Sealaska President and CEO Chris McNeil, Jr. will retire in 2014, the regional Native corporation announced Friday. McNeil has held the top position for 12 years.
McNeil said he will stay with Sealaska for the next nine months while the board of directors recruits a successor.
“I feel confident that there will be tribal member shareholders that will be qualified for this position,” McNeil said.
The new president will be based in Juneau. McNeil has been based in Bellevue, Wash.
Sealaska adopted a new strategic plan in last December, which McNeil said will continue to be implemented despite his departure. He said the corporation is making very deliberate changes.
“We’ve narrowed our operational base, to keep those companies that work long-term and sell those that don’t and will be using those resources from the sale to move in that direction,” McNeil said. “We’re hoping to find an acquisition that is more approximate to the region or even the Pacific Northwest that might be a better fit than some of the other operations that we’ve had.”
McNeil wouldn’t say which specific businesses or ventures were currently being pursued. Sealaska sold one of its businesses, Global Logistics, in May. In June, Sealaska also sold its share of Nypro Kánaak, a plastics business.
“These are very significant changes for any corporation to be making, especially with the leadership transition,” McNeil said. “I feel very confident that the work I’m doing with the board of directors and our close collaboration will make all the positive difference in the world.”
One of the biggest issues the next president will need to address is the Sealaska lands legislation, McNeil said. Legislation to complete Sealaska’s land claims under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act has made it out of committee in both the U.S. House and Senate. Neither has been voted on, however. McNeil said the issue will be important for the next president to focus on.
“That’s very significant for us because it will be our platform for our stewardship and sustainable economic presence throughout the region,” McNeil said.
McNeil said one of his proudest accomplishments at Sealaska was seeing shareholders pass a resolution to include descendants, those born after the 1971 passage of ANCSA, as shareholders. Previously shares had to be gifted to or inherited by those born after 1971. Two other regional Native corporations, Doyon and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, have passed similar resolutions allowing new shareholders to be enrolled.
“From a future standpoint that was, in my judgment, just absolutely critical for the future of Sealaska Corporation to be inclusive and not exclusionary of descendants,” McNeil said. “That was a very important accomplishment for all of us to be able to achieve because certainly not all of the corporations have made that judgment about the future.”
McNeil said allowing new shareholders grew the corporation from about 16,000 shareholders to nearly 22,000.
McNeil said he didn’t have any concrete plans for retirement, but that he expects he’ll continue to be active in the Native community in Southeast and statewide.
“I’ve had the opportunity to participate in both challenges and a lot of accomplishments,” McNeil said. “It was really quite, and has been and will continue to be, a great honor and pleasure to work with the tribal member shareholders and other employees of Sealaska.”