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2024 Alaska Business Hall of Fame Laureates

by Jan 2, 2024Magazine, Nonprofits

David Karp is the only direct employee in Alaska of Saltchuk, supporting the Seattle-based transportation and logistics company’s many flourishing subsidiaries, such as TOTE Maritime.

Patricia Morales | Alaska Business

In 1987, Junior Achievement (JA) of Alaska began the Alaska Business Hall of Fame to honor outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to the Alaska business community. Selection for the Alaska Business Hall of Fame is based on support for Junior Achievement’s programs, demonstrated commitment to Alaska business, and direct impact toward furthering the success of business in Alaska.

Three laureates named for 2024 contributed to Alaska’s economy through their dedication and leadership, while a fourth honoree is being recognized with the prestigious Denali Award. While their paths differ, each offers words of wisdom to today’s young people and intriguing memories from their personal roads to success.

The induction ceremony is being held at the Marriott Anchorage Downtown on January 25, 2024. For tickets and more information visit alaskabusinesshalloffame.com.

David Karp

SVP & Managing Director, Saltchuk
President, Naniq Global Logistics

“I started working as soon as I was allowed to,” David Karp recalls of his youth in Nome. “It was the mid-‘70s, and we had three busloads of tourists coming into town every day.”

Panning for gold was a big thing then, so Karp made gold panning kits using Nome’s unique red garnet-bearing sand, a little gold pan, a bag, and a label that a local artist drew for him. “I thought it was fun and, truthfully, it is probably what inspired me to begin working in the visitor industry,” he says.

Karp kept his work ethic intact as he reached high school. He says, “I had a family to support—thirty-eight sled dogs—so I was motivated to work.”

The dog team ended up helping Karp pay for their supper. “I was a little bit of a drama student in high school and somehow ended up playing Santa Claus at the Alaska Commercial Company one year,” he recalls. “Pretty soon I was hooking up my dogs outside of town, and Santa was being tracked by the local radio show to determine when he would arrive in town.” Karp apparently made a convincing Santa because he was able to pry a three-year-old’s pacifier away in exchange for a Fisher-Price cobbler bench.

Karp credits his entrepreneurial leanings to his dad. “My dad had a really bad serial entrepreneurial problem,” he shares with a smile. “He always had a bent for bringing creative new things to people. He even brought the first microwave ovens to Nome and started a restaurant with them.”

Finding motivation continues to be Karp’s driving factor. “I believe when people recognize and reward you for your accomplishments, it provides encouragement,” he explains. “I’ve always thrived on recognition and the acknowledgment that what I was doing was positive and hopefully making a contribution. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that it’s not so much about me or what I do, but rather the impact I leave as a businessperson, leader, or parent.”

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When it comes to ethics, Karp goes back to the basics. “Whether you’re growing up in business or growing up as a kid, the simple adage ‘do the right thing’ applies,” he says. “As a kid that might mean don’t shoplift, while as an adult running a multi-million-dollar business, it likely means making sure to negotiate in good faith so everyone gets a fair deal. At its core, the message is the same.”

Karp believes that it’s important for young people to figure out what motivates them in a particular direction and then take a balanced approach to get there. “I consider myself blessed because I had such a unique childhood in Nome,” he shares. “I came out of college not knowing there were any parameters to stop me from pursuing my interests, and that’s a gift.”

Sheri Buretta

Board Chair, Chugach Alaska Corporation

Sheri Buretta has chaired the board of directors of Chugach Alaska Corporation since 1998, shepherding its growth into a near-billion-dollar corporation, among the state’s largest.

Patricia Morales | Alaska Business

Born at Elmendorf Air Force Base hospital in 1965, Sheri Buretta grew up between Anchorage and the Prince William Sound village of Tatitlek where her mother was born. “I went to Nunaka Valley Elementary School, Clark Middle School, and graduated from [Bettye Davis] East High School and from UAA,” Buretta recalls. “Like many kids, my first job was babysitting and newspaper delivery starting from age 10. But when I turned 14, they were just finishing the Northway Mall, and I got a job at the Pretzel Factory. I loved that job! I was able to go to work after school and sell pretzels while meeting a lot of people.”

Growing up in poverty fueled Buretta’s understanding of the need to make money. “My mom was born in the village when there was no electricity, plumbing, or water, so they had to live off the land,” she shares. “In my lifetime I’ve seen the subsistence economy and the importance of our rural communities and villages and then, overnight, all of these modern conveniences were available. But you had to be able to pay for them, so your work shifted. Now you had to have a job that pays you cash.”

“I’ve seen the subsistence economy and the importance of our rural communities and villages and then, overnight, all of these modern conveniences were available. But you had to be able to pay for them, so your work shifted.”

—Sheri Buretta, Board Chair, Chugach Alaska Corporation

Watching the shift taught Buretta that if she wanted to get things, she had to work. “I remember how empowered I felt when I was able to buy my first car,” she says. “I bought skis, bought braces for my teeth, and I bought a ticket to Hawaii to be in my friend’s wedding when I was just 16, thanks to my job at the Pretzel Factory.”

Buretta encourages young people to find what makes them energized, what makes them feel like they are being the best person they can be, and then find a job that allows them to do just that. “Remember, life goes by in a blink, and you may come across days that feel like you just can’t get past whatever situation you’re dealing with. But life is beautiful. Every day we have a new chance to start over and try again. Empower yourself to have that.”

