western operates.

“The scholarship program has been one of the most rewarding projects,” she said. “Being able to help students advance in their education and see them grow has been a privilege. I think the most challenging part of my job is learning the best way to connect and help people, particularly when geography separates us. But we’re learning to utilize new technology, and becoming more familiar with the different regions of Alaska through in-person visits have made a difference.”

A local meet-up of Instagram users – called an “Instameet” – regularly connects between 20 and 100 Seattle photographers. Photo: Michaela Naidoo.

Nice to ‘Instameet’ you

Naidoo’s interest in photography stems from a childhood where documenting life’s accomplishments was the norm.

“I got my first film camera from my aunt when I was eight and I took pictures of everything all the time,” she laughed. “I loved capturing things on film. I love capturing memories.”

An avid photographer, when the social media application Instagram launched in 2012, Naidoo was quick to sign up. The app allows users to post individual pictures, add effects, and post them for followers to comment on.

“When Instagram came out, the purpose behind it was to get people all over the world to share their love of photography,” she said. “There were also local meet-ups of app users called ‘Instameets.’”

Naidoo attended her first Seattle Instameet in 2012.

“I literally didn’t talk to anyone,” she said. “I came back though, and I ended up meeting the people who were running it. I started going to them regularly, and eventually, they asked me to volunteer.”

Naidoo adopted the role of Community Coordinator, encouraging Seattle’s Instagrammers to come out from behind their screens, meet fellow photographers and create together.
“Our hashtag is #igers_seattle,” she said. “The part I love most is encouraging people to come to our meetups, witnessing the connections they make, and then seeing them via the hashtag out with new friends taking pictures in the city.”

The hashtag has garnered more than 550,000 photos from different areas of the Puget Sound community: photographers, bloggers, restaurants, and local neighborhoods and establishments.

“Our Instameets have ranged from more than 100 people down to 20 people,” she said. “But each one is unique and brings new people together, creates new memories and connections.”

Taking ownership

“Probably what I’m most proud of right now is seeing the Instagrammers community grow, seeing the positive impact on the Seattle creative community, and also continuing to grow and gain a better understanding of our company,” she said. “There was a time when I didn’t really take a lot of ownership of working for Delta Western. Especially in Seattle – you don’t tell people you work for an oil company. But petroleum isn’t such a scary word in Alaska. We’re a company that provides a vital resource to people who wouldn’t otherwise have it and I am proud to be a part of that, and I’m proud of the positive impact I’m able to contribute to our growth and goals.”

DW heavy equipment inspector ‘huge supporter’ of tech, career ed

This article was originally published on People of Saltchuk on February 9, 2019

Dennis Massingham, Delta Western, Anchorage.

Delta Western’s Dennis Massingham: ‘I’m a lifelong learner.’

By Hilary Reeves

Dennis Massingham’s work history is a menagerie of life experiences – but perhaps he saved the best for last:

“I get to work with one of my former students from when I was a teacher at the University of Alaska in Anchorage (UAA),” he said. “Ben Hansen works for Carlile Transportation; we’ve been a team for the past two years. He travels with me to our fuel terminals to perform cargo tank inspections and truck maintenance. I’ve been able to mentor him, and he became a registered cargo tank inspector on Dec. 28, 2018. I’m very proud of him. How cool is that?”

Massingham’s current title of rolling Stock Supervisor for Delta Western’s Alaska operations is a comprehensive one. He coordinates and performs the maintenance and repair of the company’s trucking fleet and support equipment in and around terminals across the state.

“The most important thing I do is take care of the cargo tanks that haul our fuel products. I, too, am a registered cargo tank inspector. My name goes on all our cargo tanks; I make sure they are safe to use and are compliant with Alaska and Federal Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations and the Environmental Protection Agency. I have a special credential from the Feds that allows me to perform mobile cargo tank inspections at remote terminals not connected to the road system. It’s a huge responsibility with much accountability.”

Back to school

Massingham grew up in rural Thurston County, Washington, near the state’s capital city of Olympia on a “small family hobby farm.” His parents owned Massingham Trucking, a company that specialized in hauling forest timber.

“Of course,” he said, “that influenced the direction I took with my education and career.”

His “first real W2-type job” was at the Evergreen Sportsman’s Club.

“It’s a skeet and trap range,” he said. “When I turned 12 years old, I filed for a permit with the State of Washington Department of Labor and Industries. I set the target machine that would fly the clay pigeons. It paid $2.75 per hour. In 2019, can you even imagine a 12-year-old working downrange at a shooting range? I miss the ’80s,” he laughed.

