Jessica Herishko has a long list of goals, and it’s likely the people who know her would bet she’ll achieve them.
A long-term aspiration, she confides, is to become a credit union CEO. She shares that information in a modest tone that indicates she realizes it’s an ambitious aim, especially for someone 29 years old who is just beginning her career.
But she has already achieved more than many of her peers. Not bad for a woman who didn’t know what a credit union was when she learned about a job opening at Columbia-Greene Federal Credit Union in Hudson, N.Y.
Herishko was born and raised in Ancram, N.Y., population 1,500. Her parents have now moved about two hours north, but she and her husband have remained in the area.
“I did have a few small jobs before joining the credit union,” she explained, “but not any real job. I was attending the local community college and looking for a part-time job. I saw a newspaper ad for a part-time teller here at the credit union.”
“I didn’t really know what a credit union was at that point, but it looked interesting, and I was hired. I had worked a cashier job at the local grocery store, so I had cash handling experience, but I didn’t know quite what to expect.”
“Within probably the first month I fell in love with my job, the members, and the credit union philosophy in general. After I finished my associates degree the credit union offered me a full-time job, and I accepted.”
Herishko has now been with the credit union eight years. Starting out as a member service representative, she went on to an operations specialist position, collections officer, branch manager and now loan officer.
“I think the job I have now has been my favorite. Things just keeping getting better and better,” she said.
Last year Herishko played a lead role in establishing a new in-house debit card and credit card system. First, she had to learn the system. Then she managed the program as it rolled out and now handles all aspects of the operation.
“When I heard management was going to have an in-house program, I was very excited,” she said. “I knew it was going to be a big undertaking for everyone. Because I did have background in so many different aspects of the credit union, I was confident I could handle the project.”
One challenge, she indicated, is that the venture is never-ending. Although the undertaking is now running smoothly, regulations constantly change. She has also scurried to train the staff while she herself is still picking up details.
“They ask me questions I can’t answer, and when I go to find the answer, I’m learning,” Herishko said.
Herishko has already made her mark in the Credit Union Association of New York’s Young Professionals Commission. The group has about 25 credit union employees, all under 35. The main goal is to develop strategies to help credit union recruit young professionals. The biggest challenge Herishko sees is simply creating awareness of credit unions among young people. The group publishes a quarterly newsletter and has a website she describes as “still a work in progress.”
She has also been a strong force in the CCFCU Employee Activity Commission. The three members of the committee meet quarterly to brainstorm ideas to build teamwork and morale among the credit union’s employees. The committee makes sure birthdays and anniversaries are recognized. Staff meetings are marked by a theme–for example, everyone may wear sunglasses in the morning.
Herishko received her bachelor’s degree in business in June from Bellevue University. Did doing work on-line make it easier?
“I think it made it a little more difficult, for the most part,” she said. “My parents instilled a very good work ethic in me at a young age. I’ve been working since I was 16. Juggling school and work was something I’ve done before. But this time I had a career and a husband. It was hard, but it was well worth the struggle in the end.”
How did what she learned in the classroom compare with what she learned on the job?
“Almost every subject I was studying was something I was interested in and needed to learn more about. There were times I would learn something at night, and I would be able to apply the new knowledge the very next day,” Herishko indicated.
“For example, when I was studying business communication, when my class was over I put it right to work and started rewriting all my standard letters that I use every day. They weren’t far off, but there were a lot of things I learned that I could use to improve the letters.”
Looking ahead, Herishko said she has a never-ending goal list, and it changes all the time. One item on that roster is creating a financial education program within the credit union. She also wants to get more involved in her credit union chapter. Then there’s that really long-term goal of becoming a credit union CEO.
“I would love to say I went from teller all the way up to CEO and through all the in-between positions,” she indicated.
She considers her mother, a registered nurse, her role model.
“She’s an extraordinary woman, and she’s always been able to give 110% to both her career and her family without missing a beat. She got her RN when she was 40 years old, and she never gave up on it,” Herishko said.
“My mentor is my boss, Betty Grant, assistant vice president of lending. She’s been with the credit union for 21 years, which makes her a great mentor to begin with. She taught me everything I know about loans, and how to be a professional. She helped me as a teller and throughout my other positions.”
Looking at today’s headlines, packed full of concern about the economy and the future of the nation’s jobs, it’s easy to wonder whether a young person can remain upbeat. But that’s no problem for Herishko.
“I’m very optimistic about the future of the credit union industry,” she declared. “I think banks are getting bigger and bigger and greedier. They seem to be focusing more on larger businesses rather than small businesses and consumers, like we do. Credit unions are starting to appeal to people as financial institutions they can trust. As long as we continue to support credit union awareness and keep our members interests first, we will overcome all obstacles.”