Cheryl Deborde has served as the Members Choice CEO for five years following a 29-year banking career. From the start, she eschewed advertising for hands-on community involvement.
“I don’t want to spend money on a billboard,’” she says. “We want to make a difference. We support the local sport teams and the area schools with scholarships—that’s our advertising.
“We want to be known for taking care of people in our community,” Deborde continues. “When I look at people helping people, it's not just writing a check, it's about rolling up your sleeves and making a difference in people's lives.”
“He gave me a chance.”
It’s what Nick Kessenich hopes members will say when asked about the impact he had on their financial lives.
It’s also what $28 million asset Members First Credit Union in Madison, Wis., would say if credit unions could talk.
For nearly 40 years, Kessenich led the credit union as it grew from an organization run out of a basement and a briefcase into a community-based credit union that serves more than 3,000 members.
“The credit union was my life. What I’m proud of the most is when somebody thanks me because no one else would give them a chance,” Kessenich says. “I gave them a chance, they took it, and they succeeded.”
Bill Lawton’s path to credit unions was almost a birthright. His grandfather served as a credit union board member in the 1950s; his mother worked for the Michigan Credit Union League; and his father, George Lawton, served as manager of Community Financial Credit Union when Bill was growing up.
“It was only as I got a little older that I appreciated the background of those stories,” recalls Lawton. He serves as president/CEO of the same credit union his father ran in Plymouth, Mich.
Bill started at the credit union in 1974 at the age of 14, filing ledger cards. Eventually, he took on a more substantial role, leading the credit union’s transition into the computer age in the early 1980s and building the organization’s information technology infrastructure. Through the years, his role expanded. He took over as CEO in 2004. Today, the credit union holds $1.1 billion in assets and serves 79,500 members.
One of Lawton’s employees, marketing coordinator Kristen Todd, offers her own take on Lawton’s role at the credit union: “He’s not only just the backbone of Community Financial Credit Union—he’s the heart of it, too.”
In her first credit union job, Val Mindak worked in almost every area of the organization. This paved the way for a career in the movement and sparked Mindak’s passion for community involvement.
Today, the president/CEO of $275 million asset Park City Credit Union in Merrill, Wis., says her extensive credit union experience shaped her leadership style. Since Mindak became CEO in 2009, Park City has seen overall growth of more than $200 million in assets.
“Effective leadership means moving people toward a common vision,” she says. “We can contribute so much more when we work together.”