Four 'Future Leaders' Talk About Getting There

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Four young but fast-rising credit union representatives gave their views on the importance of mentors, networking, education and what they project as the role of credit unions a decade from now at a "future leaders" panel discussion at the recent California and Nevada CU Leagues' annual convention here.

The panel consisted of Gwyndolin Holm, director of marketing and business development, Ventura County Credit Union; Jeanne Kim, business development manager, FAA First FCU; Adam Denbo, recently named CEO of Agra Business CU, and Melia DeWitt, public relations specialist, Financial Partners Credit Union.

All four panelists have received the California CU League's "Tomorrow's Star" award. Geri Dillingham, executive vice president and chief operating officer for San Diego-based North Island CU, served as moderator.

Asked by Dillingham about the importance of mentors, DeWitt said she was lucky to have had several mentors and role models in her career.

"The chapter board and youth involvement boards I serve on are a big help," she said. "Several times, older board members came up to me and made me feel welcome. This is very important for younger people."

Incorporating Several Lessons

"Several of my mentors are in this room," noted Denbo. "The CEOs I have worked for all had different managing styles. I am trying to incorporate little bits and pieces of each into my style."

Kim said she encourages young professionals to have one mentor within their CU, and one outside. The mentor within the credit union helps a young person make an adjustment to a new place, she explained, while the outside mentor helps keep perspective.

Dillingham asked the panelists to share their advice for other aspiring future CU executives. Kim said the best thing to do would be to join a young professionals group. "Also, get involved in local league chapters," said Kim.

Offered Holm: "Keep learning, whatever it is. Take advantage if your credit union reimburses for college education."

DeWitt also stressed the importance of learning, urging people to: "Educate yourself every opportunity you get, even if it is outside your profession." "Don't be afraid to make a decision. Even if you make a mistake, learn from it," she added.

Denbo said people should never give up a chance to network and never burn bridges because the CU world is so small. He noted he received his opportunity to become CEO of a credit union through someone he used to work with at another credit union. "Be goal-oriented, decisive and never lose focus on the member," he said. "Listen and be a good listener."

The panelists were asked to give their vision of CUs 10 years from now. Holm said she expected to see more diversity, as well as a "bigger gap between small and large credit unions."

Said Kim: "The key is we have to be people-oriented. It is easy to say that, and many credit unions have a brochure with smiling faces on it, but it is hard to do."

Witt noted the many changes going on in the CU movement, and said the most important thing is to "continue to let the public know we are different from banks."

Denbo offered a darker perspective: "I hope credit unions are still around in 10 years. It is very scary-we are just trying to stick around for the next five years."

"If credit unions stay stagnant, I don't see a bright future at all," he continued. "Small credit unions must stay fully involved with their SEGs. If they serve their core SEG truly well, the credit union will be there."

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