So-Cal native Fred Gray moved to Haines 22 years ago; credits career longevity to ‘sense of ownership’
By Hilary Reeves
As he’s done so many times in the past 22 years, Fred Gray brushes the newly fallen show off his truck before heading to the Delta Western office in Haines. And although life in a small Alaskan town isn’t for everyone, Gray said he’s never been bored.
“As I inhale the cold air I think about how blessed I am to start another day up here in the North, and I have a family that feels the same. ‘Life isn’t measured by the breaths you take, but rather by the moments that take your breath away.’ That pretty much paints the picture of living here in Haines.”
Fred was raised by his mother and Swedish grandmother in Long Beach, Calif. near Alamitos Bay. He began sailing when he was only six years old, eventually qualifying for the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Trials. Gray worked as a lifeguard and swimming instructor for the City of Long Beach to pay his way through college, graduating with a degree in accounting. His dream was to follow the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit in Europe, but he instead went to work one week after graduation.
Fred worked in public accounting before accepting a position as the West Coast Crude Oil Accountant for Conoco.
“From there my resume reads like the Yellow Pages: Powerine Oil, a mid-size refiner; Hawaiian Independent Refinery; Voest Alpine, and Austrian state-owned company based in Manhattan; Bomar Trading also in New York.”
After Bomar Fred took some time off to “get grounded.” He dabbled in real estate development, and met his wife Bittan.
“I happened to mention that I was going to Sweden for a sailboat race and, as it turned out, she was from Sweden, and this conversation started a whole new journey.”
After their daughter was born, Gray said they both felt it was time to move out of Southern California. They landed in Washington State, where he was hired as a Controller by Delta Western in May of 1994, and tasked with the acquisition of Totem Oil in Haines and the Canadian Yukon.
“The acquisition of Totem Oil was a great undertaking, setting up a sales, supply, and distribution network,” said Gray. “Acquiring an accounting system that would work both in the United States and Canada was the greatest challenge. The current Delta Western MAS System originated in our Delta Western Whitehorse, Yukon office.”
According to Gray, companies often live and die based on how they communicate. “For me communication has always been a paramount aspect of how I do business. I’m on a soap box daily, explaining Delta Western’s public outreach program, pricing policies, and our family and business values.
“Delta is a crucial and integral part of Haines, and in a small community, you are best leading from behind, supporting the public’s ideas, instead of in front where you become the recipient of public ridicule. Delta Western has been very successful in doing just that, earning the trust and respect of the Haines community.”
As for living in Haines, Gray is enthusiastic. In addition to the thousands of eagles that gather there every fall, the city is home to the Kluane to Chilkat International Bike Relay, and the Alcan 200 snow machine race, the last such road race in North America. Haines is also known for its Extreme Heli-Skiing.
“Skiers from all over the world have found Haines,” Fred said affectionately. “The Freeride World Tour extreme ski competition is returning to Haines again this winter. Have you seen the (most recent) Coors TV commercials? Those are actually our Chilkat Mountains, not the Colorado Rockies.”
Fred says he’s most proud of his daughter, Anna Christina.
“She graduated from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington in 2014. Since graduation, she’s freelanced for Starbucks and also one of Bill Gates’s companies in downtown Seattle. But perhaps most exciting for me has been to walk into Starbucks stores and see her packaging design on their shelves. She recently moved to Portland (Oregon) after being offered the job as head designer for a start-up company. Not a bad career start for a kid growing up in a town with less than 2,000 people.”
Though many years have passed since his days in Alamitos Bay, Fred still putts around in his 12-foot sailboat, and swims a mile a day in the local pool.
“Like Albert Einstein said, ‘I think 99 times and find nothing; I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me.’”
And when he thinks about his career, Fred concluded, “Delta Western’s Senior Management has generously allowed me to feel a sense of ownership over their business model and the company assets. After 22 years with Delta Western, I still believe that if you own it, you naturally respect it.”