Talking with Joan Nelson will have you, inevitably, reflecting on your own life, and how you can do and be better. She’s an even-keeled and inspiring force of nature, and she’s made her altruistic spirit evident throughout her professional and personal life.

Early in her life, her parents instilled in her the value of helping others. “I’ve been through a lot in life, and I’ve had a lot of different experiences, both good and bad, but I was raised by parents who gave me the skills that I needed to weather the storm. I was always taught that you share your blessings, and if you do, they’ll always come back to you,” Nelson, chairman of the board at the $2.9 billion Coastal Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C., said.

So when Nelson joined IBM 35 years ago, it wasn’t hard for another IBM employee to convince her to volunteer at Coastal. She said all IBM employees were automatically encouraged to join the credit union as a member. But in the spirit of candor, Nelson said she didn’t fully appreciate the credit union until she worked for someone who was a board member at the time. He shared with her the difference between banks and credit unions, and she was sold.

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