Massingham went on to attend what he considers a comprehensive high school vocational auto shop program at Tumwater High School, which sparked his interest in further academic achievement. He went on to earn an associate degree in Diesel Power Technology from Centralia College,

At the encouragement of an instructor, he transferred to the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and finished a Bachelor of Science in Diesel Power Technology.

“I’m a lifelong learner,” he said. “After working in the heavy equipment and transportation equipment industry for 10 years, I went back to school.”

This time, he said, he was the professor.

“I taught diesel technology at Lewis-Clark State College for five years. At the same time, I attended graduate school at the University of Idaho and earned a Master of Education in Professional-Technical education.”

From professor to fuel tank inspector

After graduating with his master’s degree, Massingham held positions at a large Caterpillar dealership in Idaho: Western States Equipment Co.

“I was a corporate trainer, training manager, HR generalist, recruiter, and probably a couple other titles I don’t remember,” he laughed. “My career is all a blur from there. As I mentioned, I was a professor at the University of Alaska before going to work at Delta Western.”

Massingham’s initial impression of Delta Western was limited to Anchorage, but he said his excitement built at the prospect of traveling to all the terminals.

“I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in many significant projects,” he said. “One project that stands out is a 350,000-gallon fuel transfer to a pair of Japanese warships that sailed to the Port of Anchorage for a fill-up. We used an engine-powered skid pump to move the fuel. The transfer took about 18 hours, and the electrical system on the engine was being temperamental with the salt spray and heavy rains. It took constant babysitting to keep running, but we completed the transfer safely, on time and under budget.”

“My career has been constantly changing, but the one thing that stays the same is I’ve always worked in the heavy equipment and transportation industry. Every job has been related to maintenance or technical education.”


While Massingham isn’t a big proponent of changing his past, his take gives pause: “I’m reflective, but I don’t dwell on the past except to learn from it.”

The aspects of his life of which he is most proud are all related to his family: 30 years of marriage to his wife, Tammy, the graduation of his son, an electrical engineer, from UAA, and the near-graduation of his daughter, a soon-to-be-nurse, from the same alma matar.

“I like to shore fish Hawaii and chill on the beach with my wife. Doesn’t Hawaii Petroleum need some cargo tank work done? Something in Kona probably needs maintenance,” he joked.

In all seriousness, Massingham said he’s excited to watch Delta Western and the other Northstar Energy companies grow.

“I see us moving into new communities – perhaps maybe we’ll see the gas station business grow, or maybe we’ll get into other energy products and new markets. Eventually, I’ll go back to school again and earn a doctorate in Education. When I get too old to crawl into cargo tanks, I’ll go back into academics or teaching. I enjoy helping people learn career-related skills and helping them grow their careers. I’m a huge supporter of career and technical education.”

NorthStar fuel pro reflects on early days in Dutch Harbor, Alaska

This article was originally published on People of Saltchuk on April 5, 2019

NorthStar Senior Inventory Specialist Robert Sevilla in Seattle.

Senior Inventory Specialist Robert Sevilla began his career in the field.

By Hilary Reeves

The winter of 2011 was a bad one for Alaskans: the snowiest winter on record and one of the coldest. That December, the crew of Delta Western Dutch Harbor heard that the coastal community of Nome was completely iced in and running out of fuel after a barge scheduled to arrive in the fall couldn’t make its delivery.

“We had to charter an ice class marine tanker to make the delivery from Dutch Harbor to Nome” over 300 miles of thick sea ice, said NorthStar’s Robert Sevilla. “I believe that if you put in the hard work and strive to better yourself every day that there is nothing you can’t achieve.”

Post-winter move

Sevilla started with Delta Western as a Fuel Dock attendant and driver in Dutch Harbor some 15 years ago. He transitioned to the role of Warehouse Administrator, maintaining the company’s packaged product inventory, then to the role of Office Administrator. By the spring of 2012, he was ready for a change.

“A position opened up in our Seattle corporate office for an Inventory Clerk, so I applied for the position and, luckily, I got it,” he said.

From there, Sevilla moved to his current position as Senior Inventory Specialist, a role that now sits in the NorthStar Energy supply group.

“I started in the field, so I enjoy seeing how everything unfolds, from purchasing our products to our site receiving them, selling to the customer to invoicing them. I get to see the paper trail from cradle to grave, sort of, and at the end of it all when the inventory is in balance, I know I did my job.”

