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ORLANDO, Fla. – “Nobody should be unhappy going to work,” declares Joseph A. Melbourne Jr., president/CEO of CFE Federal Credit Union. “I tell people that if you get to the point where on Sunday afternoon you’re kicking the cat because you don’t want to go to work Monday morning, what you need to do is sit down, take your resum out and start looking for another job. Nobody should go through that.” As for Melbourne himself, “I’m probably the happiest I’ve ever been in my career,” he declares. “I’m 65 years old, I love coming to work and I love my job.” When the credit union was formed, any job was enough to delight many people. As the nation slogged its way out of the Great Depression in 1937, 33 employees of Orange County Public Schools formed a credit union – Orange County Teachers Federal Credit Union. Today the name has changed to a more generic CFE Federal Credit Union, reflecting the fact the credit union now has a community charter covering four counties. CFEFCU is definitely reaching out beyond classrooms. For one thing, CFE is doing a lot of marketing in the Hispanic community. The field of membership also includes 19 underserved areas. However, educators still form probably 40 to 45% of the membership. Despite the image of Florida as largely populated by retirees, Floridians can tell you it seems impossible to build schools and hire teachers rapidly enough. Melbourne notes the Orange County Public Schools have a staff of some 22,000. Three years ago CFEFCU made a commitment to provide $100,000 a year for books for the schools media centers. Overall, CFEFCU’s asset size has tripled in eight years, with loans up 26% last year. “We’ve been growing so rapidly it’s been very difficult to improve our loan-to-share ratio. So last year we had a concerted effort to do more in relation to loans. We have gone to risk-based pricing on loans, and I think that’s helped,” Melbourne says. Is that membership and asset expansion primarily due to Florida’s booming population, which is certainly reflected in crowded highways and subdivisions sprouting up in Orlando and elsewhere in the state? “To some degree, but not in total,” Melbourne responds. “People coming into the area still have to decide to join the credit union and take loans from us. I think it has to do a lot with our philosophy. “We place a lot of emphasis on member service. It’s one of those things like apple pie, motherhood and service. Everybody wants to do it, but they’re not always successful.” Melbourne points out to his staff that, with banks sprouting up on almost every corner, people need a reason to drive past ten other financial institutions to get to CFEFCU. “Everybody wants to be in the financial business,” he states. “Service is the key. It’s like restaurants. If you go to a bad restaurant it takes you a long time to go back. If you get bad service a second time, you never go back.” He figures it’s quality service that prompts members to make the trip to a branch, log onto cfefcu.com or phone the call center. That’s why Melbourne carefully eyes the results of regular reports from mystery shoppers. He happily points out to the board that the credit union has earned a 94 percent rating for the past three years. It’s also why the staff knows that if a member calls and wants to talk to Melbourne, they are to put the call through. Since service excellence depends heavily on frontline staff, new employee orientation runs four to five weeks. As part of that introduction directors and the senior staff individually meet with new hires. The newcomers learn what the top people do. Keeping employees happy is also part of the picture. For two years CFEFCU has been ranked by the Orlando Sentinel as one of the top 100 companies for working families in Central Florida. “We have a strong benefit package,” Melbourne says. “We pay coverage for employees and they pay the family portion. We have a 401(k) program, and we contribute 5% of salary. We have coverage for domestic partners. We have a dental plan and a vision plan. We have full tuition reimbursement for up to 12 credits a year.” There’s a CEO roundtable every three months for 12 employees from different departments. “It’s really not a gripe session,” Melbourne says. “We’re trying to help people understand what goes on in other departments. When I started this program six or seven years ago the focus was communication. Today it’s more how do we improve the processes and serve our members better.” Designing systems might seem a natural for Melbourne. After four years in the Air Force, he began working on the design side for an engineering and architecture firm. He also attended college at night, earning a B.B.A. in accounting from Dowling College on Long Island, N.Y., and an M.S. in taxation from C.W. Post College, part of Long Island University. In 1984 he was hired by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, Bethpage, N.Y., as senior vice president of administration. Ten years later he moved on to CFEFCU as VP/operations. In January 1998, he became CEO. “I’m a detail person, so delegating was a difficult thing for me to do,” Melbourne says. “I still stay very active. When my staff is involved in new projects they know I’m going to ask them a lot of questions. If I’m going to talk to my board about issues, I need to be aware of them. Otherwise you lose contact with what is going on.” At the same time, he continues, it’s important to surround yourself with qualified people who in turn can work effectively with people. “My staff knows that if you want to hear from me, interfere with someone’s ability to do their job,” Melbourne says. Melbourne and his wife have been married for 42 years and have three grown children and five grandchildren, all in New York. He likes to play a little golf and reads a lot. “That’s pretty much it,” he observes. “I work a lot. I just don’t like to be behind on stuff.” -

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