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VIENNA, Va. – One of the first things moving into the corner office at the $22.5 billion Navy Federal Credit Union with soon-to-be officially retired Vice Admiral Cutler Dawson is his “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. The red and white flag with the snake was flown over Navy ships during the bicentennial year and Dawson received his from one of the ships he commanded. He has spent 34-plus years in the Navy and will officially retire as of Jan. 1, 2005 but is currently settling into his new post as CEO of Navy Federal while on `transition leave.’ While in the Navy, Dawson commanded four ships, his first at age 27. He was the youngest in the Navy at that time to command a ship. There was the USS Molala, the USS Bronstein, the USS Harry W. Hill, and the USS Princeton. He was made an admiral in June of 1996 and took command of the Cruiser-Destroyer Group Twelve/Enterprise Battle Group. The battle group conducted strikes in support of Operation Desert Fox in the Arabian Gulf and Allied Force in the Adriatic Sea during its November 1998 through May 1999 deployment, according to Dawson’ biography on the Navy’s Web site. From August 2001 until August 2003, Dawson was the commander of the second fleet, which “is responsible for U.S. Navy operations and defense of U.S. interests in the North Atlantic Ocean and is also responsible for the training/certification of East Coast Carrier Strike Groups and Expeditionary Strike Groups,” according to its mission statement. The fleet encompassed 275 personnel, including more than 30 multi-national officers from 10 NATO nations, a history on the Second Fleet’s Web site (www.secondfleet.navy.mil) read. Dawson’s dryer assignments included the Surface Warfare Division of the Chief of Naval Operations, director of the Navy’s Senate Liaison Office, director of the Operations Division of the Navy Budget Office, acting budget officer of the Navy, and Navy’s Chief of Legislative Affairs. He was serving as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Resources, Requirements and Assessments) upon his retirement and described the position as “the last stop for money” in the $100 billion budget. Dawson’s impressive resume also includes the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, four awards of the Legion of Merit, three awards of the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal with Combat V, and various unit and campaign awards. Dawson’s oldest daughter, Daryl, seems to be following in her father’s footsteps and is in her second year at the Naval Academy. He also has a son, Cutler III, who is a senior in high school, and another daughter, Devon, who is a sophomore. Dawson made the decision to retire from the Navy in the spring of 2004. “When I did my-I call it exploration-after I decided to retire, I looked at a number of different areas that I thought I would like to work after I retired,” he said. “One of the things that I thought about was that I wanted to go with an organization that I could be proud of. And, since I’d only worked in the Navy I didn’t know quite what to expect about what I might want to do and what might be a good fit for me. But when the opportunity for Navy Federal came up, as a matter of fact my wife and I talked about it, I said, `This is it.’ This is an organization that I’m familiar with, I can be very proud of. I can maintain my tie to the sailors and Marines. This is what I want to do.” Dawson referred to his wife of nearly 24 years as his “best advisor and best friend.” When McDonnell announced his retirement, Dawson told Navy Federal Chairman John Lockard that he would like to be considered as a candidate. Dawson was actually in Djibouti (an East African country) when he got the call from the chairman to say he had been chosen as the head of the world’s largest credit union. Even over there, after the press release came out, sailors and Marines were congratulating him left and right and said they were pleased he was chosen. Around the time he was announced as McDonnell’s successor, Dawson went on a last assignment in October with his Marine counterpart to the Middle East to study whether troops got the support they needed. While he was there, he visited the Navy member service center in Bahrain. “It really struck me when I saw people lining up at lunch time to go to the member service center-it was closed over lunch-and I asked one of the young sailors who was in line why they were there so early,” Dawson explained. “He said because they were very busy and I really depend on Navy Federal and it takes care of my needs when I’m back and when I’m over here.” Dawson visited the Marine bases in Iraq, including Camp Fallujah. He met with the Marines and they briefed him on their operations. Afterwards, Dawson had dinner with a number of the officers. “I happened to mention that I was retiring and.that I was going to go to be the head of Navy Federal,” he said. “All the conversation turned to that because, almost to a man there, they were all members of Navy Federal.They didn’t want to talk about what they were doing. They wanted to talk about what I was going to do because some of them had been members for 20 and 30 years and they really count on Navy Federal. It was great. It really hit me how much they depend on us.” Dawson himself has been a member of Navy Federal since he got his first share account and a signature loan to buy a house in the late 1970s. The Monterey, Calif. branch manager at the time, Jim Mitchell, knew everyone that came into the branch and exactly what Dawson needed. Eventually, he shifted all his savings to Navy Federal and used the credit union for the mortgage on his current home in Alexandria, Va., where he has lived off and on for 21 years. When ashore in the early 1990s, Dawson wanted to do some volunteer work to get a “different look at life.” Some friends suggested he volunteer at Navy Federal and soon he was serving on the credit union’s supervisory committee. In the spring of 1996, he became a board member. “I always thought that one of the reasons that I was on the board was again to look after the interests of the active duty sailors and marines that were members of the credit union,” Dawson said. He added, “When I was a volunteer, I had no idea or thought that I would be an employee of a credit union.” Dawson resigned from the board while on sea duty but came back and was reelected in 1999 and served until 2001. He left again, then served briefly in 2003. Assuming the Helm Dawson’s first day at the helm of Navy Federal was Dec. 6 while outgoing CEO McDonnell vacated the post officially on Dec. 17. While his resume holds many credentials attesting to his leadership abilities, Dawson also holds a master’s degree in financial management and, essentially, served as the CFO of the Navy. Even though he does have experience volunteering at Navy Federal, Dawson said he realizes he has some big shoes to fill. “I was a board member when Brian came on as the new president and CEO and I thought we made a wonderful choice at that time,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to be his replacement and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to build on the wonderfully good things he’s done at Navy Federal.” He continued, “I’m very committed to our core members, our sailors and marines that serve all over the world. I’ll always be mindful of what’s good for them because they deserve it. And I think that’s been the strength at Navy Federal. Ever since I became a member, I’ve always felt that way, that they were looking out for my best interests and that’s what kept me as a member.” In order to keep Navy Federal, or any organization, ship shape, Dawson believes the leaders must empower the people. “I believe in empowering people to do what they’re supposed to do,” he said, “and provide them guidance and leadership but let them do it. That’s why I’m thrilled to be here at Navy Federal. We’ve got some wonderful folks here that I’m going to learn from and hopefully, they’ll learn some from me as well.” He said he learned quickly on a Naval ship that he was responsible for the ship 24 hours a day but you cannot be awake all the time. Additionally, the 56-year-old pointed to his experience working on Capitol Hill. He said he actually had an office in Russell Senate Office Building at one time and built strong relationships with staffers and members of Congress. “I have an appreciation for the way the Hill works and how things are done up there, so I’m thankful for that part of my education,” Dawson said. “My expertise has not been in the areas of the committees that deal with credit unions, but I think I’ll be able to translate my experience into that pretty quickly.” [email protected]

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