For Steph Sherrodd, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Texas Dow Employees Credit Union, the two words “why not” have helped shape her life and career.
“I’ve always been open to change, learning new skills and taking a chance,” said Sherrodd. “Early in my career I’d volunteer for any assignment and take on any challenge. I always thought why not? I can do that. If not for that openness to new experiences, I would have missed a great many opportunities, like moving back to Texas, taking the challenge here to grow in a role I love.”
Although a longtime credit union member, she didn’t consider a credit union career until she interned with a credit union for a summer as an undergrad in marketing doing market research. After graduating from college, she largely did retail work until after she got married and moved back to town, where she was offered a job at the credit union she’d done her internship.
“When I started working at the credit union again, it was then I started thinking, wow I could be a leader here. I want to be a decision maker and want to be part of the organization as far helping to steer where it’s going,” said Sherrodd. “I went back to school, got my MBA and that belief in myself that I can do this really put me on the platform of preparing for a leadership role in a credit union organization. I would say to anyone thinking about being a leader today, go finish your education. Get the best formal education you can afford and take advantage of benefits offered. Having that education as a foundation is just so fundamental.”
That doesn’t mean underestimate the importance of opportunities that can arise from one’s cumulative experience as well. She said it all matters.
“I had the advantage of working for, with and around different people who have been influencers on my career and certainly aided in my development with the role I’m in today. I think mentoring is another important component as well. Sharing that leadership vision, not just talking about what has helped make them successful but being a person who provides feedback on ways you can not only develop in your career but encourages personal growth as well is something invaluable,” said Sherrodd. “The hubris of thinking you know everything is the single, quickest career derailer. An organization becomes great because people work together and build on each other’s ideas. You’ve got to hear, appreciate, take the time to have lunch with someone interested in different parts of the credit union. Having a conversation about whatever it is that matters to employees or finding out just what they’re thinking benefits everyone and it’s a good way to ensure that there’s an effective communication of the organization’s vision and that everyone is on the same page.”
She doesn’t believe in meddling in the day-to-day and lives her leadership style of giving staffers a clear vision of where TDECU is headed and ensuring they have the tools and autonomy to execute that vision.
“I have a lot of energy and really enjoy what I do. The goals, thinking about the future of the organization where we’re going, how to make changes, improvements–that’s exciting,” said Sherrodd. “Certainly things come up, there’s growth problems, liquidation problems, of course the growth problems are better, as are the challenges associated with that.”
She said that is why she does her best to keep her eye on where TDECU is headed and not get bogged down into the problems of getting there.
“We’re constantly communicating that overall vision, and I’m a big believer in hiring great people who are a lot smarter than I am. Give them the space to do the work they do best, and together we all can accomplish great things,” said Sherrodd. “You’ve got to find multiple touch points with people, and really a key part of it is making time to go out in the field. It’s an opportunity to connect at all levels of the organization and remember why we’re here. I’m pretty informal so everyone feels comfortable enough to just stop into my office.”
She’s proudest of how the Lake Jackson, Texas-based credit union as a whole has grown and delivered the value of the credit union to more consumers. It’s evidenced by not only member growth but in the commitment demonstrated by employees across the organization to delivering real quality service. It’s something every team member has worked hard on over the years, in spite of challenges that continue to present themselves.
“There’s changing regulatory environment that creates challenges we probably didn’t even think would be her 10 years ago. Some of the events have been outside of the control of credit unions, but changing our business strategies is one of the bigger challenges facing the industry as a whole,” said Sherrodd. “Coming out post-recession, to be a healthy financial institution, we need to be growing so how do we do that in spite of the other burdens that are around that.”
She added the $1.6 billion credit union has experienced a slowdown over the past few years and has been seeing a general market contraction.
“When the markets were growing like the early part of the last decade, it’s easy for credit unions and all financial institutions to grow. Without making any fundamental changes with that same slice of the pie, you naturally grow as the pie gets bigger. Now it’s smaller, and that means taking customers away from competitors,” said Sherrodd. “For credit unions that is not our natural inclination. We have to have a real value proposition and deliver on it to take business from our competition. We’ve got to deal with the competition in a different way.”
To that end, TDECU has had some success with its $1,000 a day giveaway to members with checking accounts. The more services a member has the more chances they have to win.
“As we grow and bring in more members, we looked at how we can reward those people who built the foundation of our organization for years,” said Sherrodd. “It helps show how were different in the marketplace and by rewarding our existing members, they share the story of what their credit union is doing to reward their loyalty. It’s this type of value and initiative that members get a lot of enjoyment out of.”
She ultimately sees the future of TDECU as a statewide organization.
“Many, many years from now, I just don’t see us limited to the area we’re in. For what we offer members it’s almost a moral imperative to take across the state,” said Sherrodd.
“I think the credit union industry as a whole tends to look inward too much. There aren’t enough outside voices coming in and weighing in on some decisions. You have to ask if we had outside investment bankers as directors on the board of corporates, would some of the same investment decisions have been made? We seem to think all the answers can be found within the industry, yet diversity is so important that it’s critical to the success of the credit union industry going forward.”
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