Perseverance Leads Hunnicutt to the Corner Office
For Margaret Hunnicutt, life is quite literally a marathon and not a sprint. The president/CEO of the $150 million Landings Credit Union in Tempe, Ariz., ran her first marathon at the age of 50.
In a marathon, many runners hit what is often referred to as “the wall,” in which a wave of fatigue makes the race go from hard to even harder. But Hunnicutt has never let this proverbial wall stop her from achieving greatness in the marathon of life.
Her life and career have been marked by her incredible ability to succeed after overcoming challenges. The CEO said she flunked out of college after high school. Later, she endured the challenges of divorce, raising her children on a small salary and seeking public assistance. These were all humbling experiences for Hunnicutt. However, the self-described survivor said that these setbacks didn't stop her. She went on to get her degree in accounting and become a CPA at the age of 40. Later she became the CFO at Landings and eventually moved up to the CEO role.
This success hasn't gone unnoticed. The Tempe Chamber of Commerce named Hunnicutt the 2010 Business Woman of the Year, and in 2014, Landings Credit Union received the Business Excellence Award. She was also named the 2012 Credit Union Professional of the Year by the Mountain West Credit Union Association.
Like most success stories, Hunnicutt's road to success followed a non-linear path. But the experience allowed her to be empathetic toward others who are less fortunate.
“I feel that now that I’m able to do so, I use my time to help others who are in the same position I once was. I’m also a huge proponent for a hand-up, not a hand-out,” the most recent Women to Watch honoree said.
She puts her words into action every year when she completes around 300 free tax returns as part of a tax preparation program offered by the Tempe Community Council that she's been involved with for more than a decade. The local program serves people with disabilities and low to moderate income tax payers.
“Out of the 1,200 tax returns that we do, and out of the 125 volunteers, I do about 300 of the returns myself and I do this every year,” Hunnicutt said. “I believe in paying back my debts to the society. I was helped when I was down, and my time serving those that are less fortunate is very gratifying.”
Six years ago, Hunnicutt spearheaded the development of achievement cards in lieu of annual performance reviews at the credit union. The achievement cards provide monthly accountability measures for employees. Employees write down what they’ve done in the past month and check in with their managers on a monthly basis to ensure they’re meeting their own goals and the goals of the credit union. Using achievement cards also helps the credit union address employee issues more immediately; with performance reviews, they can only address major issues on an annual basis.
These monthly check-ins also promote a more open dialogue that allows employees to receive training or feedback from managers on areas that need improvement.
“So not only are our employees on a monthly check-in with their manager by the way of their achievement cards, they’re on a quarterly check-in with their managers to let their manager know how they’re doing and what they need help with in order to achieve their goals. We did it as a mentoring process more than anything,” Hunnicutt said.
She said employees don't want to wait until the end of the year for a performance review. “We’ve seen the attitudes and morale change quite a bit because now they’re having conversations and it's more of a ‘How can I do this?’ initiative instead of just a ‘wait and see’ type of attitude. We’re seeing the employees take more of an initiative in their own career development,” she said.
This past fiscal year, the credit union implemented a $15 an hour minimum wage, which added $250,000 to its expenses but helped retain quality employees.
Hunnicutt also succeeded in leading her credit union through economic instability. She said the credit union was expected to fail in 2009 because it lost a lot of capital during the economic downturn.
“We hit our lowest point of about 4.5%, but my team and I worked really hard to get us out of the mess that we were in, we had to close a branch, we had to lay off staff. We had to cut expenses. But now here we are six years, seven years later and we’re a healthy credit union with capital above 8.5%,” she emphasized.
Now the credit union is growing and on a path to success. Just a few weeks ago, Hunnicutt and her staff opened a new branch in partnership with the East Valley Institute of Technology, a career and technical education school near Phoenix. The new branch will not only have all the banking services Landings offers, but it will also be a teaching and training branch for both Landings employees and EVIT students.
“Students that come out will be ready to go to work … they’ll have all the financial institution compliance requirements,” Hunnicutt said.
As Hunnicutt continues her marathon of life, she said she's lucky to be surrounded by rock star employees.
“When my spouse underwent a liver transplant in 2012, my team was there supporting me in many ways and I will not forget that. When any employee is in need, we rally together to make sure they get the support they need to get the through the situation and back to serving our members with a clear state of mind. We are not just a team, we are family,” the CEO said.