‘Look at the Big Picture’

Tom Dorety awarded 2012 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement.

October 1, 2011

Tom Dorety, president/CEO at Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, Tampa, Fla., stands by his principles.

Dorety is one of two winners of the 2012 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement. He’ll receive the award, sponsored by the National Credit Union Foundation, during CUNA’s 2012 Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington D.C. in March.

He has served as president/CEO at the credit union since April 1996, and was a senior vice president for eight years before that. Suncoast Schools Federal is the largest credit union in Florida, and the 11th largest nationally, with about $5 billion in assets.

Does this award mean his work for the credit union movement is finished? Not yet, he says. His main mission today is helping his credit union fully recover from the Great Recession.

His greatest accomplishment? “I haven’t achieved it yet,” says Dorety. “That will happen when this credit union is once again providing the best value our members can get anywhere. We’re not back there yet.”

Dorety has instilled a culture of volunteerism and community outreach at Suncoast Schools Federal. The credit union offers financial literacy programs and student-run branches in local schools. It supports a program for at-risk students, provides college scholarships and grants, and holds school supply drives. 

He began the Suncoast for Kids Foundation, which annually donates money to public schools along the state’s west coast. He also joined local credit unions together to build an intensive-care wing and a Center for Autism at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla.

His employees’ talent and dedication have always inspired him. His success, he maintains, is due to the “backing of the employees and the board of directors.” 

He also credits former and now-deceased board member John Lizer as a role model. “He taught me that despite hardship and crises, you can have a positive attitude and treat people with respect, and move forward and get things done by doing so.”

Dorety has served as chairman of CUNA, the Filene Research Institute, the National CEO Roundtable, and MEMBERS Trust Company. Today he’s on the boards of the CO-OP Financial Services Network, Hillsborough County Education Foundation, and All Children’s Hospital.

Dorety hopes he has impressed upon his colleagues a message of encouragement. “I hope people understand they can get engaged and involved, and make a difference, while being straightforward, honest, and not taking themselves too seriously,” he says.

His advice for credit union leaders facing today’s tough economy: “Don’t let isolated or arbitrary ratios or numbers determine your future. Continue to look at the big picture. Do what’s best for the long-term benefit of your members. Make your case, support it, and carry it out.”

In other words, stand by your principles.

Bill Eckhardt, president/CEO of Alaska USA FCU, also received the Wegner Award for Lifetime Achievement. Read Credit Union Magazine’s interview with Eckhardt next month. Visit ncuf.coop for more information about the awards dinner on March 19, 2012.

LIBBY VERTZ is an intern in CUNA’s business-to-business publishing department. Contact her at 608-231-4096.