When Lisa Brown started her first credit union job, she had one career aspiration: She wanted a job that would allow her to wear high heels so she could elevate her 5-foot-1-inch stature.
But during her new-hire orientation at what is now Envision Credit Union, she took a class on the history and philosophy of credit unions. “I fell in love,” recalls Brown, who today serves as CEO of $60 million Tallahassee-Leon Federal Credit Union. “This was something I can believe in. This is what I want to do the rest of my life.”
Fast forward to the mid-2010s. Brown had achieved a strong track record in the industry. She helped lift a credit union in south Florida from the brink of insolvency and then achieved the same results when she took the helm of a second credit union in the same situation during the Great Recession.
But that process had taken an emotional toll. “It was a stressful time,” she says. “I was working 14-hour days. All we cared about were the financial ratios, because if we didn’t hit those critical goals the credit union wasn’t viable. But it was easy to lose focus on serving the members.”
Brown enrolled in the National Credit Union Foundation’s Development Education (DE) Program. The experience “was truly emotional for me,” she recalls. “It helped me reconnect to the mission and vision of our entire movement.”
Brown was hooked. She enrolled in the International DE program and traveled to Africa. She learned she could have an influence not only in furthering the credit union ideal in other countries but making a cultural difference as well.
“It was so powerful to feel as if I made a small dent in the world,” she says. “That’s what the DE program does for people.”
Brown makes a dent wherever she is. She has served in various civic roles in the Tallahassee area and even ran for local office twice, losing narrowly the first time and recently withdrawing from her second race because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“I ran on the platform of economic development, economic empowerment, and using the resources available to build systems that are sustainable,” she says.
Brown employs those same values in leading Tallahassee-Leon Federal. She says 20% to 25% of the credit union’s loan portfolio is in D and E paper, and she emphasizes financial education.
Along the way, the credit union has nearly doubled in assets and grown its capital ratio from 6% to almost 11%.
“We serve low-income families very well,” she says. “Our emphasis is on financial empowerment.”