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ROCHESTER, N.Y.-Not many people could be busier than NAFCU Vice Chairman Mike Vadala, president and CEO of The Summit Federal Credit Union, or happier. Vadala called from a cell phone on a golf course for this interview, but not because he was cruising around in a cart all day following a ball around. The Summit was a sponsor of an LPGA tournament in Rochester and held a financial literacy event on location one day. Though he admits to loving everything about golf, he gets just as keyed up when talking credit unions. “I don’t know anyone who’s happier than me. I haven’t found that person yet,” Vadala said. But why make a career out of credit unions? “Passion. It’s just a passion for me. I love it,” he said. When Vadala was contacted for a job interview with the New York State Credit Union League, he did not even know what a credit union was. He called his father to see if he knew what a credit union was. To his good fortune, Vadala discovered that his father had helped start up State Employees Federal Credit Union in Syracuse. After auditing credit unions with the league for three years right out of college, Vadala thought there had to be more to life than credit unions. He scored a job with a large CPA firm, taking some of his credit union clients with him, and teaching a couple of classes for supervisory committees. He worked there two and a half years when he learned that the chief financial officer position was available at The Summit. Vadala was offered the job “and I, at that point, decided there wasn’t anything better than credit unions.” Not long ago, a bank in town approached Vadala to serve as its president. “It took about five seconds to say to him, `you know what, I’ll be real honest with you, I could never do it,’ ” he explained. “ It’s not about the money-it would have been a lot more money I’m sure-I didn’t even ask about money. It’s about philosophy. I just love what I do.” So why get involved in NAFCU? Vadala had only been CEO at The Summit for a year when the field of membership lawsuit came up. “I was really excited about the future of the credit union and then, all the sudden, this ruling comes down and the whole thing is at risk, everything that I had pretty much worked my whole life toward,” he said. “I figured I wasn’t going to stand on the sidelines and hope somebody else got it done. I got heavily involved and testified before the House and Senate Banking Committees and I ran for the NAFCU Board and got involved. It’s been a great ride. It’s been an unbelievable trip both at the credit union and beyond that, sticking up for what credit unions are.” Credit union CEOs really must serve as ambassadors for the community. “I think that’s a pretty important job for credit union CEOs to take on,” Vadala said. It is important how credit union CEOs represent themselves, the credit unions adhere to the fields of membership, follow a philosophy centered on the membership and tell the credit union story all the time. “That’s the way I try to be and I’m really proud about credit unions,” Vadala said. “I love what it is, I love everything we do.” Credit unions also have to make sure they are doing what credit unions are expected to do and ensure they are not looking too much like banks. “It’s been a lot of fun, from the NAFCU perspective, representing the whole movement,” he said. Representing credit unions in various associations on all levels is crucial, Vadala explained. “I really believe that there’s a responsibility. When you look at the size of the banking industry and the size of the credit union movement, we can’t afford to have people sitting on their hands and not being active in supporting what we do and fighting for it. The banks want nothing more than for there to be no credit unions. Taxation they know would pretty much end the movement and that’s my feeling.” It is important to have a nonprofit alternative, and “I think a lot of people in Congress recognize that,” Vadala said. “I don’t think it’s an uphill fight but I do think it’s a fight that we need everybody enlisted in and I know we don’t have everybody enlisted. I’m not going to be one of the ones that people can say’ well, gee, what are you doing?’ I’m going to be out there doing it. I think it’s critical. If you really believe in this stuff, go out and fight for it.” Vadala emphasized that his involvement in NAFCU has helped him forge relationships with congressmen and regulators. Though it may sound “corny,” he said, it has “made me a better American.” “If I can work really hard and preserve credit union-ism for everybody, what else can I do in my life that’s going to have that big of an impact?” Vadala said. Why The Summit? With the long list of responsibilities he has set out for himself as a credit union CEO, Vadala still makes plenty of time to enjoy his wife and four children, ages 6, 7, 13, and 15. He coaches his kids’ basketball and other sports teams. He volunteers with his oldest daughter, who was born with a serious birth defect and given only a 10% chance of living, at the March of Dimes. Vadala also volunteers on the United Way executive committee and chairs its new audit committee. The Vadala family loves the Rochester area, so The Summit is where Vadala wants to be “as long as the board will have me.” [email protected]

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