Sealaska president Chris McNeil Jr. says he is leaving the regional Alaska Native corporation in a financially strong position.
The 65-year-old McNeil announced his retirement Friday after 12 years as chief executive officer.
He is a former Sealaska board member. He was selected as CEO in 2001 after serving as corporate secretary, and executive vice president and general counsel.
McNeil has seen major changes since then, including the enrollment of tribal descendants. When ANCSA was first enacted it allowed for enrollment only in 1971. The board and shareholders voted to open enrollment to descendants in 2007.
“We’ve moved from about 16-thousand tribal member shareholders to about 22-thousand,” McNeil says. ” That was a very important change that has occurred through time and was certainly a commitment that everyone made to the future of tribal members.”
He’s also seen radical changes in the Southeast Alaska timber industry.
Gone are the days of large timber sales and swaths of clear cuts as well as the international pulp mills. Sealaska Timber Corporation, headquartered in Ketchikan, is now the largest timber producer in Southeast. McNeil says Sealaska is changing its forest management.
“Sealaska fully intends to develop a model of sustainability not only in the broader sense of the word but also in the sense of sustainable harvests. That is a very important change,” he says.
Tribal employment in the company has steadily grown, McNeil says, and it continues to be a goal throughout the divisions. That requires training.
“As a corporation, we need to continue to encourage people to acquire those kinds of skill sets and experiences that are necessary to participate in the kinds of enterprises that Sealaska and other Native corporations have in this day and age,” he says.
In a message to shareholders, McNeil says the corporation has a solid business plan and is financially strong.
Audited 2012 records put shareholders’ equity at $256-million, compared to $103-million in 2001. At $88-million, the corporation’s permanent fund is more than twice what it was then. The Investment and Growth Fund did not exist in 2001; McNeil says it is now nearly $60-million.
Recruiting a new CEO has already begun. The Sealaska Board of Directors has selected an independent search firm to help in the process.
“I can assure tribal member shareholders that this will be a very open recruitment process for a tribal member shareholder who will be the next CEO of Sealaska Corporation,” McNeil says.
McNeil expects the new CEO to be hired by March. The actual transition will occur at next year’s annual meeting on June 28th.
While McNeil lives in Washington state and works in corporate offices in Bellevue, the next president and CEO will be based at corporate headquarters in Juneau.
NOTE: This story was updated after a KTOO interview with Chris McNeil.