A Ride with Luke Sampson
In Luke Sampson’s earliest memory, he sits on his mother’s lap in a boat. A team of dogs pulls the boat up the Kobuk River. His older brothers run next to the dogs on shore.
Luke has lived his whole life with a dog team outside his house. Luke’s father, Steven Sampson, owned three teams: one for hunting, one for trapping and one for hauling wood. The elder Sampson traveled hundreds of miles each winter to bring food home for the family. In summer, as in Luke’s earliest memory, dogs pulled boats up the river to the family’s fish camp.
Before airplanes, power boats and snowmachines, everybody in remote Alaska used dog teams. People even transported patients from villages to the hospital in Kotzebue in sleds pulled by dogs. Today, there are easier ways to travel, yet Luke continues to run his dogs. He gathers the best talent he can, and he trains them well. Then he lets them do what they do best.
Luke is chairman of the board for NANA Development Corporation (NDC). He has conducted hundreds of board meetings for NDC while also running his own construction company, Kobuk River Construction, serving as pastor for the Friends Church, and training his team of sprint dogs to prepare for some of the biggest races in Alaska.
At a recent meeting of NDC presidents, Luke equated preparing his dogs to running a business. “Just like all of you I have a goal,” he said. “I am a dog musher. I run in the Fur Rondy race, which starts in downtown Anchorage, and in the North American, which starts in downtown Fairbanks. This year I’m not going to go to the starting line just to be part of the race. I want to win.”
Each August, Luke runs 45 dogs, hitching groups of 14 to 20 to a four-wheel ATV. In the beginning, the dogs pull the ATV over gravel to toughen up their feet. As fall progresses, they run longer distances to improve endurance. Whether they run a short course or a long one, they run at 18 miles per hour.
“All dogs need to be in the same condition and to get in their minds that they want to work as a team. No biters. No fighters,” Luke said. “It is the same in business. We have to decide we want to work as a team. Anyone who can’t work with other people cannot be a member of our team.”
Dog mushing may be a traditional form of transportation, but that doesn’t mean Luke doesn’t keep up with technology. The official sprint-racing sled weighs less than 20 pounds. It is made of materials used on space ships and aircraft. Light, but strong. A GPS tells Luke how fast he is going. Radio calls let him know where he is in relation to the competition.
Taking full advantage of technology in the business world is also crucial to NANA’s success. “We’ve made a huge investment in technology,” Luke said. “The key is to not resist change. Take full advantage of it.”
Luke says that when he has a good lead dog he doesn’t have to worry. The leader knows where to go. “We decided some years ago to hire the very best people to run our businesses. That way when our board members go back home they can do what they normally do—check their nets, hunt for caribou, sleep well. They know they have good leaders to run our companies. “
It has been a satisfying ride for Luke, watching NANA’s business grow over the years. He has seen strategies defined in the 1990s come to fruition. He drives our company hard because he recognizes that the mission of improving the lives of our shareholders will be accomplished not overnight, but through daily rides over time. He gathered the best people and trained them well. Now we are all on the same trail working together and doing what we do best.
We show up not to be in the race, but to win.