Calista Shareholder Attains Leadership Role at Bilista Holding, LLC
Stefan Rearden, Leader from the Region
Storyknife, March/April 2021 edition
Growing up in western Alaska, Calista Shareholder Stefan Rearden knew he wanted to become an engineer, even though he hadn’t met one yet.
Stefan went on to spend two decades as a mechanical engineer in Alaska’s oil and gas industry—first for BP, then Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.
Recently, Stefan accepted a leadership position in Calista Corporation’s family of companies. His job title is Senior Director of Special Projects, and he is working for Bilista Holding, LLC, Calista’s business line for subsidiaries working in construction-related fields.
Stefan says he was fortunate to discover a career path perfect for a math-proficient kid curious about how things are made and how to build them. “Engineering was evident for me,” he says.
Now in his mid-40s, and a father of two, Stefan is eager to share tips and encouragement to students and young Alaska Native people trying to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) careers.
Stefan recently spoke to Storyknife about his own career journey. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: Tell us about your childhood and roots in the YK Region.
A: I am a Shareholder from my mother’s side. My mother Nita [maiden name Prince] was born and raised in Kotlik and worked as a teacher. My father is Michael Rearden. He was raised in Homer and became a wildlife biologist. I grew up in Bethel until we moved to Kotzebue, after 9th grade, and that’s where I graduated from high school.
I grew up commercially fishing the Yukon River in the summer with my parents. That taught me the importance of our natural resources and having a work ethic. Spending a lot of time in the villages up and down the Yukon helped me get in touch with the cultural attributes of being Yup’ik. Also, growing up in Bethel, we had access to the Kuskokwim country and the outdoor lifestyle of hunting, fishing and trapping. Both [rivers] are unique, both are a treasure.
Growing up in rural communities, I never met an engineer. But I started doing research in probably 6th or 7th grade into what careers fit my passion. It was something I endeavored on my own to explore. I remember talking to classmates who also wanted to be engineers and sharing information with each other. I also had great teachers [in Bethel] who gave us the confidence that we can do something.
Q: How did college measure up to your expectations?
A: It was great. College for me was like a doorway to opportunity. You meet and become friends with people from all over Alaska and out of state. For students like me, from a small town like Bethel or Kotzebue, Rural Student Services was a key resource. They had long-serving employees who were there to help us out, as guides, cheerleaders and counselors. I received Calista scholarships I think every year I was in college. Those funds were very impactful and helpful to me.
I originally went to UAF to become a petroleum engineer, but oil prices were down, and it was a tough time in the oil and gas industry. I opted to be a mechanical engineer because they work in a very wide swath of industries.
College is not for everyone, but it was the path for me. It teaches you to be willing to take new challenges and push your limits, how to learn from failure and grow. Another key component is teamwork and learning how to be a great team member.
Q: What was it like working in the oil industry?
A: Right out of college, I started with BP. It was an incredible experience. I spent 16 years with them, honing skill sets, hearing how an international corporation does projects and how the oil industry works.
In 2016, in anticipation of BP leaving the state, I decided to go
to Alyeska, which is a homegrown company owned by large oil companies, but still very Alaskan. I worked on exciting projects between Prudhoe and Valdez and it was an opportunity to expand my capabilities.
“I truly enjoy working for Shareholders who are my family, neighbors and friends.” – Stefan Rearden, Senior Director of Special Projects, Bilista Holding, LLC
While I was at BP, and later at Alyeska, I started employee resource groups for Alaska Native employees. The idea was to increase their engagement and success within the organization. They gain resources to help them grow and succeed, and it helps the company do the same thing.
Q: Tell us about your position at Bilista.
A: My job is to execute improvements across the Bilista holding line and sister companies, through increased sharing of business tools and resources. Some of the tools the individual companies use now are unique to them. My job is to support and enable each to leverage best practices, learn from each other, and improve from those learnings, so we can become efficient and support Bilista’s growth strategy.
Q: Did you ever expect to be working as a Shareholder employee?
A: It’s fantastic what the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act has done for the state and Alaska Native people. The companies owned by Calista have become very successful at what they do. I always watched and monitored what they were doing. It wasn’t until 10 years ago that there was a natural fit for me, with my project management and engineering background.
Coming from the large industry world, it has been refreshing to experience a family-oriented company perspective and approach. I truly enjoy working for Shareholders who are my family, neighbors and friends.
Q: What advice do you have for young Shareholders and Descendants?
A: If I had one thing to share with young Shareholders considering a STEM career, it would be to find a mentor. Reach out to me or someone else who works in STEM. Or reach out to someone who can put you in contact with someone who works in STEM. A mentor can help you navigate the challenges and give guidance. There are a lot of talented individuals in our Region who should be pursuing these opportunities. Often, all they need is that mentor.