One CU CEO's Novel Idea For Pursuing A Career

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Once upon a time, in a Credit Union Land not that far, far away, a CEO looked out the window and longed to do something else, to visit lands she had not set foot in and to take others with her. Oh, not the black rocks of the Big Island or the pink beaches of Bermuda or the white peaks of Switzerland, but the blue hue of a computer screen.

She is hardly alone among CEOs in wishing to be elsewhere. Who among the executives has not yearned at some point in their bean-counting career to go roast some beans, instead? To sleep, perchance to dream? One CEO gave up the sleep in order to act on that dream.

Call her Ishma... Call her Diane. Diane Kozak, the CEO of the $122-million Taunton FCU in Taunton, Mass., is stepping down from her position and a career in credit unions to write a novel even though she has been in financial services for nearly 20 years and has not published anything previously other than an Excel spreadsheet and employee manuals. She admits to being nervous about the change-Kozak has been with Taunton FCU for the past 13 years-but is also undeterred about chasing a dream in the ultimate field of dreamers, would-be novelists with stories in their heads often at the expense of money in their wallets.

It has been written that in one land, in a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. Not in this land. In this land, known as the Bay State, there lived in a house two young Beagles, Charlotte and Chester, both early risers who need to be walked. The walk completed, Kozak had good, quiet time available to her, the kind of time needed with just your thoughts and a keyboard. For several years Kozak had been typing away at a draft form of a manuscript she calls "Full Circle 911," a novel about terrorism in America with Muslim protagonists, and which she has written with a teenage audience in mind. And there it sat, known only to Kozak and her husband, Karl, who, in news that will not surprise any regular reader of the Big Book of Credit Union Relationships, is also president of Pawtucket Credit Union. Around Christmas of 2005, Kozak was introduced to a freelance book editor, and she shared the story of "Full Circle 911" and her own desire to see it published.

That was the best of times, which, if not followed by the worst of times, certainly challenging times, because the editor "told me what you have to do" in order to get a manuscript ready for submission to a publisher. It means returning to Word One, Chapter One, and working and reworking through every sentence.

"You have to get the editor to agree to work with you," said Kozak. "It's a little like passing an entrance exam. The hardest thing is getting the manuscript out of the hands of the writer."

In television, a producer shouts, "Get me rewrite," and one or more re-writers appears to massage the script. For everyone else, rewrite means redoing by the writer who didn't write quite right at first sight. And that takes time, the kind of time running a good-sized credit union doesn't leave, especially when you're also chairman of the Greater Attleboro-Taunton United Way.

"This was a huge decision," Kozak said. "This is a great job, but I've wanted to do this my whole life. My husband urged me to go for my dream. He has been my biggest fan. He has seen me getting up every morning and writing."

The idea for Full Circle 911 was seeded not on any dark and stormy night but on a clear yet tragic day: September 11, 2001. An admitted "CNN junkie," Kozak said she has watched as the Iraq war began and progressed and all the tragedies and triumphs of the War on Terror were reported by Western media. What she thought would be more intriguing would be to tell the story of that terrorism and perceptions through the eyes of Muslim teenagers in America. Kozak acknowledges she isn't Muslim, although her husband is of Arab descent, and the outsider soon enveloped herself in everything she could so as to write like an insider.

Kozak said she has done "an incredible amount of research on the Internet on Muslims and terrorism and even what the inside of a mosque looks like. I think if the CIA is paying any attention they must know about me by now." The primary protagonist, Abby, is in many ways her, Kozak related.

In February Kozak presented her editor with three chapters of the manuscript, and has now added about three more. Eventually she anticipates the book will run 30 or more chapters, a project she'd like to have finished by August. Like many CEOs, Kozak has authored other books, just not books many readers wanted to embrace. "In the past all I ever wrote was policies and procedures and in that writing you use way too many prepositions," she said, passing along an observation made by her editor. "There's a big difference between technical writing and creative writing. I do good dialogue. But I was surprised when the editor looked at it and liked it."

Kozak was an accounting major who was named president of Taunton Federal at age 31-overseeing growth from $18 million in assets-and whose career path was precisely what others stuck in middle management dream of. Yet as another New Englander who was known to make career changes of his own once observed, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

The End.

Frank J. Diekmann is Publisher of The Credit Union Journal and can be reached at fdiekmann

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