Mark Pfeffer

Founder and CEO, Pfeffer Development

Born in Iowa, Mark Pfeffer grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Architecture, finishing his studies with a semester in London. Upon graduation, his dad bought him a one-way ticket to Anchorage, where he started his career as an intern architect. But Pfeffer’s work experience started long before he arrived in Anchorage.

“When I was in the eighth grade in Omaha, my mom would pick up my sister, brother, and me, then she would stop at this little local meat market to get hamburger or whatever,” recalls Pfeffer. “I was about two weeks from finishing eighth grade when the meat market owner said, ‘Hey kid, you want a job this summer cleaning up at the end of the day?’ and I jumped at the chance!”

Pfeffer made $1.10 an hour starting in May of 1971, but the lessons he learned were far more valuable. He rode his bike to the meat market every day that summer to work. Three months after he started the job, the owner hired another guy who was 22 years old. “So I was 13 and he was 22 and was a meat cutter, butcher kind of guy,” recalls Pfeffer. “But he also had a master’s degree in business administration that he got as a veteran on the GI Bill, but he was still a meat cutter.” The 22-year-old man began helping the little meat market owner become more business-oriented and, over the course of the eight years Pfeffer worked there, the business grew.

“Whether you’re growing up in business or growing up as a kid, the simple adage ‘do the right thing’ applies.”

—David Karp, SVP & Managing Director, Saltchuk | President, Naniq Global Logistics

Pfeffer worked in the meat market throughout his high school years, handling all sorts of tasks, and then eventually he finished college and moved to Anchorage. But he stayed in touch with the guy that started three months after him who went on to expand the small meat market into a huge international meat business. “He became really successful, and so did I,” says Pfeffer. “I didn’t really know what was going on as I watched him build the business, but I knew something was happening, and it inspired me to think in some way to be a business guy.”

On the wall of Mark Pfeffer’s custom-built home hangs a cityscape that shows the Linny Pacillo Parking Garage designed by KPB Architects (the “P” is Pfeffer) and the reflection of another possession, Anchorage City Hall.

Scott Rhode | Alaska Business

Widely known as a real estate developer, Pfeffer’s success is unquestionable. He has started several companies over the years, and he literally owns Anchorage City Hall (he bought the building from Weyerhaeuser, which was leasing it to the municipality).

“When I came up to Alaska in 1980, I worked for the guy who first hired me for about a year. Then I started my own firm, which was just me working out of a small apartment designing house remodels, and I’ve been self-employed ever since,” he says.

Pfeffer believes adults should make themselves available to young people: “Take the time to listen to what they’re pitching, give them an audience, and give them some hope.”

In return, his advice for young people is simple: “Follow your passion, stay organized, try to see the future, and don’t give up. And do things that are good for the community.”

Denali Award Winner

Jennifer Schrage

President, Signature Land Services

Running, biking, skiing, and other outdoor pursuits have always been a part of Jennifer Schrage’s life, having been born and raised in Anchorage.

“When I was ten years old, Judy Sedwick, Diane Barnett, and my mom were all good friends, and Judy put together a little running group for a bunch of us girls between 8 and 10 years old,” recalls Shrage. “She also taught us about winning graciously and losing gracefully and how to encourage each other. She wanted to make sure she was empowering us to be our best and to believe we can do whatever we try.”

That was the beginning of the Girls Club Running Team, but there was more to come. “After watching a Half Ironman triathlon in Hawaii, Judy and Diane decided they wanted to do this for all of us girls,” says Schrage. “We all assembled on the deck at our house on Sand Lake, jumped in the water for the swim, had a transition area for the bike in the driveway, biked around Kincaid, then came back to run down to the Jewel Lake Carrs and back—and that was the start of the Alaska Women’s Gold Nugget Triathlon.”

Schrage continued her sports pursuits through college and into her adult life. She attributes much of her success to the discipline she learned from her coaches. “My coaches definitely taught me much about what I need to do to be successful in life,” she says.

As a real estate developer, Jennifer Schrage had trouble finding a contractor to handle everything from excavation to paving, so she started her own: Signature Land Services.

Patricia Morales | Alaska Business

Working in media sales as her first job, Schrage quickly noted the comparison: “Realizing I had to develop my year-round sales goals, I referred to a training plan from college and realized it mirrored the hours of training I needed to get to the next level.”

While Schrage’s mentors often included coaches, she encourages young people to find mentors that work for them. “Start meeting people in school and find those mentors. JA is fantastic in terms of seeking out those opportunities and discovering where you want to be,” she notes. “At the end of the day, it’s the human element and relationships that are critical.”

That insight earned Schrage the Denali Award from JA, just the third Alaskan so honored.

Schrage’s mantra is one she shares with her own sons. “I’ve told my boys this many times, and I will say it again to the Junior Achievement youth: teachers and mentors can never fire you; they only want the best for you,” she says. “They want to offer feedback, provide opportunities, give you a safe space to learn, make mistakes, and try again.”

“Start meeting people in school and find those mentors. JA is fantastic in terms of seeking out those opportunities and discovering where you want to be.”

—Jennifer Schrage, President, Signature Land Services

Alaska Business June 2024 cover
In This Issue
Delivering Anchorage's Promise
June 2024
Welcome to the June 2024 issue, which features our annual Transportation Special Section. We've paired it this year with a focus on the Pacific Northwest and Hawai'i, as Alaska has close ties to both that reach far beyond lines of transportation. Even further out past our Pacific Ocean compatriots and our Canadian neighbors to the east, Alaska's reach extends to India and Singapore. Enjoy this issue that explores many of Alaska's far-flung business dealings.
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