Q: What led you to the credit union sector, and to ESL Federal Credit Union?
A: I had been working at a bank in Buffalo and the opportunity for advancement as a financial analyst came up at ESL back in 1991, known then as Eastman Savings & Loan Association. When I joined, ESL was a savings and loan association strictly for Eastman Kodak employees and their families. In 1995, we became independent from Kodak and in 1996 we revised our charter to officially become a federal credit union, and we’ve been ESL Federal Credit Union ever since. It has been a truly amazing ride at ESL over my almost 30 years with the company. To be a part of the awesome 100-year history of this financial institution, the legacy of George Eastman and continuing to contribute to the growth of ESL today and serving our community has been a true honor.
Q: What’s your leadership style? How do you lead an engaged team?
A: First, our core values are ingrained throughout our culture. These values of caring about people, teamwork, accountability, integrity, and initiative consistently live at the forefront of my mind. All of our thoughts and actions are centered on these values. They drive our interactions with each other internally and externally with our members, vendor partners and larger community.
With these values in mind, I seek to ensure that my team feels true ownership of our strategy and plans through full participation in their development and execution. When a variety of views, ideas and opinions are welcome and sense of valuing shared accomplishment exists, it establishes an extremely high level of engagement.
Q: Why is community service and philanthropy important to you and ESL Federal Credit Union?
A: ESL’s purpose is to help our community thrive and prosper, and one vital way to do that is through community service and philanthropic efforts that build a healthy, resilient and equitable Greater Rochester for all. We understand the symbiotic relationship we have with our community. ESL thrives only if the community thrives, so we have a vested interest to go beyond the traditional banking products and services that can positively impact a community and empower individuals and families to live financially healthy lives. Through our philanthropic efforts, we have identified key areas of focus that can help Greater Rochester move toward community-wide prosperity. This includes expanding individual opportunity for the community when it comes to accessing quality education and employment opportunities, and building strong neighborhoods that are affordable and connected. We have grown our philanthropic efforts significantly at ESL over the past few years with approximately $20 million donated in 2020 and more than $40 million reinvested in the community since 2018.
On the community service side, we have giving, community-conscious employees who love to give back. Our VolunCare Program at ESL gives every employee time to volunteer at the nonprofit of their choice throughout the year. A large majority participate in the program and we often log thousands of hours a year in volunteer time among our employees.
Q: How do you prioritize diversity and inclusion, both within your credit union and in terms of the community you serve?
A: First and foremost, diversity, equity and inclusion has to be built into the organizational strategy and its supporting plans and measures — and it is at ESL.
For example, in our strategic plan, a key initiative is to cultivate a workforce that mirrors the Greater Rochester community. Not only must we recruit a diverse workforce that mirrors the community, but we must ensure that diversity exists at all levels of the organization, every employee at ESL feels welcome and respected and every employee has equitable access to career development opportunities. This is an evolutionary initiative, as we are constantly working on improving our organization, refining our practices and ensuring we live up to our values and strategic initiatives. We have specific measures in place, with targets, by which we will gauge our success.
In addition to our workforce, we must also focus on the entirety of our business through a diversity, equity and inclusion lens. Product and service offerings, marketing, philanthropy, partner selection, capital deployment are among the areas being reviewed with plans being developed and executed to address any deficiencies.
As is inevitable in any organization, resource contentions emerge when executing strategy. We have made diversity, equity and inclusion one of our primary strategic priorities thereby assuring that resources are available for related actions.
Q: In what ways, if any, has the coronavirus pandemic altered your member experience?
A: We strive to make sure our experiences on our various service channels complement one another and provide a consistent superior experience for our members. From digital banking to in-branch, to phone and live chat — we want to make sure our members can bank the way they choose to. The pandemic may have altered that experience, but like every financial institution out there, we adjusted accordingly and took precautions aligned with local and state guidance to ensure member and employee safety remained at the forefront while continuing to provide the best experience possible.
The most significant change was the limitation of face-to-face interactions in our branches throughout the pandemic. While we were able to provide teller and platform services at a reduced capacity and expanded services via our drive-through lanes in the earlier months of the pandemic, this resulted in a seismic shift to our digital banking services. Our employees have been absolutely phenomenal throughout the pandemic, and they were always quick to raise their hand to help out in our contact center or at a different branch. The true definition of teamwork and caring about people was on full display!
Q: What advice do you have for other executives also trying to lead their teams through this unprecedented crisis?
A: Let your organization’s core values be your consistent guide during such events. Keeping ESL’s core values at the top of my mind keeps me grounded, and allows me to understand, to the best of my abilities, what ESL’s employees, members and the wider community have been experiencing during such an unprecedented event.
Make clear roles, responsibilities and decisions rights and work to continually provide the support and reinforcement necessary to honor this structure. Everything was and continues to move and change so fast throughout the pandemic. While most decisions and actions have positive outcomes, mistakes and missteps are inevitable. The best thing to do in such circumstances is to acknowledge them, apologize, learn from them and make the appropriate correction as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Constant, consistent, honest and thorough communication is a must in such circumstances. Employees depend on it in order to do their jobs, stay informed and remain motivated. It can be a source of comfort and confidence that things will be okay if we work together. The same goes for our members. The absence of information can lead to uncertainty, fear and inaccuracies. Consistent, honest and thorough communication can answer questions and alleviate concerns.