Lisa Schlehuber didn’t join the credit union movement until late in her career, but her retirement marks the end of an era for Elements Financial ($2.1B, Indianapolis, IN). Schlehuber was named CEO in 2005 when it was still known as Eli Lilly FCU and her 17 years at the helm included leading the institution through the Great Recession, moving to a multi-SEG charter, field of membership expansion, a complete rebrand, operating during a global pandemic, and more.
During Schlehuber’s tenure, Elements tripled in size, growing to more than $2 billion in assets as of the fourth quarter of 2021. On top of that, it expanded its membership base, which opened it up to more than 150 of Indiana’s largest employers, including IU Health, Butler University, Republic Airlines, and more. State employees are now eligible to join, too, and the credit union counts more than 120,000 members worldwide. Despite 292% membership growth since 2005, Elements has never focused on expanding its branch network in fact, it has reduced those numbers over the years opting instead to invest in digital channels.
Schlehuber won’t officially retire until mid-April, but her successor is already on the job. Whitney Anderson-Harrell, a former executive at Michigan State University FCU, started at Elements in late February to work alongside Schlehuber for a transition period. Here, Schlehuber offers insights into her career path, reflections on the changes in the industry during the last 17 years, and advice for the next generation of credit union employees.
When did you join the credit union movement?
Lisa Schlehuber: I was on the board of this credit union. I had been an employee at Eli Lilly, working in finance and HR, so I was already a member of the credit union. Back then we were a single-SEG credit union and I felt strongly that we had an opportunity to expand and offer more for our members. When the chance came for new leadership, I threw my hat in the ring. That was 17 years ago.
What have been your greatest accomplishments?
LS: I had a huge learning curve initially because I didn’t come from financial services, but we’ve been able to strengthen our relationship with Eli Lilly and expand to serve other organizations. It was a big cultural change for us, moving to a multi-SEG model. We also went through a core change, which is a big deal. You don’t realize how big a project that is until you’ve done one.
Over my time here, it has been exciting to see the organization and individuals grow as we worked toward new areas of focus and new opportunities. I am leaving Elements in a good place in our history in that, for the 12th time, we have been named one of the Best Places to Work in Indiana. I’m proud of our employees and the amazing service they provide our members.
The Exit Interview series features parting thoughts and wisdom from influential leaders in the credit union movement upon their retirement. Read the whole series on CreditUnions.com.
How difficult was it to make the change from being a single-SEG credit union?
LS: The change was a thoughtful strategy. Our partnership with Eli Lilly was changing as its business was changing. For us to continue to grow, we needed to look for new opportunities. We slowly moved into the concept of a multi-employer charter. We got our members and our board comfortable. Now, we partner with many of the largest employers in the state of Indiana. We moved slowly and thoughtfully, and it has definitely paid off.
How has your business model evolved in the past 17 years?
LS: In recent years, branches have not been our main connection for members. Technology has always been a key focus. Lilly has employees in every state and in many foreign countries. Even today we have just four branches, and that’s all we need. Our cell phones are our banks.
At what point did you decide it was time to retire?
LS: I’ve been planning this the past three years with the board. My husband retired a year and a half ago, so I’m looking forward to both of us being on the same schedule. At the same time, I’m looking forward to being able to live my own schedule, something you can’t really do when you’re a CEO.
Over my time here, it has been exciting to see the organization and individuals grow as we worked toward new areas of focus and new opportunities.
What does the future of the corner office at Elements look like?
LS: Elements is focused on being a SEG-based credit union, and the board believes in that strategy. The board was looking for someone who could take that strategy into the future. It’s about taking a good thing and building on it. Our next CEO, Whitney Anderson-Harrell, has a business development background, so she has some great experience in growing the business. We’ve experienced good growth. Now, it’s about building on that and looking for new opportunities.
What advice do you have for young credit union professionals?
LS: Explore all opportunities. You need to question, explore, and think forward. Our world is changing rapidly, we need to understand the why behind everything. Curiosity and creativity will be key going forward.
The other mantra I have always had is find your voice.
What’s next for you?
LS: I’ve spent most of my career in Indiana, so I’m looking forward to a change of pace. Indiana has been home for so many years, we raised our family here, but it’s time for my next chapter. My husband and I have a home in Georgia, and I plan to spend a lot of time in our boat on the water. We have two grown sons, one in Nashville and one in Miami. They are good places to visit, and we’ll be located between the two boys.
This interview has been edited and condensed.