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Michaela Naidoo on family, photography and bringing people together.

By Hilary Reeves

When Michaela Naidoo is out on the streets of Seattle and sees people taking pictures of each other in front of city landmarks and scenic vistas, she stops.

“I say, ‘Let me take the picture – you go get in it,’” she explained. “I absolutely love being able to do that for people. There’s a photographer that I follow whose mantra is ‘exist in photos.’ Everyone should exist in their photos. No one should be left out.”

Naidoo, born in Seattle and raised in the city’s Magnolia neighborhood, is a Payroll Specialist for Delta Western, a company that provides fuel to Alaska. Before her official hire, she spent her summers as a sort of intern.

“My mom worked for Delta Western, and I would go in with her during the summers to file and make copies and whatever else they could give a kid to do,” she said. “After I graduated from high school in 2002, I was managing a restaurant – Ivar’s Seafood,” she said. “My mom was the IT Director at Delta Western and she told me the company was hiring an Administrative Assistant.”

Naidoo applied, and was hired.

“I’d never officially worked in an office environment before,” she said, “but by that point, I’d been there almost every summer working and it felt very natural. I already knew everyone. About a year into my time here, I was able to start working with a lot of different departments through various projects. I’ve been here for 13 years and I still enjoy learning about the different facets of the company.”

Bridging the geographical gap

Naidoo’s strong interest in business led her to pursue an associate’s degree while working full time at her job at Delta Western. She hopes to continue her education in the coming year and entrench more firmly into the world of Human Resources.

Anchorage landscape shows out of focus marshes leading to a vast expanse of water backed by distant snowcapped mountains. Two hills frame the side of the scene suggesting your gaze to look onward.
Naidoo’s work often takes her to Anchorage, where she makes time to capture the surrounding dramatic landscape. Photo: Michaela Naidoo.

“I’ve always had a really strong interest in people and entrepreneurial things,” she said. “When I came out of high school, I got a lot of support from my mom. She encouraged me to go to school. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I started working to figure it out.”

Last July, Naidoo earned the accreditation of Certified Payroll Professional. She currently splits her time between the company’s Seattle and Anchorage offices to provide support and help bridge the geographical gap.

“Some days are spent doing the basic things you would expect: paperwork, filing, etc.,” she said. “But a lot of what I do now is helping employees. There are a lot of moving parts and every day is different. Even though I’m officially in HR, I still try to connect our corporate community – employees, managers, families and the public – and get information out. For example, I started the years of service and recognition awards for the employees this year.”

Naidoo also coordinates the company’s scholarship program, awarding funds to high school graduates in rural communities where Delta Western operates.

“The scholarship program has been one of the most rewarding projects,” she said. “Being able to help students advance in their education and see them grow has been a privilege. I think the most challenging part of my job is learning the best way to connect and help people, particularly when geography separates us. But we’re learning to utilize new technology, and becoming more familiar with the different regions of Alaska through in-person visits have made a difference.”

An image of a polaroid, showing a group of people posing before a Horiuchi mural at the Seattle Science Center, behind the polaroid is the same group posing in front of the same mural.
A local meet-up of Instagram users – called an “Instameet” – regularly connects between 20 and 100 Seattle photographers. Photo: Michaela Naidoo.

Nice to ‘Instameet’ you

Naidoo’s interest in photography stems from a childhood where documenting life’s accomplishments was the norm.

“I got my first film camera from my aunt when I was eight and I took pictures of everything all the time,” she laughed. “I loved capturing things on film. I love capturing memories.”

An avid photographer, when the social media application Instagram launched in 2012, Naidoo was quick to sign up. The app allows users to post individual pictures, add effects, and post them for followers to comment on.

“When Instagram came out, the purpose behind it was to get people all over the world to share their love of photography,” she said. “There were also local meet-ups of app users called ‘Instameets.’”

Naidoo attended her first Seattle Instameet in 2012.

“I literally didn’t talk to anyone,” she said. “I came back though, and I ended up meeting the people who were running it. I started going to them regularly, and eventually, they asked me to volunteer.”

Naidoo adopted the role of Community Coordinator, encouraging Seattle’s Instagrammers to come out from behind their screens, meet fellow photographers and create together.

“Our hashtag is #igers_seattle,” she said. “The part I love most is encouraging people to come to our meetups, witnessing the connections they make, and then seeing them via the hashtag out with new friends taking pictures in the city.”

The hashtag has garnered more than 550,000 photos from different areas of the Puget Sound community: photographers, bloggers, restaurants, and local neighborhoods and establishments.

“Our Instameets have ranged from more than 100 people down to 20 people,” she said. “But each one is unique and brings new people together, creates new memories and connections.”

Taking ownership

“Probably what I’m most proud of right now is seeing the Instagrammers community grow, seeing the positive impact on the Seattle creative community, and also continuing to grow and gain a better understanding of our company,” she said. “There was a time when I didn’t really take a lot of ownership of working for Delta Western. Especially in Seattle – you don’t tell people you work for an oil company. But petroleum isn’t such a scary word in Alaska. We’re a company that provides a vital resource to people who wouldn’t otherwise have it and I am proud to be a part of that, and I’m proud of the positive impact I’m able to contribute to our growth and goals.”

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.