Bruce Bustamante, B.B.A. ’99, has built a career out of promoting Alaska, and Anchorage specifically. He focused statewide as a former vice president at Princess Cruises and sales manager at Alaska Airlines, but he’s also honed in on the urban side of Alaska as former CEO of Visit Anchorage. He’s once again back in city mode as president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve been very fortunate to be in leadership roles with organizations that have an impact on Anchorage,” he said.
And now he’s sharing his career in local leadership with UAA, serving as both a mentor for an M.B.A. graduate student and chairing the chancellor’s advisory board as the university adapts to economic changes. As an Anchorage super-fan, it only makes sense that he’s a big advocate of his alma mater too.
As president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Bruce oversees a team of six professionals who deliver services, education and development opportunities for Chamber members. The nearly 1,000 businesses that make up the Chamber represent all different sizes—from tiny shops to major corporations—across a wide variety of industries. Primarily, Bruce advocates on behalf of these diverse voices, pursuing favorable business legislation with city and state policymakers.
“Anchorage is fairly competitive,” he noted. “We have a very dynamic economy here.” While the state may be built on oil, the city is a different story. As the headquarters for most of Alaska’s industries—from health care to construction—Anchorage boasts the state’s most robust business diversity. Plus, Alaska jobs generally pay higher than Outside, providing residents greater buying power (which leads to strong infrastructure and national chains, which leads to further investment and employment).
Then there’s tourism, where Bruce built most of his career. By definition, he says, tourism is more than just summer visitors. Enticing conferences is another major factor to keeping hotels in action year-round. And all those visitors want Alaska experiences and goods, which then fosters an intense entrepreneurial scene. Everything is connected.
“Anchorage’s position is really as a commerce hub for the state of Alaska,” Bruce noted. “If you look at the total, they’re not all weighted equally, but there’s a good economic mix here.”
The role of UAA
Since he’s in the business of business, Bruce knows UAA is the place to look for employees and workforce development in town. Plus, he’s seen the value of a college degree play out directly in his own life.
Early in his career, Bruce watched a few opportunities pass him by because he lacked the right credentials. “I thought, you know, it’s not too late to go back [to school],” he said. So he enrolled as a non-traditional student and worked toward his business degree. Things don’t pass by anymore. “It’s opened the doors for other very good opportunities,” he said of his UAA education.
And connecting with the university makes sense, both professionally and personally. “I’m proud to say I graduated from UAA, and have always maintained a strong affiliation.”
Connecting back to campus
Currently, that affiliation manifests itself as chair of the chancellor’s advisory board. “I was honored to be asked to do that,” he said of leading a group of community voices to help guide the university. As president of the Chamber, Bruce knows the job market and where students can find the most success. “We’re creating a very diverse advisory group to work with the chancellor that really is a contemporary representation of the community, in diversity, age and industry,” he said. “The common thread through all of this is a commitment to do what we can to help the university.”
Though in its early stages, the advisory board has already seen one goal realized. The board suggested alumni and business leaders be included in the Strategic Pathways conversations in Fairbanks, and several alumni have joined the conversation as the University of Alaska prepares for the future. Strategic Pathways sub-groups are working on key review areas this summer, including how best to structure business and engineering schools, student athletics and more. Find the project scope and timeline here.
In addition, Bruce also gives back as a mentor in Leadership Fellows, a professional development initiative from the College of Business & Public Policy. Throughout the academic year, Bruce met regularly with a current M.B.A. gradate student to share his perspective and experience as she developed her own career path.
“I really enjoyed that,” he said of the experience. “It was just very rewarding. It was a chance to do what I enjoy best—mentoring people who want to grow.
“I’ve been in business for over 30 years. I have a lot to share and I enjoy sharing what’s helped me though my career.”
“A tremendous place to live”
Though there’s no doubt Alaska faces a challenging situation, Bruce remains confident. He’s made a career out of sharing the beauty and benefits of Anchorage—including its hometown university—and he’s not about to stop now.
“There are a lot of economic components here. Those economic components create opportunities for students,” he said, citing UAA programs in high-need industries like culinary arts, vocational trades and the medical field. Whether it’s direct job placement, community partnerships or alumni advising, the university adds to the city’s economy in myriad ways.
“I think the city is a tremendous place to live,” he said. “But I think it’s a tremendous place to have a business, too.”
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement