LOWELL, Mass. -- When Mark Cochran took the helm at Jeanne D'Arc Credit Union last summer, he knew that getting everyone on the same page was a critical part of the transition. It still is.
On Aug. 1, 2007, Cochran was tapped president/CEO of the historic, $600 million JDCU, the second oldest credit union in the country with roots dating back to 1911. Cochran hailed from $1.6 billion Affinity FCU in Basking Ridge, N.J., where he served as executive vice president and chief operating officer as well as president and COO of CUSO Affinity Financial Services.
Making the move from New Jersey to Massachusetts, proved to be a hard decision, Cochran admitted, but he's more than convinced the timing was right. "It was tough. I was very happy [at Affinity]," Cochran said. "They have great leadership. I had been in New Jersey all my life but I had reached a time where I was at a crossroads."
Cochran threw his name into the hat as one of several local and regional candidates being considered for the top spot at JDCU. His reasons for doing so have more to do with the credit union's legacy and its diverse outreach within the community. With more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industry, Cochran has fostered an affinity for community service.
"It was the right size and in the Northeast. Most importantly, it's one of the oldest credit unions in the country," Cochran explained. "It started out serving the Catholic population and other groups--I just thought that was so fascinating."
Cochran knew walking in that succeeding Paul Mayotte would be a walk down a well-worn and respected path given that the industry veteran had built a 25-year legacy at JDCU including holding down the CEO spot since 1992. Mayotte stayed on as a consultant until his retirement in December 2007.
"This is a guy who took [the credit union] from a little mom and pop to what it is today," Cochran said. "He spent his remaining time here grooming me. For the healthiness of the credit union, it went very well."
But what vibes were the employees sending? "The staff was probably thinking 'who is this new guy' and 'what are his plans,'" Cochran said.
Indeed, JDCU has been a fixture in the community. Its field of membership extends to Middlesex and Essex counties, the cities and towns of Fitchburg, Leominster, Harvard, Lunenburg and Lancaster and into the New Hampshire counties of Hillsborough and Rockingham. The credit union serves nearly 50,000 members. To communicate with its diverse membership, employees are fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, French, English and Khmer.
"It's important that our employees look like our membership," Cochran said. "Part of our culture is to be involved in the community. The staff is actively involved in different groups throughout the community."
Cochran said he certainly wants to continue JDCU's tradition of forging communal ties. To that end, the credit union recently opened its fifth branch in November and is scheduled to open another this summer.
Meanwhile, it's hard to believe that six months have whisked by since Cochran came aboard. As Mayotte was helping introduce the new CEO to staff, Cochran gave a plug to PowerStart Onboarding, a process that provides guides, tools, resources, and advice and counsel to the newly placed organizational leaders. The four-month procedure included managing the boss and board relationships and goal setting--something else that helped instill a sense of focus and one-pointedness. Cochran particularly liked that he, JDCU's board chairperson, and the search committee chairperson worked together "to make sure everyone was on the same page on big picture topics."
"The challenge of any new leader coming is understanding a new way of doing things," Cochran said. "And, gathering all the people so that everyone is moving together."
So far, morale is good and "there is nothing to fear or dread," Cochran assured saying he considers his leadership style to be "very accessible," "inclusive" and team environment centered. He wants staff to be a part of the decision-making process rather than taking orders.
The relationship with the board is just as important. "They've given me the freedom to let me do what I need to do," Cochran said. "They're all community leaders and are active in helping run the credit union."
Cochran said JDCU's top priority is growing deposits. The marketplace and the credit union's unwillingness to pay competitive rates to grow deposits has stalled progress over the past four years, he explained. Second on the priority list is determining the credit union's strategic focus. "We're almost there," Cochran said. "There wasn't a real focus on the market or growth."
The credit union just converted to a new operating system, which has resulted in a gain in overall efficiency. Cochran also wants to "simplify" JDCU's product line so that it's better understood. There are four or five checking accounts that are being looked at for possible streamlining, for instance.
Having the room to bring JDCU into strategic focus goes back to Cochran being embraced by the board, staff and even other local credit union executives and league officials.
"Let's face it, we all compete with each other to some point," Cochran said. "But one good thing is people in the credit union community have made me feel included."