Grow Financial Plants Educational Seeds
When some students walked in late, Bob Fisher let them know tardiness wasn’t appropriate.
“If you walk in late to my business, that’s not acceptable. Is the habit of walking in late going to carry over to the workplace? When we say the phones at the credit union are open at 8 a.m., we don’t mean 8:10 a.m.,” Fisher said.
Fisher, president/CEO of $1.8 billion Grow Financial Credit Union in Tampa, Fla., said the students looked at him like deer in the headlights.
It was a dose of reality orientation for University of South Florida business students in a program aimed at introducing them to the skills they’ll need once they leave the classroom for their first post-college jobs. Fisher is one of the business leaders behind the program.
He said he became involved several years ago when he served on the Tampa Chamber of Commerce board. The USF president chaired the board, and her enthusiasm for the university was infectious, Fisher recalled.
At the same time, the head of the company that built Grow Financial’s new headquarters was a USF graduate, and ended up serving on Grow Financial’s board of directors.
“Being around her also got me excited,” Fisher said. “All of that led to me being put on the dean’s advisory board for the college of business. It has grown into a multitude of things. We look to the college for people we want to hire.”
Business leaders serve as mentors for students throughout the year. Fisher has invited his mentee to board meetings and committee meetings, met with him for lunch several times a year, and talked about the student’s progress and where he was headed with his career plans.
Fisher also got involved with a USF Applied Securities Analysis class. In that class, 10 to 12 students monitor an investment portfolio, selecting stocks as though they were working for a brokerage house. Three or four times a year, students present a recommendation to buy a certain stock, and representatives from the business community sit in and critique the presentation.
In addition, Fisher chairs a Student Success Committee, exploring how the business college will define success and how students will achieve success.
“We’re investing all this money in education,” he points out, “and people want to know what we’re gaining for it.”
If you think Fisher thoroughly enjoys all this, you’d be right.
Next Page: Two-Way Street
“I love seeing all the young people coming out of school—how bright they are and the future I know they’re going to have in their careers,” he said. “It’s a two-way street. I hope they’ve been able to get information from me and I get information to help me run the credit union. What do young people want? What are their desires and aspirations? How do they want to do banking in the future?”
Headlines proclaim college graduates are having a hard time finding jobs. After all, last year Grow Financial waded through 9,000 applications for 100 positions. Does that mean the students are especially receptive to mentoring and networking opportunities that may give them an edge?
“Some are, some aren’t,” Fisher said. “That relates to something we’re working on in the success committee: motivation. It’s a big factor in whether a student is successful or not. One of the things I want the university to look at what it takes to get the students motivated to participate in class and in the outside activities that are going on.”
Fisher said he believes it’s vital for students to be around people actually succeeding in the workplace. As part of that orientation they learn about presenting business cards and doing so-called elevator presentations. They’re encouraged to videotape themselves and learn how they appear when someone is sitting opposite them and asking questions. They discover the role of internships in opening doors to potential jobs.
Fisher noted that last summer Grow Financial hired a USF economics major as an intern. The intern prepared the research supporting Grow Financial’s expansion into South Carolina. He was asked to continue working for the credit union every Friday, and when he graduates in May, Fisher said he expects to offer him a job.
Shawna Grant, academic advisor at the USF College of Business, implemented program that included freshman and sophomore business majors who lived and studied together. Companies interested in meeting the students had breakfast with them and talked to students about what their employees do every day, and jobs available to business majors.
The dean at that time knew Fisher, and Fisher suggested a networking event at Grow Financial’s branch in Brandon. The event, at the end of the academic year, allowed students to gain experience, exchanging business cards and learning what topics to discuss and how to interact with professionals.
“When they walk away from that event, they’re just so excited,” Grant said. “We’re grateful for Bob Fisher. He really believes in the program and has done it for six years.”
As for the students, Kayla Jacobson, class of 2014, said the program gave her confidence.
“I was very nervous about breaking into conversations,” she said. “But when you are forced into the situation you have no other options. I enjoyed practicing all the networking skills I had been taught. I learned it is best to ask questions when the conversation is slow and try to pull conversational points from his or her response. Of course, it is always important to research the event beforehand.”
Shane Marigold, class of 2016, corresponds regularly with Fisher and obtains advice.
“Every month or two, when he can spare the time, we have lunch together and talk about all sorts of things. His perspective has helped me so much,” Marigold said.
Both students are credit union members, and Marigold is interested in opening an account with Grow Financial. Jacobson said she was initially not aware of marketing jobs at credit unions, a possibility she has since noted. The $890 million Meritrust Credit Union in Wichita, Kan., is also working with business students as well as business members. MCU pledged $225,000 over three years to support Wichita State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship programs.
“We want to align with the university in events that reflect our core values and our mission, which includes helping our business members succeed,” Meritrust President/CEO James Nastars said. “The speaker series offered through the Center for Entrepreneurship provides training and experience that will benefit entrepreneurs, businesses and students alike.” The credit union’s gift will fund:
- Meritrust Business Booster series. As many as 15 weekly workshops will feature topics such as capitalizing on creative business ideas, analyzing consumer purchase decisions, franchising tips, branding strategies and website expertise.
- Meritrust Entrepreneurship Forum Series. Panels of successful business leaders and individual speakers will address entrepreneurship topics. The series will begin in spring 2014 and run through fall 2016.
- WSU Center for Entrepreneurship efforts supported by the grant will include education, research and community involvement.
Meritrust has been a sponsor of Barton Business Week at the university. The event brings together students and business representatives in a series of events each Spring.