David Willis

In search of something bigger

Marine Corps taught David Willis how to have a servant’s heart.

November 2, 2021

David Willis joined the U.S. Marine Corps to “do something bigger than oneself” for his country and to become part of a team.

“You learn how to be a grown-up fast because you have real-life situations and real-life obligations,” says Willis, president/CEO at $5.6 billion asset Tinker Federal Credit Union in Oklahoma City. “You have to think about others before you think about yourself.” 

Willis joined the Marines in the mid-1980s and spent most of his time as a reservist, serving part-time while holding a full-time credit union job. He was a member of a landing support battalion, the second group that goes in after reconnaissance to set up tents and equipment to ensure an operationally functioning location before troops are brought in.

“I learned to think more about the big picture,” says Willis, who achieved the rank of sergeant. “When you go in the Marine Corps, you’re deprogrammed. You’re trained to do as you’re told and follow orders. But you also start to understand there’s a much bigger function that goes along with being productive military personnel.”

For Willis, that means his service as a Marine was more than “just a job.” Instead, it was about the contributions he made and the impact it had on others.

“I was just a cocky teenager when I went into the Marine Corps,” Willis says. “I learned to have a servant’s heart to take care of others.”

He continues to have that mindset in his credit union career.

“If we do it right and take care of our members, the impact is huge,” Willis says. “If we just punch the clock and fill in the squares, we’re not helping them. But if we lift them, if we opt to understand and help them be better off, I feel like we’re saving just as many lives from financial disaster as you can through fighting for your country.”

His service also taught him about discipline, hard work, commitment, and the importance of teamwork.

“I grew up in the Marine Corps. It changed who I am, it changed my personality, and it changed my leadership style,” Willis says. “I drive hard and I have high expectations. Sometimes I have to remember I’m no longer serving as an active Marine and I’ve got to let people complete their process through their own due time. But I do put high expectations on myself and others, and I feel like that makes us a better credit union.”

A Salute to Veterans
This article is part of A Salute to Veterans, CUNA News' special focus on military veterans in the credit union movement, sponsored by FIS. Search for the hashtag #SaluteToVeterans to follow the conversation on Twitter.