As vice president of the contact center at Associated Credit Union in Peachtree Corners, Ga., Heiwote Tadesse is intentional in shaping both her leadership style and her team’s work environment.
The contact center employs 40 people in lending, member services, and online banking. When Tadesse was promoted to vice president, resolving the department’s high turnover became a priority.
“Fifty percent of my workforce are millennials, so it’s critical for me to keep people engaged and make it a fun place to work,” Tadesse says.
She inspires her team at the $1.5 billion asset credit union by regularly delegating responsibility, maintaining an open-door policy, and projecting confidence to persevere through tough times.
“I show the team I will get down in the trenches with them,” Tadesse says. “We have a challenging job, but no matter what, we have to keep a positive attitude.”
Tadesse serves on the senior leadership team, which creates organization-wide strategies for improving team member retention.
Her path to her current position spans two continents. She grew up in Ethiopia—where her parents worked in financial services—and attended a school with students of 60 nationalities, which taught her how to relate to people very different from herself.
Her mother, one of her biggest role models, worked for the male-dominated United Nations. She focused on empowering women in their country, showing them how to make money and thrive despite societal inequalities.
When Tadesse arrived in the U.S. at age 17 to attend college, she had a burst of culture shock. “I expected everyone to be rich. I was very shocked that there are homeless people,” she says.
Tadesse started out at a large bank before moving to Associated Credit Union in 2000 as a service representative. She found the credit union culture fit better with her desire to help people. “Banks have quotas to meet, but most credit unions treat members as part of something,” she says.
Tadesse credits Greg Connor, executive vice president of lending, for his mentorship through the years. “He never puts people down, and was very encouraging and uplifting while opening the doors for me to move up to management,” she says.
Outside the credit union, Tadesse provides financial counseling to immigrants at the International Rescue Committee in Clarkston, Ga. She’s also on the board for SolTaf Children’s Home in Ethiopia, which provides shelter, caregivers, and other support for eight children.