Managing the macadamias at Mauna Loa

June 15, 2016
Aloha from Hawaii! Michael Karchere, B.B.A. management, global logistics management '06, throws up the shaka outside the Mauna Loa Macadmia Nut Corprotation, where he works as a purchasing manager (Image courtesy of Michael Karchere)

Aloha from Hawai’i! Management and global logistics grad Michael Karchere, B.B.A. ’06, throws up the shaka outside the Mauna Loa visitor center in Hilo, where he works as a purchasing manager. (Image courtesy of Michael Karchere)

A few years ago, Michael Karchere, B.B.A. ’06, moved from the North Slope oilfields to the Mauna Loa nut factory, swapping extreme arctic winds for light tropical breezes. And instead of buying massive drill bits, he’s now responsible for purchasing thousands of pounds of chocolate.

It sounds like quite a turnaround, but it all ties back to his focus on logistics at UAA.

Commuting between the 49th and 50th states

In college, Michael focused on global logistics within the management program. He didn’t know where he’d end up after graduation (he certainly didn’t plan on Hawai’i), but he enjoyed adding extra layers like purchasing and transportation to his management coursework. Importantly, he knew that Alaska’s location made logistics a reliable choice.

Anchorage is an ideal hub to study the complex systems that deliver goods around the world. From its perch near the Arctic, 90 percent of the industrialized world is within a 9.5-hour flight. Stand at Point Woronzoff on the city’s western edge and you can see nearly 500 cargo jets touch down per week, making Ted Stevens the fifth largest cargo landing airport in the world.

And within the state, that supply chain industry is equally valuable. After graduation, Michael’s dual management and logistics degrees led him to a contractor job working with BP’s supply chain. Alaska’s economic driver has long been the North Slope oilfields, and extreme conditions call for serious logistics industry to stay functioning (for example, if a towering multi-million dollar machine breaks down, that tiny replacement bolt better be there already).

In his first entry-level role, Michael worked as an expeditor and pushed orders through the system from Anchorage. A buyer left the company and Michael soon moved up a step. Within a year of graduation, he had an expeditor working for him as he took on the task—and the responsibility—of purchasing materials for Prudhoe Bay.

A few years later, Michael became a materials coordinator and had to switch to the standard two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off schedule that defines life on the Slope. That’s when a light bulb turned on.

“I decided hey, as long as I get back to work in two weeks, I can live wherever I want,” he said. So he and his wife turned their attention to Hawai’i, a frequent vacation destination of theirs. “We started looking and planning and dreaming,” he recalled.

The dream soon became a reality. They found a one-acre parcel in rural Keaau, about 10 miles south of Hilo on the relatively affordable Big Island, and made the move. Michael kept his Alaska job, and every two weeks he’d endure the jarring transition from tropical sunshine to frigid dark nights.

Mauna Loa management

You know them. You love them. Now, read how UAA is a part of every item (Image courtesy of Michael Karchere)

You know them. You love them. And now, feel free to indulge knowing the Seawolf connection in every can. (Image courtesy of Michael Karchere)

Thankfully, Alaska and Hawai’i have a common bond in logistics. Due to their remote locations, both states import most goods, and both also serve as vital cargo hubs between the U.S. and Pacific Rim. Hawai’i has the added prize of being a stopover on international shipping routes, too.

So, though it was never his intent, Michael landed in another location with a robust logistics industry. And during one of his many rotations between tundra dorm life and Keaau home life, his wife discovered a logistics job closer to home.

In 2012, Michael applied to a purchasing role at Mauna Loa, the macadamia nut brand that’s a frequent fixture in the returning suitcases of many Alaska travelers. He soon had a job just down the street in Hilo, cutting his commute by about 3,500 miles.

The job was fairly similar, too, as he purchased maintenance supplies for Mauna Loa’s primary nut-processing factory—an older building in a humid environment on a distant chain of islands. Preparedness was still crucial.

The view from the Michael's office in Hilo is a drastic change from his years on the North Slope (Image courtesy of Michael Karchere).

The view from Michael’s office in Hilo is a drastic change from his years on the North Slope. (Image courtesy of Michael Karchere)

40,000 pounds of chocolate

This is where things take a sweet, sweet turn. Today, Michael’s a purchasing manager at Mauna Loa and, instead of buying bolts and belts, he purchases all the ingredients that make the company famous (like Kona coffee coated macadamias). It’s not uncommon for Michael to purchase 40,000 pounds of chocolate in a month. Very few people can make that delicious claim.

In addition, he acquires all that telltale Mauna Loa packaging—the steely blue lids and the tiny tin cans, the resealable bags that fit so nicely into a carry-on backpacks, etc.

From his office at the Hilo factory—which ships out 24 tons of nuts per year—Michael has views over the palm trees, visitor center and tropical gardens outside. On clear days there’s even a great view of Mauna Kea, the world’s tallest mountain (when measured from its underwater base).

A dozen tour buses may stop by any given day, providing a stopover between nearby Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and the cruise ship harbor in Hilo. The scenery and visitors make a big change from the isolated atmosphere at Prudhoe Bay.

“It’s pretty fun,” Michael noted. “I never could have imagined I’d end up here.” But thanks to his dual business degrees, his interest in logistics and a few helpings of good fortune, he moved from entry-level in Alaska to managing multi-million dollar purchases in Hawai’i. And though his MVP Gold status on Alaska Airlines has atrophied drastically, it’s been worth it to return home every day.

He credits Alaska for these unforeseen opportunities. “Coming out of school, there aren’t many places with an economy that can support such quick growth for a college grad,” he noted. “UAA was great. It was affordable, and I feel pretty lucky to have started my career in Alaska. It definitely gave me a foot up.”

So next time you’re in Hawai’i, show your support for #SeawolfNation and grab a can of Mauna Loa macadamias for the road.

Not that you needed an excuse.

 

Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement

University of Alaska Anchorage - University Advancement
3211 Providence Dr. Suite 236 - Anchorage, AK 99508