Jane Dobbs On Leadership

The CEO of Canyon State Credit Union shares valuable lessons learned through rebuilding troubled organizations.

Before she entered the credit union industry, Jane Dobbs gained valuable financial services and relationship-building experience through her work as a part-time teller at a savings and loan.

Jane Dobbs, CEO, Canyon State Credit Union

After the SL crisis, Dobbs worked for credit unions as well as banks and built a strong background in consumer, business, and mortgage lending. Throughout her career, she has been particularly drawn to credit unions in need of help specifically conserved credit unions and is most proud of her work rebuilding troubled organizations.

Through her decades of experience in banks, thrifts, and credit unions, Dobbs has learned many valuable lessons. Here, the CEO of Canyon State Credit Union ($196.5M, Phoenix, AZ) shares some of the key lessons she’s learned through this challenging and rewarding work.


On early experiences and joining the credit union industry

My first experience in financial services was as a part-time teller with a savings and loan. I loved every minute of it. It was a wonderful experience, and I still find it unfortunate that those niche institutions are no longer around.

After the SL crisis, I followed my mentor to a credit union in Idaho Falls. She asked me to run the retail side. I had no idea what a credit union was prior to that and spent nine months there helping turn around the credit union.

My husband and I were young and had a son, so we decided to move back to Phoenix. There, I worked for Security Pacific Bank, which later merged with Bank of America. That’s where I formed my fundamental background in consumer, business, and mortgage lending. Those were the days when you did all the ratios by hand with your calculator.

When Bank of America merged with Nations Bank, I decided I didn’t want to stay. I began assisting my mentor again and consulting with credit unions. We worked with institutions that needed help and turned them around.

On leadership style

Personally, I’m loyal and collaborative but driven toward excellence. Not perfection, excellence. To make something truly great takes a lot of commitment and a strong strategic plan. You must know where you’re going.

I hold my team accountable, but there is an ebb and flow you should consider what’s going on in their world and be flexible when it makes sense. I rely heavily on my team’s expertise to accomplish big goals. It takes a team of people who think at a high level to achieve excellence.

Great leaders believe in people sometimes before they believe in themselves and help them get to the next level. For example, my mentor believed I could do more than I initially thought I was capable of and supported me through that learning curve. And because of her commitment and belief in me, I was able to become CEO.

On key traits to look for in others

I sit on several boards, and I look for engagement among my fellow leaders. You can sit on a board simply because it looks good on your resume or give it your all. The boards I’ve sat on are engaged and committed to the cause. They are willing to roll up their sleeves and figure things out with the organization to help them with their journey.

For my employees, I look for critical thinking skills. I don’t want to tell someone what to do every day. The ability to think on their own and take a goal and go for it, with some limited guidance, is important. I also look for good listeners who are collaborative, motivated, and seek excellence in all they do.

A grocery business blog has been one of the best blogs I’ve ever read because it keeps me informed about another industry as it navigates through disruption and its impact by Amazon.

Jane Dobbs, CEO, Canyon State Credit Union

On finding inspiration

I’m a master gardener. I also do yoga. I find a lot of inspiration there and both help keep my creative side going. I was an art major in college so design and art are always in my life.

Professionally, I read the trades, but I also read non-trade information. Canyon State Credit Union was at one time a Safeway credit union. One of my board members mentioned a grocery business blog that has been one of the best blogs I’ve ever read because it keeps me informed about another industry as it navigates through disruption and its impact by Amazon.

On lessons learned

I was up for a promotion when I was in my mid-30s. I was good friends with my regional manager, and she told me I would be great for the role. I knew I was up against my biggest competitor, but I thought I had the job in the bag. Sadly, the congratulatory phone call I expected never came, and I learned my competitor had been promoted.

I was absolutely devastated but later learned that the woman who was selected came to the interview with business plans and goals clearly outlined for the next six months. My interview consisted of a great conversation, but I wasn’t prepared. It took me a good year to realize that and recognize the part I played by assuming that position was mine. Nobody owes me anything, and I needed to learn that lesson.

My work with conserved credit unions has been a learning experience as well. It’s very rewarding and very challenging. You’re not welcomed initially. No one is happy you’re there. However, when I left those organizations, the people who were able to stay were happier and the organizations were doing well. For me, helping conserved credit unions continue to operate as the credit unions they are like Arrowhead and Texans is the best work and my biggest accomplishment.


Canyon State Credit Union
Data as of 06.30.18

HQ:Phoenix, AZ
ASSETS: $196.5M
MEMBERS: 18,169
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: -5.0%
ROA: 0.52%

On what the industry needs more, or less, of

I wish, globally, that our trade associations would get behind a campaign that would educate the public about the value of a credit union. I’m still constantly defining what a credit union is it’s an unknown commodity. Having worked in SLs, banks, and credit unions, I chose to come back to this industry because we are so relationship oriented. We have a great story to tell consumers.

I’d like to see less unnecessary regulation that does not help the consumer. The regulatory burden is real. We spend a lot of time complying with regulations, some of which don’t protect those we are trying to serve.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


October 22, 2018

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