Childhood challenges

The youngest of five children, Sevilla spent his childhood moving between the United States and the Philippines. His first job was encoding Census data for his brother’s NGO there.

“There was a project to collect data from the people living in the slums in Manila so the government would try to relocate them to better housings. It was something I understood because I grew up in a single-parent household with my mom working multiple jobs in the U.S. to make ends meet,” he explained. “She had to make a tough decision to send us home to the Philippines to stay with relatives. Living away from my parents was hard, but it built a strong foundation for my relationship with my siblings. My childhood had challenges, but I was still grateful because I knew that there are others who had less than me.”

“Living away from my parents was hard, but it built a strong foundation for my relationship with my siblings. My childhood had challenges, but I was still grateful because I knew that there are others who had less than me.”

Sevilla has been married for 16 years to his “wonderful wife,” and “has been blessed with two amazing daughters.” He said he’s grateful to have found his way to helping people in a slightly different capacity.

“I’m grateful for all the opportunities that the company has given me,” he said. “We have amazing people in place, and I believe we’re poised to do great things in our field, not only expanding the areas we service, but also venturing into alternative energy solutions. I see us continuing to be the best at what we do: providing safe, quality products and services for the people and communities that we serve.”

An energetic homecoming

This article was originally published on People of Saltchuk on April 29, 2019

Ryan Macnamara, Director of Pricing, NorthStar Energy.

Four years after embarking on an experiential quest, Ryan Macnamara is armed with the knowledge and know-how to help propel NorthStar into its (sustainable) future.

By Hilary Reeves

Ryan Macnamara was still studying marketing at Western Washington University in Bellingham when he decided to pursue an internship to help launch his career after graduation.

“I had a deep respect for Mike Garvey, whom I’d known from childhood, and I was interested in coming to join the Saltchuk family,” he said. “I reached out to him, and he put me in touch with a number of companies.”

It was Delta Western, Macnamara said, that most excited him – and the feeling was mutual. He began his decade-long stint with the company in Seattle a week after he graduated in 2004. By 2014, Macnamara was happily managing a bevy of accounts.
“I put my marketing degree to use learning the Alaska business, but after 10 years spent learning contract creation and management, the different types of accounts, and how to manage the relationships, I recognized that my primary gap as a professional was related to my limited operational experience,” he said.

In the early years, the solution seemed obvious: when the time was right, Macnamara and his wife would move to one of the company’s terminals in Alaska so he could begin a more “hands-on” phase of his career. But once the eldest of his two sons reached Kindergarten, he knew a move to Alaska wasn’t in the cards anymore.

“There was a time period where it would have worked, but by the time I really needed to make a change, we couldn’t do Alaska anymore,” he explained.

Enter Covich Williams, a local, family-owned Chevron marketer.

“I was approached by Covich Williams and I was immediately struck by how similar their business was to one of Delta Western’s Alaska terminals,” said Macnamara. “The company’s general manager of 30 years was leaving, and they needed a new GM to step in and manage inside and outside sales, the warehouse, drivers – everything I was looking for in terms of experience and exposure.”

Delta Western’s management was encouraging and left the door open – so Macnamara took the job.

“I learned a heck of a lot. I’m happy that I did it,” he said.

Bridging the gap with a new team

Four years later, Macnamara is back in the Saltchuk fold – this time at NorthStar, Delta Western’s parent company, working as a Director of Pricing under VP of Supply and Logistics Don Stone.

“This year, the time was finally right,” he said. “Under new NorthStar leadership, Delta Western was making big changes. I’d heard that a shared service model was being rolled out whereby critical business functions were being done at the parent company level in order to strengthen the role of site managers at the terminal locations, allowing them to focus on their strengths, take greater ownership over the performance of their local businesses, and know that they have a supportive team behind them at NorthStar.”
Macnamara has been in the office for just a month but said he already feels a synergy between his past experience, both at Delta Western and at Covich Williams, and his new role.

“With my new understanding of operations from Covich Williams I saw a perfect opportunity to join Don (Stone),” he said. “Don needed someone experienced who could take the lead developing pricing strategies for each Delta Western terminal. I would be able to have an immediate, measurable impact on the business overall, and for each one of the sites.”

