CIRI is pleased to welcome new leadership! In October, the CIRI Board of Directors announced the appointment of Swami Iyer as CEO and promotion of Chief Strategy Officer Sarah Lukin (Alutiiq) to the role of president.
Swami began his new role as CEO-elect on Oct. 16, and Sarah began serving as president-elect effective Oct. 10. They will begin their respective tenures as CEO and president on Jan. 1, 2024.
Current CIRI President and CEO Sophie Minich will remain with the company through Dec. 31 to aid the transition in leadership.
A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Swami brings 25 years’ experience in multi-billion-dollar international and domestic companies and projects. He comes to CIRI from Virgin Galactic where, as president of Aerospace Systems, he helped lead and support the design and build of current and future vehicle fleets.
As CEO, Swami will manage the overall direction of CIRI, set long-term strategy goals, and serve as the primary point of contact between the Board and the business. He holds Bachelor and Master of Science and Engineering degrees from the University of Michigan and a second master’s degree in flight-test engineering from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School.
As CIRI’s chief strategy officer for the last two-plus years, Sarah has played a key role in identifying long- and short-term strategies and providing strategic leadership for the company. She has more than 20 years’ experience working with Indigenous businesses across the U.S. and Canada. As president of CIRI, she will focus on the day-to-day operations of the company and ensure CIRI’s diverse Alaska Native cultures, programs and values remain at the forefront of all we do.
Sarah is Alutiiq and hails from Port Lions, a remote village on Kodiak Island. She is a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. and Afognak Native Corporation and an enrolled Tribal member of the Native Villages of Afognak and Port Lions. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alaska and is a graduate of Alaska Pacific University’s Alaska Native Executive Leadership Program.
Where were you born and raised, and where do you currently reside: Born in New York and raised in Florida. I currently reside in Great Falls, Virginia. After the first of the year, I will divide my time between Alaska and Virginia.
Family: Wife and three daughters—middle-school-aged twins and our oldest is in college.
What inspired you to pursue a career with CIRI: As giving back is important to me, I had initially thought I might want to work for a nonprofit. But CIRI is the ultimate cool job—a for-profit corporation with a diverse portfolio of high-quality operating and financial assets that contributes to the economic well-being of its Shareholders and their Descendants. It’s the best of all worlds. I’ve worked and traveled all over the world, but I’m most excited to learn about Alaska Native culture. I would love to learn an Alaska Native language. I’ll be spending about 75% of my time in Alaska, and I just want to immerse myself and learn as much as I can.
What is a professional achievement you are proud of: I am a third-generation U.S. military veteran, of which I am very proud. I’m retired from the U.S. Air Force, where I most recently served as the South Asia and Oceania chief under the Deputy Undersecretary of International Affairs. I earned multiple aerial and combat medals, as well as two humanitarian service medals.
What is your favorite quote or words to live by: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The only way to effect change is through our actions.
What is something that had a profound impact on your career or life: My father began his life in India at a level of poverty that is difficult to comprehend. Both my parents were orphans, and my father was physically disabled. Both were eldest children and had to raise their siblings. My mom was a night-shift nurse for 30 years while my dad worked during the day. He earned two engineering degrees because the U.S. didn’t recognize his first degree from India. My parents—their example and the work ethic they instilled—has had the most profound impact on my life, much more than any education or training.
What nonprofit or community organizations are closest to your heart: I serve on the advisory board of New Majority Capital, which works to increase the number of under-represented business owners. I make a point of investing in minority- and veteran-owned businesses—time, money and mentorship.
Favorite books, music and movies: I listen to a wide variety of music but especially enjoy hard rock. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach is my favorite book, and my favorite movie would have to be “The Right Stuff.” I also love anything sci-fi.
Favorite pastimes and hobbies: Spending time with my family, travel, chess, poker, and flying planes
Where were you born and raised, and where do you currently reside: I was born in Kodiak, Alaska, the nearest hospital to my village of Port Lions. I grew up in Port Lions and spent a few years in Grand Junction, Colorado. I currently reside in Anchorage.
Family: Husband, Jeff; son, Kadin, age 22; and daughter, Kiya, age 17. We also have three dogs and one cat.
What inspired you to pursue a career with CIRI: I jumped at the opportunity to work with current CIRI President and CEO Sophie Minich. She has an incredible reputation as an executive in the Alaska business community. What’s more, as an Alaska Native woman, I was doubly thrilled to learn from someone who has had such a significant long-lasting impact not only on CIRI, its values and team, but also in the greater community. I have been incredibly blessed to be mentored by Sophie since joining the CIRI family in 2021.
What is your most memorable Alaska experience: My husband and I packed everything we would need into our two kayaks. We were dropped at the head of Harris Bay in southcentral Alaska and spent the next five days circumnavigating the bay, kayaking among calving glaciers, whale-watching, fishing, camping, and avoiding the black and brown bears walking through our camp.
What causes/organizations are closest to your heart: I am passionate about educational and culture-focused programs for Alaska Native youth.
What is something that had a profound impact on your career or life: My junior year of high school, while helping my dad chop wood for our banya (traditional Alutiiq steam bath in our village), he looked at me and said, “You will get an education and come back and help our people.” No one had ever graduated from college before in our family. I didn’t know how to apply for college, where to attend or how to pay for it. But I always listened to my Elders and when my dad gave me a directive, I did it.
Favorite pastimes and hobbies: Fishing, gardening, and preserving and sharing what we grow and harvest.
Is there a skill you’re currently developing or have always wanted to learn: Our 2023 CIRI summer interns were taught to bead Alaska Native earrings by a fellow CIRI employee. I was so inspired by their creativity and talent that I recently started to learn. It is fun, relaxing, good for my soul, and at times a little frustrating!
Fun fact: I am an identical twin. My twin sister, Shauna Hegna, is the president of Koniag, Inc., the Alaska Native regional corporation for Kodiak Island.