HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- As big a believer in credit unions as he is it may be hard to believe Redstone Federal Credit Union President/CEO Gerald Toland got his start on "the dark side."
"I used to work for banks but I got tired of getting beat up trying to do right by the customer so I started a consulting company and did some work with credit unions and promised myself if I ever got back into that business that I wanted to be part of the credit union movement," said Toland. "In the '80s I had an opportunity to do just that as President of IBM New Jersey Employees FCU and never looked back--it has truly been a wonderful experience."
After some time in N.J. he also served at LA DOT Federal Credit Union and The United Federal Credit Union until he jumped at the chance to head Redstone Federal Credit Union in 1991.
After over 16 years at Redstone FCU's helm, Toland, 69, is retiring effective May 31, 2007. Redstone FCU Executive Vice President Operations/Technology Mike Goodman will serve as interim president until Toland's successor is named.
Under Toland's leadership Redstone FCU grew from a $579 million credit union with 149,000 members, to a $2 billion credit union serving over 280,000 members.
"When I first got here I frankly fell in love with the area, it is a type of community that is so caring and giving ready to open their hearts and wallets to help others," said Toland. "The fact that we are recognized now as a leader in the community is one of our greatest accomplishments."
Toland adds that getting Redstone FCU to become a leader in the community was a top priority from the start. Giving back is nothing new to Toland who has been an active volunteer not only in the credit union industry, but also in numerous local organizations ranging from the Better Business Bureau and Boys and Girls Club of North Alabama, to the Huntsville Library Foundation and Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce, to being appointed by Governor Bob Riley to the Alabama State Health Coordinating Council.
"I've always been a firm believer that you can only get out of a community what you put in and it is a long term commitment to doing good," said Toland. "The reward payback in just doing the right thing has been returned to Redstone six-fold--from the chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau to all the communities we serve--they all know our name and reputation as one of the leading sponsors of community involvement and that is a very good thing."
In addition to corporate sponsorships, Redstone FCU managers and staffers donate their time to actually participate and lend a hand where needed. Toland says that kind of dedication and level of caring is what makes for not only a great team, but a great work environment.
"We greet all new employees and tell them we are family and that if they have a problem then we all have a problem and there isn't anything that can't be fixed as long as we communicate," said Toland. "People are knocking on the door to come here because of that family atmosphere. I do a lot of walking around and have always been accessible and the executive staff is accessible no one is sitting in an ivory tower that employees are afraid to walk in and talk. I think if you give people the authority and responsibility and make them accountable for their actions they feel better about contributing to the organization."
He says that he's sure once he leaves the credit union will continue to be very successful and grow. Besides the banker attacks, one of the greatest challenges facing not just Redstone FCU, but all credit unions, is attracting and connecting with younger members.
"Young people don't always want to walk into a branch to find information or even pick up an application they want to be able to do business with us in ways that are most convenient for them, said Toland. "They want the option to conduct their business sitting at their computer and be done with it so we have to have the technology and service to keep up with them and that is always a challenge."
As for the credit union industry, Toland says its past time for credit unions to really share their story.
"We've forgotten to document the things that we do so people don't know who we are and all the good we do," said Toland. "We don't do enough to beat our own drum let consumers know we're still making $100-$500 loans, offering free credit counseling or providing affordable housing loans. We need to do a better job of getting the message of the credit union difference out."
He adds that it is the people not only at the credit union, but the members as well, that make coming in everyday worthwhile.
"Members call me all the time needing help saying they were in trouble and that challenge of what can I do to resolve this, having the authority and finding a way for us to say yes is one of the things I'll miss most," said Toland.
So far he hasn't made retirement plans beyond building a new home in Madison County with his wife Veronica and spending at least the next three weeks catching up with his 12-year old granddaughter. One thing he knows for sure is that he will continue his efforts to give back to the community.
"I think working with kids is where it's at," said Toland. "If I can help them become productive citizens when they get out of school then that would be my best contribution to the community."
For his successor Toland's advice is simply "Listen to your people. They have the ideas, shortcuts and they are smart folks."
"The past 16 years have been an unparalleled and rewarding experience for me," said Toland. "I am honored to have had the opportunity to help lead Redstone Federal Credit Union to where it is today. I could not have accomplished this without the support of my family, our outstanding board of directors, an extraordinarily dedicated staff, and all of the members of this credit union. Along the way, I've had the opportunity to work with many financial leaders here in Alabama and across the country. Many have become great friends, and I look forward to sustaining these relationships in the years ahead."
Editor's Note: Gerald Toland can be reached at email@example.com