Macnamara, who knew Stone from his years at Delta Western, said he’s always admired Stone’s ability to see opportunities in a complex network of interconnected, moving parts.
“He could make things come to life that other people weren’t able to even see, and you wanted to be a part of that,” he said. “Don was building up a new group dedicated to finding supply efficiencies on behalf of existing markets while probing growth opportunities in entirely new places. This team would allow me to make an impact as a connector between that global supply strategy and the local markets that I knew well. I’m excited to be a part of bridging the gap between those two worlds.”

‘A bit surreal’

One thing that’s been brought to the forefront in the years since Macnamara left is that NorthStar is an energy company chock-full of energy solutions.

“I now have the opportunity to explore energy alternatives that are a focus of this new NorthStar-Delta Western regime more than ever,” he said. “The change that thrills me the most is bridging the gap between the energy of today and the energy solutions of tomorrow. I’m thrilled to be supporting site managers so directly as a connector between the parent company shared service model and the boots-on-the-ground operations; I truly care about our sites.”

One thing that hasn’t changed, Macnamara said, is that everyone wears a lot of hats.
“It’s been a big whirlwind – a bit surreal. There’s a completely different team in place. I’m still learning about the team and the different roles and how things have changed. There’s a lot to tackle. Luckily, we have someone at the helm in Bert (Valdman) who’s a real visionary. I’m just loving being back.”

Sitka, Alaska native at home with Delta Western

This article was originally published on People of Saltchuk on June 3rd, 2019

Mike Johnson: ‘Having a strong and supportive team with a trusting relationship is key to success.’

By Hilary Reeves

Delta Western Sitka Terminal Manager Mike Johnson describes his teenage self as the type of guy who “was only interested in learning specifically what I was interested in learning.” Born and raised in Sitka, his childhood was a combination of whimsy and self-imposed work.

“I grew up on a small private island where my parents built a cabin over the course of several years,” he said. “We had no running water, no city power, and no dock, and hauled all our drinking water, fuel, groceries, and living supplies by landing our small boat directly onto the beach.”

The proud owner of “quite a few pets,” Johnson was nine when his parents helped him start a dog-boarding business on the island.

“When people went on vacation, the local veterinary shop would refer people to me to watch their dogs,” he said. “The daily fee was $6 per dog per day and I shoveled a lot of poo, but made a lot of money” – money that was soon sunk into Johnson’s very own boat, which he purchased at the age of 11.

“For the price, the boat was a real steal and seaworthy enough that my parents deemed it safe enough for me to stay out of trouble,” he laughed. “I spent my summers ranging out as far as a tank of gas would carry me, usually exploring the surrounding islands, camping, and river fishing with my trusty golden retriever, Sandy.”

Johnson’s teenage recreation settled on motorsports. He said he crashed enough three- and four-wheelers and motorcycles that he had to work to afford the replacement parts.
“I was reckless enough that I kept an inventory of spare parts so that when I crashed and wrecked something I didn’t have much downtime,” he said. “My body still hurts from those days.”

Once he was old enough to hold a regular job, he did everything from newspaper routes to mechanic’s helpers, to running a small crew at a custom meat and seafood processing plant. He also fished commercially for halibut on the family longliner boat during the dangerous “derby days.”

When his high school wrestling coach told him he couldn’t work and wrestle, that was the end of Johnson’s career in organized sports.

“I had lots of wheeler parts and gas to buy,” he laughed.

Homeschooled through elementary school, Johnson graduated Valedictorian from Sitka High School.

“I never liked school, but I endured it,” he said. “I always tried harder than most of my friends, which always resulted in good grades. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I graduated but my parents impressed upon me the need to gain a skill of some type. I decided that I would be a mechanic and enrolled in an automotive and heavy diesel technical school in Phoenix. I told myself I’d never return to Sitka except to visit.”

Returning to Sitka

Johnson returned to Alaska after his schooling and took a job as a heavy diesel mechanic for Alaska Power Service in Cordova. After several months without a single day off, he joined Allen Marine in Sitka.

“Between Alaska Power Services and where I am now at Delta Western, I ventured down many different career paths: welding and fabrication, truck driver, operations manager, fleet vessel maintenance, facilities maintenance, boat rigging and repair, small engine repair, boat captain, freshwater guiding, and crane operator, amongst other things.”
The game-changer, he said, was the day he was offered a job helping run the local boatyard, Halibut Point Marine Services.

“The owners told me, ‘you’ll need to get your CDL; we plan to enter the fuel sales market to keep you busy during the slow winter months,’” he said. “The next thing I knew, they’d bought a brand new Kenworth fuel truck and told me to drive it around the boatyard until I felt comfortable taking my road test.”

