DEARBORN. Mich. - Dorothy Nouhan officially retired as CEO of USA Federal Credit Union at the end of March, 2001. But if you drop by her house, don't expect her to be reviewing her scrapbook or puttering with a crossword puzzle. Instead, odds are you'll find her in her home...
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DEARBORN. Mich. – Dorothy Nouhan officially retired as CEO of USA Federal Credit Union at the end of March, 2001. But if you drop by her house, don’t expect her to be reviewing her scrapbook or puttering with a crossword puzzle. Instead, odds are you’ll find her in her home office tapping away at her laptop. Chances are also good what she’s working on involves credit unions. In fact, Nouhan estimates at least 95% of her time at the computer involves credit unions. Her e-mail address is a clue. It’s still firstname.lastname@example.org, and she remains an active director of the credit union. Nouhan says retirement wasn’t a quick decision. She’d been thinking about it for a year or two. Then, when USAFCU completed building a new 60,000-square-foot headquarters in Auburn Hills, she decided it was a good time to “move over and let some of the staff that had been performing so well move on up.” “Retirement has worked beautifully,” Nouhan declares. “Most people don’t think I’m retired yet. I didn’t go off the Michigan Credit Union League board until April of 2002. I’m still on the board of USA Federal Credit Union, I’m chairman of Members Asset Planning which is our CUSO, I serve on the credit union’s Government Affairs Planning Committee, and I’m on the World Affairs Committee for the Michigan Credit Union League.” Nouhan’s credit union career began in 1966 when she joined USAFCU as accounting manager. That was an era when computers were mainframes and few people envisioned a computer in virtually all offices, much less in most homes. “The biggest change was technology,” she confirms. “We started with what I would consider today primitive mechanized accounting. We even did some hand posting. “We have offered online banking since the 90s and we had telephone banking in the early 90s. Technology changed dramatically. We were always on the forefront.” But it’s not introducing technology, modernizing branches, growing assets 70%, or other accomplishments that Nouhan is proudest of during her USAFCU career. The ranking, she indicates, would go to introducing a team culture. “We were kind of an autocratic organization,” she recalls. “It was definitely run from the top down. Even though credit unions by their nature are democratic, they were basically all run from the top down.” “It was relatively easy to make employees part of the decision-making process. More and more credit unions are doing that. During the past five or 10 years, your survival has been threatened if you aren’t in a team culture.” “You want employees who are happy,” Nouhan adds. “They need to be happy and enthusiastic about their position if they are to be productive at all. Without their productivity, what do you accomplish? Nothing. If the employees are happy and want to do a good job, it shows through to the members immediately. Employees will do everything they can to please the member.” Nouhan figures her career was capped off by her induction into the Michigan Credit Union Hall of Fame, a cause to which she had devoted considerable time. She pauses to consider what else she might add, then sums it up this way: “I’m still very much involved. It’s an industry that has been my life, and I love it. I have no intention of just walking away from it.” In fact, although 10 or 15 years ago “retirement wasn’t even in my vocabulary, I knew I would be involved in some way, credit unions being my highest priority. I knew I would be doing something. I knew I would not be taking flower arranging classes.” Nouhan notes a lot of people who are very involved with their jobs are apprehensive about retirement. Credit unions CEOs nearing retirement have asked Nouhan for advice. She tells them that, at least for her, continuing involvement with the industry has been critical. She adds she does know one or two people who have retired and are very happy focusing on golf or other interests. It might be right for some people, but she’s convinced it wouldn’t be right for her. “Credit unions are a way of life,” she declares. If the time Nouhan has devoted to credit unions sounds like a sacrifice, she definitely doesn’t see it that way. Instead, she sees such sharing as something that sets credit unions apart from other organizations. Even in today’s competitive environment, credit unions still cooperate, she emphasizes. “What’s good for one of us is good for all of us. The networking in the industry has been one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most. I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve made a lot of friends. I have yet to ever call anyone and ask about a specific program, or what their experience was with a specific service, and have them be reluctant to share every last detail with me,” Nouhan says. “Actually, partnering is becoming more and more important to credit unions. I think we’ll see a lot more of that.” Although her activities still center on credit unions, her interests don’t stop there. As a former Eastern Airlines flight attendant, she remains active with the Silverliners. Each Christmas the organization takes children with life-threatening illnesses on an imaginary flight to the North Pole. She also mentors women executives, both in and out of the credit union industry. Similarly, her dedication to credit unions doesn’t stop at the U.S. border. Last fall she and her husband visited the Slovak Republic. While the Michigan Credit Union League already has a major commitment to aid the fledgling credit union movement in Macedonia, the U.S. ambassador to the Slovak Republic put Nouhan in touch with the honorary council of Slovakia in the Detroit area. It’s a good bet credit unions will come up in their conversations. -
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