When we spoke with Anthony Mallott (Tlingit, Eagle, Tsaagweidi [Killerwhale] Clan and Koyukon Athabaskan, Caribou Clan) in 2018, he’d been CEO of Sealaska for four years. He’d inherited a company that was losing tens of millions of dollars and that hadn’t been able to break even on its own operations for 15 years. Under his leadership, Alaska’s largest Alaska Native Corporation is recording record profits for its more than 22,000 shareholders.
Mallot’s success was certainly the result of solutions unique to Sealaska and his own vision and culture as a Native CEO. Sealaska was involved in several businesses that weren’t a good fit. Take environmental concerns, for example — “Why are we in plastic-injecting molding facilities that create plastic products all over the place when we’re an oceangoing, environmentally conscious people?” he asked. Sealaska divested itself of nearly 10 businesses that didn’t make Mallott’s cut.
Without a doubt, Sealaska’s revival has something to do with the calls Mallott made as CEO early on. But when we asked him in late 2019 about leadership, he didn’t want to talk about himself, at all — it was all about the team. “I strongly believe in the power of teamwork. It is a cultural value that when used effectively leads to better decision making and also disciplined focus on goals. I believe a team of informed, curious individuals who are working towards important goals can make better decisions for Sealaska then any executive sitting in his office making decisions. Sealaska’s current success has been steady and cumulative and driven by teams and executives that value teamwork. We are building and improving off of that management style.”
The mantra is clear: Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. But it’s not Mallott’s only leadership credo. “Behaviors matter, and actions matter,” he says. “If you can focus your organization on behaviors that lead to better decision making, more successful initiatives, while creating a problem-solving culture, you can make significant cumulative progress towards the goals of your organization.”
Consistency and fair dealing are essential traits for a leader. “I believe that how you show up each and every day matters,” Mallott says, “whether you manage four people or have the responsibility for managing 4,000 employees. Be accountable. Keep your promises. Show respect for your people. These are foundational to managing a workforce.”
The biggest lesson he’s learned? “Each and every employee plays a critical role in the success of the organization,” Mallott says. “Good ideas can come from anywhere. The summer intern is just as capable of coming up with a creative solution as the CEO. Also, understanding strengths, weaknesses, experience level, and capacity of your employees can help you build teams that can achieve the significant goals you are working towards. You need to be able to attract talented employees and put them on teams and in positions to succeed.”
Speaking of talent, succession planning could be a challenge for a diverse company like Sealaska, with operations as varied as Sealaska Timber, Gregg Drilling, and Orca Bay Foods in the same portfolio. In this area, Mallott looks to his culture for guidance. “Teaching the next generation has always been a value of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people,” he says. “It wasn’t called succession planning but those same principles were applied in our villages and within our clans for thousands of years. These same values are embedded in the way we try to build capacity within our workforce and in our general approach to developing leaders within the company. When we identify talent — whether through our internship program or through our recruiting efforts — we try to create as many opportunities as possible for that person to grow. I believe that good succession planning has to be structured and it has to be intentional and deliberate. We also believe good succession planning can be built around being relevant and meaningful within our work to global issues that people care about, Ocean Health, education, cultural and community vibrancy.”
Mallott’s vision is for a company that relies on teamwork and teaching. But how has he, as a CEO, managed to work efficiently to make it a reality? “I find that time management and the ability to manage multiple tasks is a strategy in and of itself,” he tells us. “I try to increase my efficiency through good planning and by using my time wisely throughout the day. It sounds simple but how you manage your hours throughout the day can really pay dividends over the course of a week, month or year.”
Communication is another invaluable habit, he says. “I try to be consistent and intentional in my communication with employees and our shareholders when discussing our goals and objectives and let them know that they help build and solidify our vision.”
“One of the great aspects about working for Sealaska,” Mallott observes, “is that the job is about as unpredictable as the weather in Southeast Alaska. You really never know what you’re going to get. You have to prepare for all of the elements, so to speak.”