Mother-Daughter Team Leads NIFCU

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MERRILLVILLE, Ind.-Space is so tight at the $27-million Northern Indiana FCU, that the CEO and CFO have to share an office that has just a small divider between them. Yet they're accustomed to such an arrangement: the CEO, Sandy Heller, and the CFO, Lora Davison, are mother and daughter.

"The bad part is if I have a gripe about my boss I can't tell anybody, but we get along pretty well," Davison said with a laugh. "I guess we'd have to get along if we work together every day, plus we spend a lot of times on weekends together, as well."

Heller started her credit union career in 1977 at what today is known as Midwest Family FCU. When her daughter's school had snow days, Davison would come in to the credit union and answer phones or do odd jobs. "Lora grew up in a credit union," Heller said.

"I used to go in and help out, and everyone was really nice," Davison recalled.

In 1986, Heller went to another credit union as manager. She was there for two years before moving on to Northern Indiana FCU in 1988 as CEO. Eleven years later, Davison filled in for a bookkeeper who was on maternity leave. When the new mom made the decision not to come back, Davison was hired full-time.

Davison was not necessarily thinking about working in CUs as a career in 1999, "but when the opportunity came up it was too good to pass up. I was almost done with my accounting degree when the maternity leave fill-in came up, and I took it."

Heller, who sits on the Indiana CU League board and is a past chairman, said she is proud of the way her daughter has followed in her footsteps. "I like the fact she has found the job is rewarding, and she perceived that what I was doing was rewarding and it was more than a job for me. So many people do a job just to do a job, not a career, but in her case she goes that extra step, also."

Asked if there is any resentment of the mother-daughter team, Heller said she did not think so, but acknowledged Davison is concerned about the perception nonetheless, and puts in extra effort to ward off any appearance of nepotism. "I've had a lot of resistance on my part. I've worked longer hours, tried harder and done better to show I'm not just taking advantage of my relationship. Still, there are some people who feel I get away with things, but they might not know the whole picture," Davison offered.

As for eventually following as CEO, one one hand Davison has attended CUNA Management School, yet on the other, "I've seen all the hats she has to wear, so I don't know. It is a great opportunity, but it takes big shoulders to carry the burden. I enjoy the fact everyone in the credit union world looks up to my mom and respects her. I go back and forth.

Davison's son, Zachary Foster, 14, also has been raised around credit unions and is "credit union-oriented," said Heller. She recalled bringing her grandson to the credit union with her when she was babysitting. In fact, a very small Foster was at Northern Indiana FCU the day movers put the credit union in its present location.

"He does odd jobs on the weekends, including shredding papers," Heller said. He is a computer geek, and actually runs dividend projections for us."

"Zachary wants to go into computers, not credit unions," Davison confirmed.

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