Starting 2nd Term As NAFCU Chair, Furnas Sees More Bank Battles, Female CEOs

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Diane Furnas describes herself as a "big NAFCU fan."

Never mind that she's the current chair and the first female to oversee the board or that she's served on it and several committees for many years.

The CEO of Southwest Airlines for 29 years said for federal credit unions that get "beat up politically," it's nice to have an organization focused solely on them.

Furnas, whose second term will become official at NAFCU's annual meeting in July, said her No. 1 goal is to meet membership expectations: "If they ain't happy, nobody's happy."

Having served as vice chair under Jim Mills (the retiring CEO of Three Rivers FCU) for three years, Furnas said she gained quite a bit of experience and has worked diligently to maintain the standard of NAFCU as a premier organization. Furnas was first elected to the NAFCU board in 1998.

While her strategy includes focusing on reducing the number of regulations for FCUs, she expects it will also involve more "battles with bankers who have decided to declare war ... again."

During her long tenure as CEO of SWAFCU, Furnas has overseen its growth to $137 million from just under $40,000 when she started two months after its formation in September 1975.

"I started in the industry at Kro-dal Credit Union," she recalled. "I served as assistant manager for about seven years before taking a bit of a break for about 18 months."

Furnas said it was "luck" that landed her the top job at SWAFCU and a "very progressive" sponsor that helped her CU thrive. "We just emulated Southwest's own feisty, forge-ahead attitude," she said. "We were trying to be as innovative as the culture we served. We had to be able to meet their expectations."

While having extraordinary products has always been important to members, having a sponsor company that has always prided itself on giving good service has meant that when those workers are members they expect good service, as well.

"They've always gone above and beyond everybody else," she said. "It's been exciting for us because Southwest itself is such an exciting company."

SWAFCU has since expanded to include many other SEGS, but Furnas said sthe CU has remained true to their original sponsor's philosophy.

She credits her knowledgeable staff and dedicated board with the continued success of the CU and added that they make it much easier for her to contribute as an industry and community volunteer.

Furnas has also served on Irving Mayor's State of the City committee, city council task force, and as Irving Chamber of Commerce Business Chair.

During her tenure on the NAFCU board, she said there have been occasions where she was the only woman-presently, there are two-on the 12-member board. The imbalance, she said, is a reflection of the industry that is dominated by male CEOs.

"I think there are beginning to be more and more opportunities for women," she said. "The industry will be undergoing tremendous turnover in the next five to seven years. There is where I see a lot more women moving up."

Furnas said she has never felt out of place in her volunteer work and has always felt respected by her male counterparts. "The others on the NAFCU board have been very, very accepting and helpful," she said. "But, that doesn't mean they are easy. I think they are just as tough on me as they are on each other."

She said she realizes women have a lot on their plates already but would like to see more get involved.

"Many have a great deal of responsibility at home, with their careers and are very active at the local level," she said, "But I hope as things evolve in their lives (children leave the nest, for example), they will just jump on in."

She said she would love to see more women-even those from smaller credit unions -take on volunteer positions at the national level. "I know it's hard (for those at smaller CUs) because they have to have something in place for their leaders to step away."

Furnas, the mother of two grown children and the grandmother of two children, all living in the same town, admitted that her life is sometimes a juggling act.

In her position with the NAFCU board, she said, she has to travel once or twice a month to Arlington, Va. for board meetings and related functions. "The travel schedule is pretty heavy," she said, adding with a touch of irony, "And I've never been comfortable flying."

She said she is fortunate that her board realizes the value of her volunteerism.

"When the call comes in, we know what we need to do and do it," Furnas said. "The board here has recognized the value that NAFCU brings to all of us. So much of our business life is driven by the decisions made there."

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