Once Johnson had his CDL, he was given a handwritten list of friends and family – Sitka is a small town and he already knew everyone – to whom he was to deliver fuel.
“I was told to get the fuel into the truck and figure out how to get the fuel from the truck into the customer’s fuel tanks,” he said. “I had no training whatsoever in handling or delivering fuel. I taught myself most everything and asked questions about the rest to anyone who would talk to me.”

Before long, Johnson was managing both boatyard and fueling operations – “a whopping three fuel trucks.” The company began fulfilling the Alaska Airlines contract for Delta Western and was subsequently awarded two other large fuel contracts. In July 2013, Delta Western bought out Halibut Point Marine Services, the company Johnson had spent five years building. He accepted a management position with Delta Western. The transition between companies wasn’t smooth.

“Most of us aren’t born with natural gifts or talents that will bring success. Most of us just have to really apply ourselves and be willing to try harder than the rest. This mindset has always served me well.”

“Within a month we’d lost all but one part-time employee and about 65 percent of our customer base,” he said. “Back during those difficult days, I was trying to hire good people to help me out in the office. I was only allowed to hire one person, but I had two absolutely awesome candidates for the same job. I approached my boss at the time and explained my quandary. He smiled and said, ‘hire them both; truly good help is so hard to find that we can’t afford not to pick them up if we have a chance.’ I hired both candidates and they are both working alongside me to this day. The boss’s advice has served me well.”
One of Johnson’s greatest challenges was and is working with other people.

“I’ve figured out that people are both the problem and the solution, most of it depends on how you treat them and how you relate to them. Learning this has been a long journey for me.”

His Sitka team, he said, he great – driven, focused and can take a joke.

“We do a lot of that around here,” he laughed. “Having a strong and supportive team with a trusting relationship is key to success. Without a strong team, nothing would get done and I’d be quite ineffective.”

He said what he most enjoys about the career and company he’s settling into is the variety of the work – and the thrill of the chase.

“One minute I’m flying a desk, the next I’m fixing something, the next I’m in a tank truck hauling fuel to a first-time customer or out on a sales call,” he said. “Heck, recently I’ve been traveling to other scenic small towns in my region seeing new things and meeting new people. I enjoy the challenge and the thrill of the chase.”

A subsistence lifestyle

Johnson said that his only regret so far is the fact that he once worked a “dead end, do-nothing” job in the public sector.

“If I could take it all back, I’d have stayed in the private sector for my whole career,” he said. “I consider those years of my life as wasted years; it’s where I learned the meaning of bureaucracy and ineffectiveness.”

He’s most proud of his wife and three boys, and is, as one might expect, most comfortable in the Great Outdoors. He said he has more hobbies and interest than time or money: marksmanship, light construction, the restoration of a 34-foot pleasure boat first built in 1969, and coaching a youth competitive clay target team that normally places among the top three (of 22) teams in the state.

“I also spend a lot of time camping and exploring,” he said. “I live as much of a subsistence lifestyle as I can. I normally set out to harvest at least seven Sitka Blacktail deer, lots of halibut, sockeye salmon, spot prawns, octopus, and a few other species. I grow what I can in the garden also.”

Every July, Johnson takes his family on a 10-day boat trip to Tenakee Springs, a small community between Sitka and Juneau built around natural hot springs.

“My family just about plans their lives around this annual pilgrimage and it’s the biggest event of the year for my kids,” he laughed. “We live on our boat during the trip and go more or less wherever the wind blows us – so long as we are in Tenakee on Independence day for the celebrations. For such a tiny town they put on a really big event and the kids have an absolute blast every year.”

While Johnson’s retirement plans have him outdoors (and still working) – “maybe a winter caretaker position at a remote lodge” – he said he’s having fun turning over lots of stones for Delta Western and doing what he can to help the company grow.

“We’ve got some very innovative people working here and we’re willing to think outside the box for the first time in a while. I could see us expanding into different areas of the state and possibly into other areas in the Northwest. I think we’ll be working on buying and selling the energy sources of the future and focusing more on the relationships with some of our larger customers to grow into the same geographic areas that they expand into. I think we will be looking into some very strategic partnerships that will be an absolute game-changer for us – that will give us an edge over our competitors and help us to better serve our customers.

“I tell my kids all the time that if they want to get ahead in this world they need to be willing to try harder than most everyone else around them. Most of us aren’t born with natural gifts or talents that will bring success. Most of us just have to really apply ourselves and be willing to try harder than the rest. This mindset has always served me well.”


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