It was worth the wait.
Joe Usibelli Jr. finally accepted the honor of being named 2022 UAF Business Leader of the Year, at a special gathering at the Westmark Hotel’s Gold Room on Friday, Nov. 18. The event had been postponed since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s humbling to be here to receive this award,” Usibelli told hundreds of people in the audience. “Especially among my friends, my family, my colleagues. It’s a bit overwhelming.”
“It gives you a sense that you’re doing things somewhat right,” he added.
Usibelli, the president of Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy, was chosen by UAF’s College of Business and Security Management (CBSM) selection committee for his steadfast leadership, business expertise, educational support and community engagement. He is the 45th person to be honored with this award. He is also among a handful of fathers/sons who have been named winners of this award over the years. Joe Usibelli Sr. accepted the honor in 1978.
“My father was a recipient of this award,” Usibelli said. “It reminds me of this place we call Alaska, and especially Interior Alaska, where we all know people a certain way.
“Having friends in Alaska means not only that you run into them over and over, but when you do business in Alaska, your life paths cross many, many times,” he said. “That’s what makes this place special — to have that comfort of knowing people you’re familiar with, but can also depend on.”
Usibelli has been a strong supporter of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and after listening to presentations by students, he said, “we will be in great hands in the future.”
He had a few suggestions for future leaders.
“Take charge of your life,” he said. “In order to predict your future, you create it yourself. You won’t be alone in creating it. There are lots of people that help you along the way. Accept that help and learn from it and you will be a success.”
The most important thing is family, he said. Family provides strength, a sounding board and support.
“You can’t do it without them,” he said.
The other thing in business is your team, Usibelli said.
“Your team is super important,” he said. “Many times you spend more time with them than your family. To me, my team is my family also. It can’t really be any other way.”
He noted that the evening brought him full circle.
“In 1981 I was the co-chair of this event,” he said. Students from the CBSM organize this event, which also serves as a fundraiser for the college.
That evening, the college raised nearly $83,000 in donations for the College of Business and Security Management. In addition, Usibelli presented his alma mater with a check for $300,000. He said Usibelli will also provide $100,000 to the arctic innovation competition and $200,000 to CBSM scholarship for future students.
During student presentations, each mentioned the high school they attended and gave their alma mater mascot a shoutout: “Go Wolfpack” and “Go Malemutes.” When Usibelli spoke, he did the same.
“I graduated from Tri-Valley High School in Healy,” he said “Go Warriors.” He also graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and gave UAF a nod as well: “Go Nanooks.”
“Both of those institutions gave me the skills, along with a whole bunch of other people to do what I do today,” he said.