Trailblazers Succeed and Inspire Success
This year it was CU Times’ honor to host our ninth-annual Trailblazer Awards reception to honor a variety of credit unions, executives and volunteers that are moving credit unions toward the future while maintaining their humanity. They do things differently and successfully and avoid internal inertia.
By far, the most dramatic stories were those of President/CEO Joe Thomas Jr. and Vice President of IT Nicole Bowen of Fairfax County Federal Credit Union, our Trailblazer CEO and IT Executive of the Year, respectively. Work on the building's roof started a fire that caused $400,000 in damage, but the credit union executives were thankful on a number of levels: everyone was safe—at least after Thomas pulled one of the roofers, who was worried about getting tar on the carpeting—from the burning building; the dedication of the employees to their work at the credit union; and the brand new disaster recovery plan was working like a charm.
Bowen, apparently clairvoyant, recognized the need for disaster preparedness at the $281 million credit union. Just months after all of the systems and the plan were put in place, it came in quite handy while the building burned and firefighters deluged her new data center. And, as if being responsible for IT was not enough, Bowen is also a certified compliance officer. Thomas applauded Bowen's all around leadership in the face of such disaster, regulatory and fire.
Meanwhile, under Thomas’ leadership, the credit union grew its loans 50% year over year thanks to a boom in mortgage lending and treading carefully into business lending waters.
CFO jobs are never easy, but corporate credit unions CFOs have had it particularly hard in the past several years between the economic crisis and the resultant regulatory restrictions. That made naming VolCorp CFO Jeff Merry our CFO of the Year particularly poignant. He humbly credited his corporates’ traditional business model for withstanding the corporate maelstrom, which laid the foundation for its current success. He developed his own analytical tool to help forecast VolCorp's liquidity position 12 months out, poising the credit union to increase net income. He also performed due diligence for two mergers in three years.
In a tough economic environment, marketing is often the first budget examined for cuts. That didn't faze Willard Ross, SVP and chief retail officer at Coastal FCU and CU Times’ Trailblazer Marketing Executive of the Year. For him, marketing is simple: Focus on the members and the rest will follow. He has led the charge toward video teller technology, now in five branches, which not only saved the credit union money, but also increased the teller service hours 86% and earned national media recognition. Simultaneously, the credit union's Go Green checking earned it 12,000 new accounts.
Meanwhile, Northwest Community CU Consumer Lending Manager Corey Miller always emphasizes the consumer part of his job, which means he works closely with the frontline employees who are often members’ first point of contact. That emphasis has served the credit union well, keeping the credit union 98% loaned out.
Greater Abbeville FCU Board President Roger Mark Hall understands and walks that fine line of providing strategic direction and providing the management freedom for implementation. Some of his key focuses have been leadership development and advancing technology.
CU Times also likes to recognize two credit unions each year for outstanding work. When Credit Union ONE out of Michigan learned first-hand of the lax state laws covering ATM skimming, the credit union got to work to change that. Thanks to our Outstanding Political Action award winner Credit Union ONE and largely, Compliance and Regulatory Affairs Manager Stephen Dedene, tougher laws will come into effect April 1. On the West Coast, Lower Valley CU is extending $500 car loans while maintaining a much-above-peer ROA and below-peer delinquencies. We recognized LVCU for this year's Outstanding Service to the Underserved.
Serving the credit union community, which develops and engages such excellent leaders, makes our jobs at CU Times abundantly humbling and fulfilling.
If you haven't read all of their stories yet, I strongly encourage you to do so at CUTimes.com or in the Feb. 26 issue, and find coverage of the Trailblazers celebratory reception on pages 14-15.
Sarah Snell Cooke is publisher and editor-in-chief of CU Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.