When Jennifer Audette was named the new CEO at POLAM Federal Credit Union in August 2021, she was the first non-Polish employee in the Los Angeles-based credit union’s history.
It didn’t go over well at first.
Audette’s debut before the membership took place during the $75 million asset credit union’s jam-packed annual meeting. “People were concerned,” she recalls.
Audette eventually won the favor of one of her most vocal critics by offering to take him to lunch the following week. “We had lunch, and we left as BFFs,” she says.
“This has been a very welcoming community of individuals, and I feel extremely fortunate to have made POLAM Federal my home. I’m beyond lucky to have such a supportive board of directors, supervisory committee, and co-workers.”
Audette might not speak Polish, but she can talk credit union all day long. It was that passion that convinced the POLAM Federal board to hire her in the first place.
“They said, ‘I feel your passion across the table,’” Audette says.
Just as important, she immersed herself in the credit union’s culture. “I have attended more Polish events than any Polish person I know,” she says. “You name it, I have attended it, whether it was a consulate event, Polish school event, or Polish Mass.”
Audette’s enthusiasm is infectious. Years ago, Luis Villegas worked at another credit union where she was his manager. He jumped at the opportunity to work with Audette at POLAM Federal as executive vice president.
“The 15 years I have worked with Jennifer have been the highlight of my career,” he says. “When the job came open at POLAM, I jumped at it without even knowing what the position was. I’m excited to be back with someone who endlessly pursues credit union philosophy.”
Villegas notes that Audette talks to everyone she can about credit unions and goes the extra mile for members.
He says Audette will drive 45 minutes on a Saturday to collect a deposit from an elderly member. Or she’ll make 20 phone calls to find another credit union to take on a $1 million home equity line of credit that POLAM Federal can’t offer due to its asset size.
“There’s always a way to solidify that relationship to show the member we are here long term,” she says. “Whether you’re a brand-new member or have been a loyal member for 30 years, we’re going to find a way to help you.”