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10 Questions with Totem Ocean’s Fairbanks Manager Amy Cook


This article first appeared in Totem Ocean News

There is no one better suited to handle Totem Ocean’s Fairbanks office than Amy Cook. One look at her and you know she is the right person to run the show in Fairbanks – especially since it’s a one person office.

Where are you from and how long have you been in Fairbanks?

I am third generation Fairbanks—I’ve lived here nearly all of my life with a big extended family close by.  My Dad is the oldest of six children, all of whom were born and raised here.

After I graduated from Lehigh University, I wanted to fight forest fires and travel the world.   So I did.  As a wildland firefighter, I saw beautiful and remote parts of Alaska and the Western United States.  But, no matter how far I have traveled— trapping on the Black River, rock climbing in Thailand or on safari in Africa—I always made it back.  Fairbanks is my home, and though the winters are cold, it is a warm and supportive community.

How long have you been with Totem Ocean and what were you doing before?

I returned to Fairbanks in 2002 and worked for Northern Air Cargo for four years as the director of the Fairbanks terminal. Then I moved to Carlile Transportation for six and a half years as an account manager. I made the shift to Totem Ocean in December of 2013.  Here I’ve been learning what it takes for Totem Ocean to depart Tacoma and arrive in Anchorage on time, every time, twice a week; a service that, as a Totem Ocean customer at Carlile, I relied on without question.

How have your experiences with other transportation companies prepared you for working with a shipping company (even though you aren’t near water!)?

The Fire Service introduced me to the Incident Command System which has been an essential tool in project planning and implementation. While fighting fires I learned to manage people, how essential it is to get the right supplies to remote locations on time and the importance of efficient equipment utilization. My experiences there prepared me for working in shipping and logistics. 

The transportation industry has provided a great career. At Northern Air Cargo, I met people from remote parts of Alaska and developed a greater understanding for life away from the road system. Carlile represents all modes of transport including shipping with Totem Ocean, barge, and intermodal. The can-do attitude at Carlile systematically solves some of the greatest over-the-road challenges the industry faces.  At Totem Ocean, we frequently team up with our sister companies to haul freight to the ship or deliver it to the final destination.

From loading at manufacturers and retailers all over the country, to the delivery in remote locations in Alaska, Saltchuk companies have been my training ground for statewide logistics.  I love knowing our sister companies’ people and capabilities—it allows me to package services and direct customers to friends who can help.

What are your most important achievements in the last 5 years?Amy and her Kids sit in a small rowboat at Healy Lake

My husband David and I have two children – a four and a six year old – and they are the most important works-in-progress in our life.  We teach our kids about the joys of Alaska, canoeing on the river from our backyard, berry picking in late summer and making the most of the daylight on December 21.

On the career side, I brought new business to Carlile; the connection with those customers was very personal, and I learned so much about all types of transportation including heavy haul and bulk chemicals, and the differences between steamship and barge service.

What was your biggest learning opportunity during your first year with Totem Ocean?TOTE moves military equipment via rail.

As a first-year employee at Totem Ocean, loading the 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Ft. Wainwright for their training exercises in Ft. Irwin, CA was a great learning experience.  It is a unique intermodal logistics event that doesn’t happen very often. I assembled a temporary project labor team and, together with the Ft. Wainwright Logistics Readiness Center and the Alaska Railroad, we loaded 724 military vehicles including Strykers and Humvees to six trains.  We also loaded 494 pieces to 188 flatbeds that included Howitzers, generators, and kitchen units.

What role does Totem Ocean play in the city/community of Fairbanks?

Fairbanks is a great place to live—a diverse community in an extreme climate.  Totem Ocean provisions Fairbanks with every consumable item imaginable and literally makes it possible to live here.

Totem Ocean also supports the community through donations to educational and social-minded organizations that make Fairbanks unique.  I am particularly proud of our involvement with the Morris Thomson Cultural and Visitors Center and the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North.  These facilities are new and very beautiful; they draw people to our town and showcase the beauty of the interior.  I feel proud to work for a company dedicated to giving back to the communities that we serve.

As the Arctic opens up, providing new business opportunities, how do you think this will affect Fairbanks?

It is predicted the Arctic will be seasonally ice free in fewer than 40 years.  As the season for Arctic shipping along the northern sea route expands, so will tourism, mining, and oil and gas development.  When business opportunities across the North Slope flourish, Fairbanks benefits as the onshore gateway to the Arctic – the logistics and industry support hub.

What is the biggest opportunity Totem Ocean is facing in Alaska in 2015?

Totem Ocean has been updating our internal systems to ensure that we have the latest and greatest technology for our customers. We have nearly a year and half of experience with all of our new systems, and this year is about refining our customer experience and processes. It is also exciting to explore collaborative opportunities through the Saltchuk family of companies and offer more diverse solutions to all Alaskans.

What has been most interesting about working at Totem Ocean?

Because our ship carries so many different commodities, I get to learn about retail, manufacturing and construction businesses in Fairbanks. I really enjoy understanding our town in this way and getting a closer look at what makes it tick.  More importantly, I get to know the people who use our ship and depend on our service.  We have innovative customers who are building and doing great things.

Why are you most proud to be a Totem Ocean employee?

Totem Ocean’s commitment to environmental improvement includes advances aimed at air quality. Air quality is a major issue facing Fairbanks and one I take very personally. From simple improvements such as tighter oversight of idling engines to large-scale projects like converting our ships to liquefied natural gas (LNG) later this year, Totem Ocean takes stewardship of the environment very seriously. I am proud to know that the company I work for is always searching for ways to improve the company and minimize the environmental impact it’s having on this generation and the next.