The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) named the youngest executive director in its history in October 2015, with the selection of Alexa Tonkovich. Tonkovich joined ASMI in 2009 as the Asia and emerging markets program manager and became the international program director in 2013.
How did you enter the seafood industry and why? What drew you to it as a career?
I was drawn to ASMI because of my educational background in Asian Studies. ASMI was hiring for an Asia Marketing Coordinator and the opportunity to use my language skills and cultural knowledge was very appealing. I was born and raised in Juneau so the chance to promote my home state and one if its most important resources was exciting too. As an Alaskan I understood the importance of the seafood industry and once I joined ASMI I quickly learned how dynamic it is.
What do you aim to achieve in the sector?
I hope that I personally, and ASMI as an organization, represents the industry well. Ultimately ASMI works to serve the industry and to meet their needs. These needs don’t always align from sector to sector, so my aim is to make decisions at ASMI that best serve the industry overall. It is equally important that ASMI support the State of Alaska through promotion of our products, market development, education and outreach.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
I really love being part of the Alaska seafood industry so it’s possible that my work at ASMI could lead to a different job within the industry. I’ve also really enjoyed working with other commodity boards and industry trade groups, so perhaps I’d want to try out a different sector.
In your view, what are the seafood industry's biggest future challenges?
I can’t speak for the industry as a whole but some challenges I see for the Alaska seafood industry are:
Market diversification: Many of our products are dependent on one or two major markets which poses a challenge if that key market diminishes.
Product innovation: Innovating product forms to keep up with changing demographics and tastes.
Eco-label/Certification: Staying current with evolving eco-label requirements while maintaining our Alaska brand.
What kind of people does the industry need to face these challenges and take it forward?
I think it helps to have a mix of both new and experienced people working together on these challenges. Certainly it helps to have experienced industry veterans with historical and institutional knowledge, but it also helps to have those newer to the industry that may look at things from a fresh perspective. It also takes a bit of daring -- people with a willingness to try a new approach.
What could current leadership in your sector learn to be better at?
I’d like to encourage our industry to be open to new ideas. Test new products, explore new markets, and try a new approach. We’ll need a bit of creativity to tackle some of the challenges ahead and to keep up with our competition.
What is the perception of the seafood industry as a career choice amongst younger people, do you think?
I have had many discussions with my more experienced industry peers who worry that the Alaska seafood industry needs to do more to attract young people. The seafood industry may not seem as glamorous as some industries, but there are great opportunities in this sector which is dynamic, has a great product and story to sell, and is vitally important to the economy. It’s great to see some young people coming up in the industry but ASMI and the Alaska industry can do more to encourage that through outreach, internships and perhaps some self-promotion.
What is the single best piece of career advice you have ever received?
Although it’s not exactly advice, I’ve really seen the value of relationship-building in this industry. I’ve gained so much from getting to know industry members better and spending time with them outside our meetings. I’m incredibly grateful for the extra time many of them will spend volunteering for ASMI or providing training and career development to our staff.
What would you being doing professionally if you weren't in your current role?
I tried a number of career paths before coming to ASMI. I enjoyed certain aspects of all of them, but have found my current career path to be the best fit. It combines many of my interests -- food, travel, Alaska, international relations. It also provides the variety and challenge to keep me engaged. And at the end of the day I head home feeling great about the work that I do knowing that we promote a healthy, sustainable, delicious product and an industry that’s so important to the state of Alaska.