ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – David Serlo doesn't bring it up much, butremembering the high school guidance counselor who told him that hewould probably not be college material still makes him chuckle. “Iguess I was just one of the ones who didn't turn out like heexpected,” Serlo said, after confessing that he holds not only aBachelors of Science and Masters Degree from Indiana University ofPennsylvania but also an Executive MBA from Loyola College inMaryland. It is typical of Serlo, though, that an interviewer willhave to specifically ask about his educational background in orderto find out much about it. While he acknowledges the success he hasattained in school and then in moving from being the then namedPayment Services for Credit Unions' first employee and CEO in 1983to running the 700-employee strong PSCU Financial Services today,he is quick to credit the people he has worked with for much ofthat achievement. “You remember how in the Clinton campaign a whileback the phrase was `it's the economy stupid?' ” Serlo asked. “Well, with me it's the people that matter,” he said. “The rightpeople in the right position; that I believe is the differencebetween success and disappointment. Strategic planning, financialplanning, processes and structure are all important ingredients tosuccess, but if you don't get the people process right, you willnever reach your organization's potential.” Outwardly Focused ButDriven From Inside At first blush, Serlo's recognition of the rolePSCU's employees have played in its success can seem anomaloussince much of his early success had more do with his own sheer gritand effort than help from others. As described in Keith Harrell'srecent book, The Attitude of Leadership, Serlo grew up inJeanneatt, Pennsylvania, a small town with its economic roots inthe glass industry. Serlo's father worked long hours in one ofthose factories until he retired while his mother worked long hoursin a grocery store. The plants where he would work overtime to earnextra money were often cold and damp and frequently had rats. “Ithought that if my dad was willing to put in long hours in thatkind of environment so that he could pay for the education of myyounger brother and me, then I was going to make the most out ofevery dime he spent,” Serlo said. The twin examples of seeing hisparents work 10 hours a day for most of their lives and his ownneed to study very hard to overcome his early educational deficitshave stayed with Serlo his entire life. That drive led Serlo to gethis degrees, against his former counselor's expectations, and thenstart at NCUA, where Serlo began as an examiner in 1970 afterhaving taught business at a local high school while completing hisadvanced degree requirements. Serlo moved up through the ranks atNCUA, ending up as EVP of the Central Liquidity Facililty, untilleaving to become CEO of PSCU. Serlo doesn't single out any oneexperience as defining his growing awareness that people are thekey to success, but definitely credits his time at PSCU for beinghis teacher. “I was the first employee of this company, and as theleader I consider it my duty to let our people know they are themost important assets,” Serlo explained. “One of the ways Idemonstrate that principle is to be one of the first to welcome newemployees to the company. Whether they are entry-level employees inthe mailroom or senior executives, I meet them face-to-face andspend an hour or so talking about the mission statement and ourcorporate values. I let them know where their company ispositioned, where it is going and where they fit into thatpicture,” Serlo said. That approach appears to pay off. A big partof PSCU's effort with card management involves running card centersso that cardholders from the cooperative's over 550 members cancall at any hour to access their accounts, make changes, ask forcredit line increases and perform additional functions. Call centeremployment has historically been a high turn-over, low morale lineof work, but the firm has among the lowest turn-over rates in theindustry, and actively regretted the employees it had to let gorecently in the wake of some consolidation. That loyalty goes twoways as well. Serlo said that the leadership at PSCU is aware ofthe trend to outsource call center jobs to India and other offshorecontractors, but he maintained that the jury is far from in onwhether or not that would be a wise move for PSCU. “Certainly ifyou look at it from only a cost basis it can appear to make sense,”Serlo said. “But I think that it is not at all clear that the movenecessarily makes sense in other ways,” he said. The focus onpeople can't immunize the firm from all employee problems however,as Serlo found out last year when a 10-year employee was arrestedas part of a credit card fraud scheme that had forced some PSCUmembers to take losses. True to his history, Serlo moved swiftly tohelp the affected CUs, and PSCU then filed suit against theinsurance company to try to make back some of the loss. But Serlosaid that the monetary losses were by far the easiest part of theincident for him. “I said it then that it felt like a punch in thestomach, and it still feels that way,” he said. “Trust andintegrity are a key element of our business here and when someonefails to uphold our values it's always a blow,” he said. But whilePSCU has taken steps to provide even more safeguards for theirmembers' information, Serlo said that the firm has not backed offone bit from its conviction that people are the key to its success.So closely is Serlo associated with PSCU Financial Services that heis somewhat sheepish about admitting that he doesn't have manyactivities outside of the firm. “After a routine 10-hour day thereis not much time left,” Serlo noted. “You won't find me holding thebiggest fish or golfing or running across a finish line someplace.When I have not been at work I enjoy interacting with andsupporting my children, reading some good books, going to themovies and traveling a bit,” he added. Serlo met his wife Tina incollege and the couple has been married 33 years. They have rearedthree children, of whom Serlo is clearly very proud. Adam, 30, isalready a dentist, and will be a medical doctor this December andspecialize in a type of oral surgery in another three years. Mark,25, is a recent graduate from Miami University (Ohio) and isemployed at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He is looking foran opportunity to become a bank examiner. Katie, 23, is a full-timegraduate student at Rollins College (Winter Park, Fla.) MBAprogram. She aspires to be an HR executive. Serlo said he just seesmore growth for PSCU as the years go by and credit unions expandtheir fields of membership still further. “Given the growthpotential of the credit union industry there is no reason to focuson any other market segment as our primary business opportunity,”Serlo said. “We have spent the past three years changing andredefining our firm. We are now well positioned to help ourmember-owners grow to their fullest potential. Credit unions shouldsee us as a vehicle to help them achieve their new growthopportunities.” “One area that we are giving a lot of attention toincludes the possibility of supporting all product lines of ourmember-owners in our 24 x 7 call center,” he added. “We have theinfrastructure, dual backup, management bandwidth and experience,core competencies and we have earned the trust of credit unionsover the past 27 years, and that should give us the foundation tobuild upon.” -


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