Matt McCombs has an enduring vision for his credit union that has been a decade in the making. That vision has little to do with cash machines, loan files or direct deposits, but includes basketballs, beer, and ice cream cones. It’s unconventional thinking for an unconventional organization at the crossroads of America’s heartland. McCombs, the 40-year-old CEO of Vibrant Credit Union ($1.1B, Moline, IL) has been at the helm for 10 years, but the new headquarters he envisioned opened in March and now serves as the cornerstone for the credit union’s evolving culture.
I’ve never met a man with more ideas than Matt, says Kate Breidenstein, Vibrant’s vice president of brand and communications. He’s passionate and feels like he can do anything. He has the vision and it comes to life.
That vision began to take shape in 2018 when McCombs found Vibrant’s new home an empty 140,000 square-foot warehouse in Moline, just five miles from the then-current headquarters that was quickly running out of space for its 160 back-office employees. The biggest struggle? Parking. What McCombs stumbled upon was a newly vacant Sam’s Club that had been shuttered in January 2018 when Wal-Mart scaled back 63 of their underperforming wholesale club stores nationwide. Where others saw an empty industrial building, McCombs saw a blank canvas and the opportunity for plenty of parking approximately 510 parking spaces to be exact.
Vibrant Credit Union’s new headquarters opened in March 2022.
It could be sitting empty, but we were able to do something so amazing, says Tiffany Haedt, Vibrant’s VP of talent and development. I love that we were able to give back to the community in such a meaningful way.
Vibrant sent many employees home when the pandemic began but brought them back to the office when the new headquarters opened in March of this year.
Prior to COVID we were very connected. What energized us was being connected to each other and everyone came into the office, recalls Haedt. Then COVID hit and we very quickly went into the mode of working from home. During those two years we were also building our new headquarters. We were excited for people to come back, but we wanted them to feel like they were home.
Vibrant Credit Union’s new home has a bus, a bar, basketball court, and bustling employee merchandise store.The facility also houses a branch.
The idea is to make everything social, says Breidenstein, who adds that a full-sized basketball court was the first planned part of the building and sits at the very center. Five executive offices, including McCombs’, surround the exterior of the court, putting them front and center to all the employees in the building. McCombs came from corporate consulting before joining Vibrant in 2013 as EVP of Sales. In his career he had visited various bank and credit union clients around the country. One thing that always bothered him, says Breidenstein, was the idea that executives were almost unapproachable.
Vibrant’s culture is focused on community and creating a synergistic energy, says Haedt, so the greatest appeal for McCombs, aside from the abundant parking, was the ability to have everything on a single level.
It was important to Matt to have a single-story building so there was no hierarchy, says Breidenstein. His door is always open. He cares about everyone and everybody knows it, but he’s so down to earth and easily connects with people. It’s such a unique combination.
Looks Industrial, Feels Like Home
Some employees describe the new HQ’s interior as industrial, which matches Moline, a burg known for being the headquarters of John Deere, the credit union’s original sponsor when it opened in 1935. There are the polished concrete floors and steel-girded ceilings that are both remnants of the old Sam’s Club. Visitors will also find also employees whipping by on scooters in the open floor plan or groups taking part in a spontaneous game of dodgeball on the basketball court, then grabbing an on-tap beer in the bar before heading back to work.
Our employee brand is so important to us, says Breidenstein. There’s nothing that can brighten your day quite like a person riding past you on a scooter.
It’s also not unusual for employees to leave their workstations in favor of the abundant open spaces.
There are lots of common spaces. People will leave their desks, and even lay down on a couch and work in the common areas, says Haedt, who adds that it was necessary to relax the dress code for employees when they returned to work after spending the last two years at home. People still work successfully in joggers, a hoodie and a baseball cap. Everybody was legit excited when they walked in the doors and saw what we created.
The first thing people see when they enter the new headquarters is a 1974 VW bus parked in the lobby. The branded bus had been part of Vibrant’s community outreach and public relations initiatives prior to COVID, when a part-time employee would drive throughout Quad Cities neighborhoods handing out free ice cream. When the pandemic came into play, Vibrant retired the bus.
It was just a fun piece of history we wanted to bring into the building, said Breidenstein. The freezer still works, so we do ice cream for new hires when they walk in the door on their first day.
The part-time employee who handed out the ice cream wound up pursuing his other passion, graphic design, and now works full-time in Vibrant’s marketing department.
Vibrant employees pose near the credit union’s ice cream van.
An employee library has more than just leadership books and the obligatory copy of Good to Great by Jim Collins it also has a section on culture, autobiographies, and coffee table books. And when they’re done reading, employees can step over to the in-house coffee shop the credit union runs.
There’s also a full-size employee gym, and the on-site bar is open all day with two beers on tap: Myichelob Ultra along with a rotating local favorite from Front Street Brewery in nearby Davenport, Iowa. The bar also has a stage for performers, and the credit union hosts a monthly happy hour for all employees.
When people come here for an interview, it’s a whole new level of energy and excitement they want to be part of, said Haedt. Especially here in the Quad Cities, there is nothing like this anywhere else.
There’s also an employee store, packed with branded merchandise from t-shirts and koozies to hoodies and hats. The credit union launches new merch at least twice a year. The most recent launch saw all the shop’s apparel and branded goodies sold within 20 minutes.
It’s mind-blowing how receptive our employees are to our brand, said Breidenstein, who adds they even carry sizes for those not old enough to work at Vibrant yet. Just in case we want to have any kids decked out in Vibrant gear. My daughter is regularly dressed in Vibrant attire.
Work Hard, Play Hard
They may have a work hard, play hard culture, but there is one specific rule every employee must follow. Whether working in one of nine branches or at headquarters, every employee starts their day with what the 15-minute Motivational Moment. It’s a chance to engage and interact with other employees, whether that means playing a board game or just talking. The only topic that’s off limits? Work.
Vibrant Credit Union employees get a workout during a break inside the on-site gymnasium.
Vibrant’s balance sheet shows that it’s not just about play. In the last five years, according to NCUA data, Vibrant has nearly doubled its assets from $598 million to $1.05 billion from March 2017 to March 2022. Loan volumes have also increased by $330 million over that same time period.
The sprawling warehouse that’s now home to over 160 employees isn’t totally done yet. There’s still plenty of room to grow, as Vibrant has only finished the front half of the building, currently occupying 76,000 square feet. The basketball court will always remain the center of the facility, and more growth is expected in the years to come. As for right now, the space is largely unoccupied, but even that will soon change as Vibrant plans to lease 10,000 square feet to a local nonprofit later this year. Vibrant intends to lease the space for just $1 per year.
Eventually, Vibrant’s new home will house roughly 320 employees with plenty of parking for all of them.