Networks provide access to ideas, resources, support, role models, and human connection. I am inspired by accomplished women who are leaders of credit unions nationwide. I would like for you to meet Linda White. After leading Upward Credit Union for twenty-four years, President and CEO Linda White now advocates for credit unions as Executive Director of the Credit Union Women’s Leadership Alliance (CUWLA).
Here is what Linda had to say about her career and the exciting things happening at CUWLA.
Hi, Linda. Thank you for joining me today. To start, tell me a bit about you. Did you find a career in credit unions or did it find you?
Credit unions absolutely found me. When I was eighteen years old and fresh out of high school, I was working at a parking garage and passport studio in San Francisco. The garage was owned by the mother of a friend, and among other things, she taught me to do 10-key accounting. One day, the manager of the credit union in the federal building, which was right across the street, came over to park her car in the garage and offered me a position as a receptionist. I was thrilled and accepted right away.
On my first day, I was promoted to teller. Since the credit union at that time did not offer checking accounts and loans, its environment was faced-paced and I learned a lot. Eventually, I left the credit union sphere, but after working for a hotel for a year, the bug bit me and I went to work for a credit union temp agency. From there I was hired at the place where I would build my career, Upward Credit Union.
Thirty-seven years later, I retired from that same credit union. Knowing I was retiring, I was already in the throes of CUWLA as one of the founding members. Understanding the need for an Executive Director and looking forward to the next stage in life, I knew this is where I would write my next chapter. I am proud to say the day after I retired was my first day as the Executive Director for CUWLA.
Looking back over the span of your career, what intrigued you about being a credit union executive and inspired you to be part of the launch of CUWLA?
When I started at the credit union, we were three million in assets and no services. At Upward, every day was a new day where I had the opportunity to teach, to learn, and to accept every day as a new challenge. Our primary field of membership was healthcare employees and as such, we were housed in a hospital. By nature, our members were nurturers who cared for each other which supported the credit union’s purpose of “people helping people.” Being able to help people and learn new things truly became second nature and a part of who I am.
That’s certainly not to say there were not difficult times. Someone once said to me, that once you become a CEO, things change. No words could have been truer. There were times when the feeling of being alone was overwhelming. Looking back, there were many days when I would have benefitted from there being a CUWLA. Everyone needs to find that network to wrap their arms around, one that can support them. When I knew it was time to pass along the CEO title, I was determined to become the support to my successor that I didn’t have when I started.
It was exciting to look back on what I was able to accomplish at the credit union while I was there, and I don’t think I do that enough. I am proud of what I left. But I wasn’t ready to leave credit unions altogether. After retirement, I wanted to tap into and continue my passion for credit unions but in a whole new way, and CUWLA provided me with that opportunity.
From the credit union perspective, tell me about your biggest achievement so far.
With a big smile, surviving 2008! This was a difficult year for many, and during that time we had to oversee moving the credit union from within the hospital to an offsite office. That was a big undertaking from making the decision to make that move, to caring for our members. During this time the hospital was also undergoing change which meant a lot of layoffs resulting in segmenting our members. On one hand, you had the members who were laid off and were happy to not have to go back into the hospital to do their banking. While on the other hand, the members who still worked there were resistant to going offsite to perform business.
This was a big thing! Managing this change successfully is something we were all proud of.
Now let’s talk about CUWLA. Where have you been, where are you now, and how are you growing?
The idea originated in early 2019 when Lily Newfarmer, President and CEO of Tarrant County’s FCU, met with Gerry Singleton of CUNA Mutual Group and Tom Sakash of CUNA to explore the formation of this type of support system. They set about contacting female CEOs of smaller credit unions, who were recognized leaders in the credit union movement and in their communities, to seek their insights and input regarding the creation and viability of such a network.
These now thirteen CUWLA “Founders” were selected from among this core group, not only to participate in its development but to help ensure the sustainably of smaller credit unions within our industry. The prospect of this group was incredibly exciting as, for the first time, there was a vision to create an organization that could help women executives become their best selves.
In February 2021, at the virtual GAC, the group was launched to the public.
What are some of the strategic initiatives you implemented?
Since the inception of this network, CUWLA has established for its members, monthly “Meet and Greet” opportunities and quarterly “Power Hour” events. Our website hosts a community forum that invites an exchange of ideas, best practices, and policies, to name a few. Over the past two years, CUWLA has established itself as an effective support system with access to a wealth of experienced credit union leaders working toward a common goal; the need which is evident in its growing membership and through the continued support of various trade associations and business partners.
We are excited to be able to offer such an effective support system to female CEOs of smaller credit unions and are encouraged by the support we continue to receive from our members. We are equally enthusiastic about CUWLA’s future as we continue to increase the areas of support offered to this critically important segment from within the credit union movement and research the opportunity to be able to offer membership to others who can benefit from the support, knowledge, and experience of their peers.
What I am most excited about is all the ways we have improved member communication since our inception, making it easy for executives to connect. In addition to our mentoring, we are now working in conjunction with the National Credit Union Foundation and Exploring Why Workshops for a select group of members as part of their dues.
We are always looking for ways for our members to connect in person. Our recent reception at the GAC is one way as well as our Annual Member Conference in the fall. I am super excited about our event coming in September in San Francisco.
Moving forward, I am looking for ways to offer services for the greater good of the member. We need to pay it forward and will seek creative ways we can accomplish that. We need to address that there is a next generation. We are creating a subcommittee to determine what this means both for the coaching program and for CUWLA. Even though we don’t know yet what our programs in this area will look like, it’s exciting for all of us.
Any parting thoughts?
CUWLA officially formed in 2020 and here we are, just three years later with 148 members and a goal of being 250 strong by the end of the year. Knowing we are touching and changing our members’ lives and quantifying real results for them is an incredible feeling. I am excited to be leading this organization at this time and to be able to see the differences we are making for each other all over the country, regardless of background or asset size is gratifying. My superpower is a connector. My hope is that other women tap into their strengths with CUWLA at their side.