New Navy Federal CEO Wants To Aid Returning Vets

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Cutler Dawson has a plan.

The new CEO of Navy Federal Credit Union wants to continue building the services and products and the pristine reputation of the world's biggest credit union.

But Dawson, who retired at year-end as Vice Admiral in the U.S. Navy after serving 34 years, concedes he has the big shoes of former CEO Brian McDonnell to fill. McDonnell built the credit union into a financial services powerhouse during his eight years at the helm.

Dawson's goals for the $23-billion credit union are more modest and immediate: he wants to hire as many wounded soldiers and sailors returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, men and women whom he served with during his Navy tenure.

"One of the things I'm looking to do, and I want to do, and we're going to do, is take the officers and wounded vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and get jobs for them at the credit union," said Dawson, during an interview in his office. "And we're going to ask the credit union movement to do it, too. It would be a great thing to do. They've made the sacrifices for their country.

"Some of them," continued Dawson, "will return to the service. Some of them, their wounds are too severe. But many of these men and women need jobs and we can help them find them."

Dawson, who saw action in Vietnam, in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, and in the Persian Gulf during the Iraq war, said he is already jawboning with several organizations to open up the job market for returning veterans. That includes the Veterans Administration, the Semper Fi (U.S. Marines) Fund, NAFCU, and the Defense CU Council, all of which have expressed interest in his plan.

"I'm just starting out, but this is something I hope to do and I know I'll get their (the credit union movement's) support on it," said Dawson.

Like his predecessors at the top of Navy Fed, Dawson comes from an insiders' position. A Navy Fed member since 1977, he also served on the board and numerous volunteer committees (supervisory committee, planning committee, personnel policies committee and volunteers' education committee) off and on for many years-the hiatus necessitated when he would go to sea for extended tours of duty.

A native of Richmond, Va., and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Dawson served many roles in the Navy, including commanding ships and the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, which consisted of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and 10 other ships. His most recent position was deputy chief of Naval Operations, the equivalent of the Navy's chief financial officer.

Like McDonnell, who spent almost his entire career-35 years-at the world's biggest credit union, Dawson is a believer in the enlisted men and women of the U.S. armed forces. So Dawson wants to focus on those special needs of the enlisted. "First and foremost," he stated, "they need an institution they can trust. An institution that can provide them with financial education and mentoring; that will teach them what do I need to navigate in today's world, so that whenever they're over (seas) they're not at risk for losing money."

Like McDonnell, Dawson pledged to make it a regular practice to visit Navy FCU's far-flung worldwide operations, and to listen to what the members have to say. He's already started doing that, visiting the credit union's Pensacola call center to listen in on incoming member calls, among other things.

And also like McDonnell, Dawson is a believer in the credit union movement. And like McDonnell before him, Dawson sees Navy Fed-despite being twice as big as any other natural person credit union- as the embodiment of the credit union movement.

"Navy Federal is really a small credit union, we just have a lot of members," Dawson asserted. "If we keep that in mind, we can't go wrong. If we keep our members in mind, that's the most important thing we can possibly do."

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