Symitar has a new president, and Kathy Hooker Burress has accomplished one final goal in her long career in credit union technology sales and service. She retired.
Hooker Burress joined the core processor in 2000 as national sales manager and succeeded Bruce Cormode as president in 2005. Prior to that she spent 18 years at EDS and its predecessor, CUNA Data.
The Dallas native and Knoxville, Tenn., resident said she had a goal to retire at age 55, and now plans to focus on spending time with her family.
"For 28 years it's been nothing but credit unions. Credit unions have been my life. Working with the industry has been wonderful and I love the people but I'm ready to take care of me a little bit," Hooker Burress said.
The past 10 years have been eventful for Symitar, a San Diego-based startup that has grown to become one of the most prominent providers of core technology to credit unions and now is a division of Jack Henry & Associates of Monett, Mo.
Symitar serves more than 700 credit unions with its Episys and Cruise platforms and its reputation for accommodating third-party integration has led to a cottage industry of consultancies and CUSOs making their own living serving Symitar credit unions.
"Twenty-five years ago the core system was expected to do everything, but everything was shares and loans and share draft accounts," Hooker Burress said. "Today, of course, the core system can't do everything. It's too complex. The key is to be able to facilitate all the pieces and parts that a credit union wants to use, and I think Symitar has done that very well."
Now instead of a directing a diverse operation with more than 600 employees in several locations across the country, she plans to spend her time focusing on her husband and their family, including two small grandchildren.
She savors the change but said the transition has not been easy.
"I've had some time to adjust mentally to it now, but I've been crying off and on ever since I announced it last summer. People have overwhelmed me with their response. It's been amazing, and bittersweet. It's the right time for me and my family and I know I'm leaving Symitar in good hands," Hooker Burress said.
Noting that "Jack Henry believes in planned successions," Hooker Burress, in fact, hired her successor five years ago. Ted Bilke, who came on as Episys operations general manager, is the new Symitar president.
"I think I already violated the first rule for people in this position: never follow somebody who has done a really, really good job," Dallas-based Bilke said. "Kathy is a larger-than-life figure and her reputation in our industry is huge."
That said, Bilke expressed confidence in the management teams above and below him and said he felt Symitar was ready to take on the considerable challenges it faces, including integrating newly acquired products and services while helping credit unions deal with compliance issues and other mounting operations issues.
A software and systems specialist, operations integration has become second nature to Bilke, who met Burress Hooker while they were both employed at EDS. He came to Symitar after serving as a vice president of enterprise solutions for Lockheed Martin in Houston, where his primary role was providing software systems to NASA and helping the space agency transfer intellectual property they developed to the private marketplace.
"I'm not a rocket scientist but I know a few," he said with a laugh. "It was very interesting work and very translatable to what we're doing now with Symitar. And I can tell you that, while I enjoyed my time there, government contracting has its own challenges and it's not where I wanted to spend the rest of my career."
As for his old friend and boss, she's comfortable moving on, too.
"I told my husband five years ago when I took the president's job that I wanted to make sure I retired before they thought I should," Hooker Burress said. "The last thing I wanted was one of the sales managers pushing me around the GAC in a wheelchair."