A chance to lead

A chance to lead

Young professionals develop skills through Crash program, league events, and on-the-job experiences.

July 17, 2019

Each young leaders’ path will vary in how fast it progresses, where it leads, and how it impacts the credit union.

Credit unions can advance young leaders with development programs that meet the unique needs of both the organization and its up and comers. Plotting out career paths for each job description can not only attract talent but also serve as a tool to retain talented individuals.

“All credit unions are a bit different in their approaches to developing young leaders,” says Lauren Culp, manager of the Filene Research Institute’s Cooperative Trust. “The most successful ones afraid to give their young staff a chance, be it in leadership roles, on visible projects, or simply by investing in their development.”

The Filene Research Institute started the Crash Program in 2010 to expose young leaders to top industry conferences. The program is made possible with the support of CUNA and help from credit union leagues and associations.

Young professionals apply to attend the conference of their choice—this year Crashers attended a dozen different conferences—and those selected as Crashers attend the conference with no registration fee.

In addition to conference programming, the Crash Program includes special breakout sessions and events aimed at young professional development.

The Cooperative Trust also engages young professionals through connection and collaboration. Credit union employees who are age 35 and younger—or feel “35 at heart”— can join the online community, which evolved from the Crash Program.

A ‘foot in the door’

The opportunity for development is one reason young employees join credit unions.

When Christian Hartley applied for her first job as a teller at $2.7 billion asset Keesler Federal Credit Union in Biloxi, Miss., the interviewer made her eager to join Keesler’s team.

“She told me, ‘Once you get your foot in the door, we love to promote from within,’” Hartley recalls.

Hartley set out to prove the truth of those words. Over 16 years, she advanced through the ranks, working as a financial services representative, a floating loan officer, assistant branch manager, and then as branch manager. She now manages two branches.

Along the way, she learned from great managers who offered coaching and opportunities, and honed Hartley’s critical thinking skills by walking her through the process of developing her own solutions to problems.

Becoming a Crasher was “one of the biggest things that’s happened to my credit union career,” Hartley says. She cherished attending the 2018 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) and being in a room with C-suite leaders from throughout the credit union movement.

“This was a chance for us to let these leaders know ‘we want to learn from you, so when it’s time for you to retire there’s a network of people prepared for that chair’ because we’ve been developed and mentored for it,” Hartley says.

Since her Crasher experience, she has co-founded Leaders Engaging in Action and Development (LEAD) for young professionals at Mississippi credit unions as a way to pay it forward.

A career jump

Mayra Alcaraz, marketing data analyst at $917 million asset Farmers Insurance Federal Credit Union in Los Angeles, applied to become a Crasher after CEO Laura Campbell urged her to apply. The “magnificent” experience opened her eyes to how well credit unions’ mission matches her core values.

“It took me from having a 9-to-5 job to having a purpose in what I do,” says Alcaraz, who began as a staff accountant. She also founded a young professional group at the credit union.

‘It took me from having a 9-to-5 job to having a purpose in what I do.’
Maya Alcaraz

“That whole process—putting together a proposal, conducting research, founding, and chairing the group—contributed significantly to my development as a leader,” Alcaraz says.

Having informal mentors at the credit union and a formal mentor through The Cooperative Trust made a “huge difference” in her career.

“I have yet to find a credit union professional who isn’t willing to share best practices, ideas, and insights,” Alcaraz says. In return, she aims to improve credit unions’ engagement of “people of color and diverse backgrounds” in leadership development.

“Doing so will help them build credit union warriors and future leaders who, like me, will devote their passion into this amazing industry.”

A bigger perspective

Edward Budway once saw his role as marketing specialist at $292 million asset Evergreen Credit Union in Portland, Maine, as a small business in a small state. Then he “crashed” the GAC in 2018.

“I realized credit unions are a massive, country-wide movement with thousands of credit unions working together to help people,” Budway says. “It was pretty cool.”

The greatest value came from networking with peers, as well as executives, in casual settings where it’s easier to ask questions. Meeting CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle gave him an infusion of “positive, energizing inspiration.”

With Evergreen’s leadership, he developed a career roadmap that could someday lead to an executive role. “That’s really had a massive impact,” Budway says.

He ties professional development to personal growth. Budway used the CrossFit program to go from squatting 75 pounds four years ago to 375 pounds today.

“Both are about consistent effort with small improvements over time.”

League support

The CUaware group for young professionals sponsored by the Carolinas Credit Union League made a big difference to Phil Kadzielawski, product development specialist at $3.2 billion asset Coastal Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C.

“That’s where I found my footing in planning events and advocating for more young professionals to get involved,” says Kadzielawski, who was named the 2018 CUNA Emerging Leader, which was presented at the CUNA Emerging Leader Institute.

Listen to a CUNA News Podcast interview with Phil Kadzielawski.

With the help of mentors at Coastal and other credit unions, he also learned to become more comfortable networking and getting involved in the local league chapter. While he’s been fortunate to have guidance, he recognizes not all young professionals get that opportunity.

That’s why Kadzielawski advises young professionals to learn to speak up for themselves. “If you don’t have it handed to you, you may have to advocate for it to make sure you get the opportunity.”

On the other side of the equation, credit unions must recognize young professionals’ motivation will decline if leadership development stops when conferences end.

“There needs to be continued investment in professionals that are identified as high-potential employees,” Kadzielawski says.