Judy Soules On Leadership

The CFO for One Credit Union in Vermont talks early lessons, inspiration, and hopes for the future.


One Credit Union
Data as of 06.30.17

HQ: Springfield, VT
ASSETS: $148.5M
MEMBERS: 15,287
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 13.0%
ROA: 0.28%

Joining the credit union movement was a natural fit for Judy Soules, chief financial officer of One Credit Union ($148.5M, Springfield, VT). The executive has a background in banking and finance, decades of experience in community banks, and a self-described community financial institution heart.

That’s why Soules started teaching workshops for local small business owners. She wanted to help young entrepreneurs who loved what they did but had no idea how to run the financials develop a sustainable business model. Through winter workshops and a mini-MBA program, she mentors small business owners and helps them better organize their business so they are prepared for important milestones like retirement.

Here, Soules shares her early lessons in leadership, sources of inspiration, and hopes for the future.

Judy Soules, CFO, One Credit Union

On early lessons

My first job was washing dishes at a summer camp. I quickly learned that working myself to exhaustion would not kill me and that mean bosses only affect your life while you work for them.

On leadership style

My leadership style is generally collaborative but with the reserved right to make the decision. If it’s my responsibility, it’s my decision, but I don’t go in thinking I know everything. The people whose fingers are in the pie know what’s going on. I want to behave in such a way that the team is on board with the program. ContentMiddleAd

On what makes a great leader

With great leaders, their passion is infectious and they are ever-present. They focus on helping each person be the best they can be. You naturally want to follow these leaders.

My current boss is a great leader. He puts a vision in front of us and expects us to do our best to achieve it. He works alongside us, whereas some leaders prefer to keep the spotlight on themselves.

Great leaders focus on helping each person be the best they can be. You naturally want to follow these leaders.

Judy Soules, CFO, One Credit Union

On what to look for in employees

I love when someone cares about the people they serve the collections person who asks what we can do differently on the front-end to avoid collecting on the back-end or the accounting person who finds and fixes mistakes that impact members’ accounts.

I appreciate that type of engagement. If someone loves their job, they are fun to work with and fun to have work for me.

On finding inspiration

I like going places where people want others to succeed.

I find professional inspiration at the big conferences offered by the regulators, as strange as it sounds. They want a safe and sound financial system, and they are trying to give us what we need to make that happen.

I also love going to balance sheet management conferences. These are filled with people who love what they do, are good at it, and want to share solutions.

On a personal level, I attend church every week. I read something once about how people who appear less than tidy struggle. But the reality is none of us are tidy. By exposing our untidy sides, we can help one another get back on track.

On life lessons

I have a math degree, so I routinely nail budgeted goals. I’m one of those people who comes within 100th of 1% of budget and I’m upset about it. After the financial crisis, my small community bank had to unexpectedly contribute more than $1 million to help bail out the large banks and hitting budgeted goals was out of my control. My boss said to me, you need to let it go. That was hard for me, but I needed to hear it.

Another lesson I’ve learned is sometimes the only way to win is to refuse the battle and change the rules. The rug was pulled out from under a company I worked for outside of the financial services industry. The landscape fundamentally changed, so executive management decided to reinvent ourselves. This was difficult for me, being an analytical sort of person, but it was a valuable lesson.

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On what she’s looking for in the industry

I’d like to see people quit worrying about labels and jump in with both feet to do the right thing for members.

A lot of people say, if we do this, then we’re like a bank. Does mobile deposit make a credit union more like a bank or better at serving members? What about robust credit process that help small business owners? Embrace what’s best for members and don’t worry about the labels someone else might use.

Strategy Performance 2Q 2017

Credit unions are indeed having an outstanding 2017 right on the heels of a very strong 2016 and 2015. Eliminating barriers and connecting with members distinguishes credit unions from other financial institutions and makes the movement stronger than it’s ever been. Learn what the industry’s most successful credit unions are doing in this issue of Strategy Performance.

September 1, 2017

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