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PLYMOUTH, Mich. – This doesn’t happen every day. A credit union names a CEO, whose father was CEO of the same credit union almost 20 years ago. It happened at Community Financial Members FCU, but it’s probably not what most outsiders would think, said the CU’s new CEO William Lawton. Lawton succeeds Roger Ballard, who served as CEO for six years before taking the CEO job at nuVision Financial FCU in California to be closer to extended family. “I think he’d be asking me if I’m really happy where I’m at, but he’d be just as happy if I was somewhere else and thrilled with what I was doing,” said Lawton, speculating what his late father George Lawton would think of him assuming the job he once held. George Lawton was CEO of Community Financial from 1958 to 1987. He and his father worked together on a full-time basis at the CU for about five years. Lawton says he didn’t stick with the CU for over 20 years to make his father or his family proud, he did it because he truly likes – and believes – in what he’s doing. With his dad as CEO, Lawton’s credit union experience started at an early age. “He dragged me off to the office when I was 14. That was before the age of computers. I was actually filing ledger cards back into a big set of files,” said Lawton. Talk about doing it all. Lawton has not only served on the front line in teller positions and done clerical work, he’s even done custodial work for the credit union in the evenings while he was in college. He officially joined the CU on a full-time basis in 1982 and he was tasked with improving the CU’s IT systems. (He minored in information systems in college) . Lawton actually helped the CU develop its own in-house system that served it well for over 10 years before it moved processing over to Summit. Lawton had some student interns, but he was essentially a one-man IT shop for the CU for many years. Now the CU has a four-person IT staff. He said it was nice to be able to spend so much time with his dad during the work day. If his dad paid him any special deference, he said he didn’t notice given how entrenched he was in improving the CU’s IT system. Comparing today to when his father was CEO, Lawton said a lot has changed, but much has stayed the same. “Business is a lot more complicated today. The regulatory environment is quite a bit different. On the other hand when it comes down to the members walking in the office, whether they’re talking to the CEO or financial service rep, the goal is to help meet the members’ needs. The experience for the member is largely the same,” said Lawton. When he was coming up the ranks, he said it was fairly common to see a member in his father’s office discussing issues. Lawton said he too tries to keep in contact with members, though he’s more likely to go to them out in the lobby. The $327 million CU serves four communities in the Western suburbs of Detroit and three counties in northern Michigan; its capital is 9.6%. Lawton hopes the Reg Flex cap minimums are reduced as NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson has proposed. “I think we can operate safely in a lower capital ratio while we’re growing,” he said. The CU is also working to bolster its business lending. Right now it has approximately $7 million on the books and Lawton hopes it can make it up to about $45 million which would put it right about the 12.25% MBL cap. Lawton says the credit union’s strategy is not necessarily to be the financial with the best rates in town, but with the best service. “We’ve identified providing outstanding service for members as our key differentiator. We’re competing more on service and being the local full-service financial institution that is going to provide outstanding services, more so than we are in being the lowest cost provider in town,” he said. Lawton, 44, married to Carole, is the father of three girls, Rebecca (10), Catherine (7) and Eleanor (5). He loves hiking and biking and is in the unique position to say he has biked across country. “I went from the West Coast to Michigan, and the next year went from Michigan to Nova Scotia,” he said. It took him 38 days, biking about 70 miles a day. He said the physical stress of biking and hiking helps him during the work day. “Trips like that with physical hardships make some of the day to day hardships easier to get through. You know you can get through it.” [email protected]

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