Pierce Reflects On What It Was Like To Chair CUNA In Years After HR 1151

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - In 1998, Nancy Pierce became only the second woman to serve as chair of CUNA Her inspiration, Janet Miller, served from 1989 to 1991.

"In 1993, I ran for a position on the executive committee,'' Pierce recalled. "I started out in an at-large position and moved through to treasurer and vice chairman.''

A natural shoe-in for the top job, Pierce received tremendous support from a peer group that was dominated by men.

"Even though men can be intimidating to women, I never felt that was the case with me,'' she told The CU Journal recently. "They were all very supportive and very helpful in giving me suggestions on how to get things accomplished.''

Pierce followed the footsteps of Buck Levins, who led the group through the tumultuous Surpreme Court ruling against credit unions and the battle to get H.R. 1151 passed. "That year that I took over, H.R. 1151 had already passed,'' she said, explaining that as a committee member she was heavily involved in CU issues both at the national level and in Missouri, where the league board she also served on was fighting a similar battle. "I spent a lot of time making contacts with legislators, trying to explain the differences between credit unions and banks."

Under her leadership, the board hired a new CEO, Dan Mica, and worked to approve the Renewal Project. "There was a lot of controversy about what this renewal was going to mean to the future of the movement. I think it has turned out to be a good decision.''

Described by her peers and soft-spoken and well-respected, Pierce had served four years on CUNA's exec committee and headed several sub-committees before being appointed chair. Among the notable was her involvement with CUNA's Community Outreach and Restoration Effort Task Force, urging greater credit union support to low-income communities.

She also served as a member and chairwoman of the Missouri league and as a member of the Consumer Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve Board. Pierce received the Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Individual Achievement in 2000 from the National CU Foundation.

Pierce said she started her career as a loan officer at a "fairly large'' credit union in Southern California in the mid-1970s. From there, she moved to TWA CU in Kansas as a mortgage program specialist. When she took over in 1987 as president/CEO of Mazuma CU, formerly Federal Employees CU, Kansas City, it had $65-million in assets. When she retired in 2001, it had $200-million.

Pierce said if there was one thing that made her feel uncomfortable in her pursuit to make a difference, it was her own lack of self-confidence, particularly in her public speaking ability. "When I started out at the national level serving on a governmental affairs committee, I was pretty overwhelmed by the stature of the people I was working with,'' she said. "These were very highly esteemed people within the credit union industry.''

Throughout, she said personal determination made her persevere. "I've always been goal oriented,'' she said. "Among the things I set out to do were to manage a larger credit union and get involved politically, first locally, and then at the national level.''

She said she was able to accomplish it all, in part, because she and her husband chose not to have children. "I spent 50% to 60% of my time traveling,'' she said, adding that she couldn't imagine having been able to do so if she had a family at home. She suspects family ties are what has kept more women from pursuing CU leadership roles, but noted that those who have stepped up to manage large credit unions and/or volunteer locally and nationally have proven they are capable.

Pierce now serves as president of Tipton Research Group, Kansas City, and as manager of Filene Research Institute's REAL Solutions program for low-wealth households.

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