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CHATSWORTH, Calif. – Grace Mayo unabashingly admits she’s a fan of taking on and creating challenges for herself. It’s an attitude, she said, that’s let her grow as a person and remain aware of her options. “I’m not one to stay in a box, I like being challenged and to challenge others to think outside the box and consider their choices,” says Mayo, president/CEO of the over $300 million-in-assets Telesis Community Credit Union. “Credit unions tend to sometimes not want to come out of box and take a `if it’s not broken, they why fix it attitude. That’s always been my concern. If credit unions close themselves off to options, they’ll find themselves boxed in,” says Mayo. Perhaps Mayo can attribute her attitude towards taking risks and willingness to take chances to the examples that were set for her by her parents. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Mayo was one of three daughters. Her father was a colonel in the South Korean Army and the finance administrator for the then-South Korean president. “Living in South Korea, my parents realized their three daughters wouldn’t have the same educational and career opportunities they would have had if they were sons. So they decided to leave South Korea and come to the United States so their children would have choices instead of restrictions,” said Mayo. As a girl of five years old, leaving South Korea and coming to a foreign country was a tremendous cultural shock. “I remember us being very comfortable in South Korea, and having a very nice lifestyle. Then all of a sudden we were in a foreign country. It was a very rude awakening, and I wanted to do whatever I had to do fit in,” Mayo recalls. Mayo and her family were sponsored by her godparents who were ministers in the U.S. Army. The Mayo family lived for about a year and a half in Rupport, Idaho on a youth ranch which housed what Mayo described as her “123 older brothers” who had disciplinary problems. After the culture shock wore off, Mayo said living on the youth ranch turned out to be a wonderful experience for her. “My parents’ sacrifices made me appreciate everything I have now,” she says. From Idaho the Mayo family moved to San Francisco and then to West Los Angeles, and Mayo’s called California her home ever since. It was there she went to the University of California of Los Angeles (UCLA) initially majoring in commercial art and worked as the general manager at a newly formed small credit union, Bennett Employees CU in Marina del Rey. Bennett Employees was “about the size of a closet,” but working at the small credit union allowed Mayo to cut her teeth on what credit unions were about. She left that position after about a year because she realized the CU didn’t have the full support of its sponsor, and went to work as the CEO of the $7 million Blue/Sees Credit Union for seven years. “I fell in love with the credit union industry, it’s sincere commitment to offering services and making a difference in people’s lives, and I realized I needed to change my major,” says Mayo. Instead of becoming a commercial artist, Mayo graduated with a degree in finance and management. In 1986, Mayo was recommended to the position of president/CEO of Telesis FCU, as it was called then, by an NCUA examiner. At the time, the credit union had $38 million in assets and a declining capital ratio of 5.6%. She said one of the reasons she was hired to the position was to jumpstart new products and services and turn the credit union’s ratios around. When Mayo began working at Telesis, it was a plain vanilla credit union. She quickly convinced the board to offer other products and services such as real estate loans, additional branches, a VISA checking account and home equity loans. Ten years ago, the credit union began offering member business loans. It formed a wholly-owned CUSO – Telesis Partnerships Inc. – four years ago because “we knew we wanted to be of service to other credit unions helping them make member business loans on a full turnkey basis. We also wanted to make sure we were in a position to support good member business lending standards for the credit union industry.” To date Telesis Partnerships has underwritten close to $700 million in member business loans, but most of those loans weren’t approved. “We are very conservative with the business loans we bring into our portfolio,” said Mayo. Members who are rejected for a business loan are referred to other lending sources, she said. An advocate for the formation of more CUSOs, Mayo said the service organizations have been formed to protect credit unions from certain liabilities and as a way for credit unions to partner with other CUs and offer services they couldn’t cost effectively provide on their own. Mayo recites a list of new areas she’d like to see CUSOs get involved in such as title insurance and other insurance products, 401Ks for SEGS, and trust, payroll and escrow services. The expansion of core product offerings will also be the challenge for credit unions down the road, Mayo offers, “so we can grow with our members.” But that doesn’t mean she judges the so-called “plain vanilla credit unions,” after all Telesis CCU was once one itself. “I can’t judge them,” she says. “As long as they think they’re viable and they’re giving their members what they want, then that’s those credit unions’ decision. But I’m glad Telesis Credit Union decided to convert to a community charter when it did so it could grow with its members.” Neither does she consider banks the “bad guys” simply because they’re banks. “It’s just frustrating that they relentlessly attack credit unions,” she said. Chartered in 1965 as a federal occupational-based credit union, the CU converted to a community-based state-charter three years ago. It serves the West Valley Los Angeles district and counts among its nearly 29,000 members about 800 select employee groups in its field-of-membership. “Credit unions have to make sure they don’t close the doors on their options before they’re sure what those options will deliver. We need to have options and have choices,” says Mayo. Credit unions also need to be willing to monitor and challenge legislators and regulators. “What becomes law today could become our death knell five or 10 years from now if we’re not vigilant,” she says. Mayo herself is very active in several credit union trade associations and their committees including serving on the CO-OP ATM Network Board, the NASCUS Council Board, and CUNA’s Business Services Task Force, a responsibility she describes as “one of her best experiences” because “the group of people on the task force are committed to collectively centralizing information about serving small businesses to make sure the credit union industry gets a running start in serving this market.” Mayo was also named the new chairperson of the National Association of Community Credit Unions at the association’s annual meeting held in Santa Fe, N.M. last week. Just listening to Mayo read off her travel and meetings schedule might make some people try to catch their breath, but Mayo says she doesn’t think of how much she travels. “I just organize my time and travel,” she says. “I try to learn from my mistakes and go forward.” That may sound as if Mayo has little time to pursue outside personal interests, but in fact she is also actively involved in her community – Mayo donates time to an area battered women’s clinic. She also gives Telesis Community CU employees’ up to four hours a month off from work to participate in community involvement activities. “I’m confident that if the time ever comes when I decide to stop working with credit unions, I will look back on these years and be able to say I was part of a movement that brought positive and proactive attitudes to people’s lives.” What does Mayo hope people will say about her? “I want people to say that `she cared and we enjoyed her passion’,” Mayo answered. -

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