Caroline Willard

Cornerstone CEO recalls career journey, shares advice

May 5, 2022

Most in the credit union movement aren’t from finance or accounting, explains Caroline Willard, president/CEO of the Cornerstone League on its latest podcast episode, but are drawn by the credit union difference. 

Willard looked back on her career journey, which includes a marketing and non-profit background. Her first job out of college was with a not-for-profit, then held a mortgage lending marketer position in the 90s. Once introduced to financial services, Willard felt she had found what she was looking for.

The credit union difference and credit unions being “purpose driven” led Willard to her niche. She worked at CO-OP Financial Services for 11 years. Her time there allowed her to learn different disciplines and prepared her for her current role as CEO.

“I got a break actually who was unlikely, an older gentleman who was at the tail end of his career,” said Willard. “He gave me break after break. He really wanted to see me thrive. He said ‘If you’re not going to be a CEO here, you will be a CEO somewhere.’ I mean what an inspiration thing to hear!”

When the position of CEO went live, Willard knew it was a position she could not turn down. She saw it as an opportunity to give back at a greater level. She also recognized that the challenges, given by her prior boss, shaped her to take on the role.

“I think we need to point out when other women are doing great things,” said Willard when giving advice.

She recognized a group who started the Sister Societies, part of the Global Women's Leadership Network, to give women a safe space to lean on each other and share their success stories. She also gave a shoutout to Tarrant Country's Credit Union President/CEO Lily Newfarmer, Border FCU President/CEO Maria Martinez, and Diamond Lakes FCU President/CEO Tammy Passafiume, who formed the Credit Union Women’s Leadership Alliance.

“Be brave. Get out of your comfort zone … If you really want to rise up to that next level and be a leader on a broader scale, you will have to get out of your comfort zone. I wish I had told myself that earlier,” she added.