CINCINNATI, Ohio – Two people helped nudge DEI Visioneer & Vice President of Creativity and Imagineering Cynthia Grow to where she is today – a nun and a Jeep factory credit union manager .
Sister Jacinta probably prevented Grow from making the biggest mistake of her life.
“Here I was, this girl growing up in Toledo, Ohio and up until my sophomore year in high school I planned to be a nun,” said Grow. “And Sister Jacinta was a big reason why. She used to write in this turquoise ink and she just really influenced me. So one day during that summer a woman wearing a bikini called my name and I asked her if she knew me. She answered yes and that she used to be Sister Jacinta. Well I just was so shocked, devastated that I just ran away from her but she eventually caught me and insisted that I date for at least one year before entering the convent-and of course once I started dating well, any thoughts of the convent just left. But I kept in touch with her because she really did me a favor.”
When her father, who worked at the Jeep Factory, died when Grow was just 17 years old, it was a Jeep Credit Union manager who took her aside told her as the oldest of five, her mother would need her help and proceeded to teach her how to drive and balance a checkbook.
“If it weren’t for them and the union raising money to help us there wouldn’t have been a college education,” said Grow. “But I also told my mother I’d never struggle working at the factory. Because of that credit union manager I wanted to be a banker.”
Grow then worked at Kmart marketing and was one of the original creators of the “blue light” special which actually started out as the “red light” special until women called complaining about how seedy it sounded. She then spent 15 years in banking until she “got smart and realized I was just getting titles” so she got involved in speaking engagements since the bank needed a representative. Twice married, the third time proved to be the charm when Grow met her best friend, husband Richard Grow, whom she fell in love with at first dance.
“We’d been best friends and I always told him what a dynamic business team we’d make, with such a good looking woman and man, he could flirt with the secretary and I’d flirt with the big boss then he’d joke that I didn’t work hard enough,” said Grow laughing. “But then one night something just clicked, it was during our first dance and I felt this electric shock through my body and to this day we still act like newlyweds. I know how very blessed we are.”
Recognized as one of the leading design and build firms, DEI has built its reputation on delivering a unique look and feel for credit unions. It’s tagline, “We don’t look like the competition nor will you” comes from Grow’s insistence that at conventions DEI employees would be dressed in bright colors and it became a brand signature. Grow admits her clients sometimes just have to take a leap of faith and that many CEOs ask her to detail specifically how it all works and while she doesn’t do that she explains the concepts behind the design.
“We named the company Dedication, Ethics and Innovation because if we could answer yes to these questions- do we have the dedication, is the idea or plan ethical and innovative- then we’d know we’re headed in the right direction,” said Grow.
Supplied with nerf balls, bubbles, DEI’s 80 employees are encouraged to become kids again to unleash their cutting edge creativity. Grow sometimes walks around with angel wings, in purple or white, and her office ceiling twinkles with stars. DEI’s Think Tank Room, a place where people can let go of the everyday stresses of business, has an admission ticket of one good idea from magazines outside the industry and finding ways it can be applied. Although always creative, frequent groundings while growing up gave her lots of room “to play in my mind” and now as a grandparent of four, Grow admits children keep her imagination muscles in shape .
“I get my best ideas from my grandchildren, because they don’t know the words can’t and shouldn’t,” said Grow. “There are just too many serious people in the world. If this is what you have to do and want to do then why can’t it be fun? I learned early on that with so much negative in the world I decided I was here for a reason and that I would try my best not to forget the tiny important things in life.”