Published January 2020
Project Management is an in-demand skill set that contributes greatly to the success of Ahtna’s family of companies. In this article we talk to Michelle Marshall, Senior Project Manager at Ahtna, and learn about her career path and tips for success. Interested in a Project Management career? Contact Ahtna’s Shareholder Enrichment staff to learn about available training and job opportunities.
Michelle was born in Glennallen and is a member of the Naltsiine Sky Clan. She has three children: Ryne Kinney, Jasznia Marshall and Zjhandon Marshall. Michelle’s mother is the late Norma Elaine Finch (Marshall) and grandparents the late Robert and Mae Marshall. Michelle’s grandparents taught her about family values: to love and always take care of each other. She admired how her grandmother took care of the family and wants to continue the tradition by ensuring that the next generation of cousins develops a strong relationship too. She credits her grandparents for her work ethic, especially her grandfather who was Ahtna’s first president and her inspiration to do her best.
Michelle moved from her hometown of North Pole to Anchorage when she was twenty to escape the cold of the interior and pursue college. She earned an associate Paralegal degree and is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Business Management.
Michelle began her career at Ahtna in 1999 as a Contracts Administrator. She worked out of the old Abbott building and says things were much different then with only a small number of subsidiaries and staff. An Office Manager position in 2000 unexpectedly led her on a path to project management. She worked for a previous Vice President whose workload increased as the companies grew. She asked Michelle if she would be interested in taking some things off her plate by assisting in managing several contracts. Michelle accepted the increased responsibility and became her mentee. The Vice President’s strict management style didn’t always make her easy to work for, but it did help mold Michelle into the project manager she is today. “I accepted her constructive criticism, I listened, and I didn’t give up when I made a mistake.”
Today Michelle is a Senior Project Manager, working under subsidiary President Tim Finnigan, and is responsible for the successful management of ten contracts with a combined yearly revenue of $13 million. She oversees the Social Security Administration (SSA) Records Management contract in Missouri where Ahtna manages over seven million SSA paper records. Winning the $50 million-dollar contract in 2017 was a proud career moment. She also manages the Federal Aviation Administration, Alaska Army and Air National Guard contracts that provide support services for telecommunications, medical case management, psychological health coordination, management analysis, unit equipment administration, and janitorial services to over 16 locations across remote Alaska. Her day-to-day duties change daily, and she must be prepared to roll with the changes by staying organized. One day she may be traveling to a project site, the next writing a client proposal and the following in meetings or assisting her colleagues with project start up tasks.
“Michelle always has a positive attitude and the ‘I can do it Spirit.’ She takes on all the challenges we throw at her. It has been incredible to see Michelle grow into the leader she is today. I appreciate her being part of our team and she’s an integral and crucial part of our success. On another note, she manages our very successful Ahtna-Advancia Mentor Protégé JV which was the first MP between an ANC and a Tribally Owned Indian Corporation,” said Michelle’s supervisor Tim Finnigan.
Michelle manages five direct staff members and oversees over 100 indirect staff. “We have a dynamic team where no idea is a bad idea and we all listen and learn from each other. I always find out what staff member’s goals are and how can we make those goals happen for success and always remind them we are a team,” she says. She leads by example and finds it important that staff sees how hard she is working so that a high standard is set.
Michelle has mentored several shareholders over the years and supported them in moving forward in their careers. Tiffany Jordan started as an Office Assistant and is now a part of the project team working as a Project Assistant. She primarily manages the FAA janitorial contracts and around 25 remote employees. Casey Leonard started as an Ahtna Special Forces intern studying to be a physical therapist but has now changed her focus to a BA in Business Management. “After seeing Casey’s ambition and eagerness to learn we have trained her as a Project Assistant and she’s now a part-time Project Assistant in our Professional Services Group.”
When asked about defining moments in her life, Michelle said there have been many, but they weren’t always positive. She explained further how she faces challenges by pushing herself to her threshold of endurance. “I now look for challenges to pursue for those moments. I have accomplished hiking Crow’s Pass a couple times which is a 23-mile hike and also Kesugi Ridge Trail which was a 30-mile hike. Both hikes were influential in clearing my mind, helping me ground myself, testing my endurance and providing clarity. Being disconnected out in the wilderness does a lot for your soul. My latest challenge was the Spartan race in Los Angeles that I accomplished in May. Now I am looking for what’s next!”
Michelle’s advice to other shareholders who may be interested in a project management career is to finish your education first, always arrive to work on time, be teachable, accept feedback from your supervisor and read everything, including the fine print. Organization is key in project management and you must develop skills to be able to prioritize tasks and handle multiple projects at one time. “Never stop striving to be the best version of yourself. We all have our struggles, but don’t let those define you as a person.”
Michelle’s Career Progression with Ahtna:
- 1999 – Contracts Administrator/Ahtna, Inc.
- 2000 – Executive Office Manager/Ahtna, Inc.
- 2006 – (Part Time) Office Assistant/Ahtna Government Services Corp.
- 2007 – Office Manager/Ahtna Government Services Corp.
- 2008 – Junior Project Manager/Ahtna Engineering Services, LLC
- 2012 – Project Manager/Ahtna Engineering Services, LLC
- 2017 – Senior Project Manager/Ahtna Environmental, Inc.