The Kuskokwim Corporation, which represents 10 villages in the Middle Kuskokwim River area, has a new CEO. Andrea Gusty, who stepped into the role on Feb. 6, grew up in Aniak, one of those villages.
As a working mother of two young sons, Gusty is familiar with juggling familial demands with her TKC duties, which usually have her up at 5 a.m and in the office by 8 a.m.
Gusty has worked at the corporation for six years, filling roles like community relations manager and public lands manager, all the way to vice president. Long-time CEO Maver Carey retired in 2019, and Gusty split executive duties with Samuel Boyle, who was the corporation's chief operating officer and led one of the corporation's subsidiaries in South Carolina.
TKC makes its money from its subsidiaries and federal contracting, as well as money shared from the regional native corporations through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Gusty says that Carey grew the corporation during her time as CEO.
"Maver Carey brought TKC from a couple-million dollar company to well over $100 million, and those are big shoes to fill," Gusty said.
There aren’t many women leading companies nationwide. Pew Research Center puts the number of female CEOs at 6 percent in Fortune 500 companies, an annual list of the biggest publicly-traded companies in the United States.
But in the Y-K Delta, Alaska Native women have a history of leading big organizations. Vivian Korthius leads the tribal consortium, the Association of Village Council Presidents, which provides social services for 56 tribes. Ana Hoffman heads the Bethel Native Corporation in the region’s hub town, and is a co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives. Former TKC CEO Maver Carey held that role for 16 years. Gusty, who is Yup’ik and Athabascan, hopes to carry on that legacy.
"I think women are uniquely positioned to multi-task and to have a lot of balls up in the air at once with families and work life. And I think that’s very beneficial for a leader of a corporation to have that background," Gusty said.
Gusty now lives in Anchorage, where TKC is based, but she grew up in Aniak, a village in the Middle Kuskokwim River area. She began her career as an investigative reporter and anchor for Alaska TV station KTVA. She then worked as Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Alaska Communications Director before joining TKC, where she worked her way up to her new position.
"If we can help people stay in our communities because we’ve helped lower the cost of living, we’ve helped lower energy costs, and they can focus on that subsistence way of life and raising their families on the land for generations. We want to do that," Gusty said.
TKC has some projects in the works that will do just that. In 2019, the corporation opened Kuik Run, a general store in Aniak to help bring down the cost of food.
"We’re not looking to lose money at the store, we just want to break even," Gusty said. "So when I say we don’t want to spend a penny, we don’t. We just want to be able to cover costs long-term."
If successful, Gusty hopes that TKC can open more stores. Gusty said that a gallon of fresh milk now costs a little over $6 at the store instead of the previous $10 for only half a gallon. There’s also the Brighter Future Initiative, which aims to reduce energy costs one LED lightbulb at a time.
"We brought and installed 10,000 LED lightbulbs to our region. We replaced the lightbulbs in every single shareholder home in our 10 villages," Gusty said.
The village corporation eventually wants to install LED lightbulbs in every one of their shareholders’ homes, regardless of where they live, to reduce energy costs. One LED lightbulb is a small step, but it fits TKC’s mission for all of its projects, not just energy, especially as state funding dwindles.
Water projects are another focus. TKC is planning water projects for Sleetmute and Crooked Creek to make sure these communities have running water, but the details have yet to be released.