Moving Forward With Millennial Leadership

In this Q&A, Ronaldo Hardy, CEO of Shell Geismar FCU, discusses the benefits and challenges of employing millennials at an innovative credit union.

Ronaldo Hardy joined Shell Geismar FCU ($29.0M, Geismar, LA) four years ago at the age of 27. The new CEO brought in a young executive team and pushed the credit union in an innovative direction by embracing new technologies and reimagining the credit union’s two branches in the style of Apple Stores complete with massage chairs and treat bars in the lobby.

With its fresh approach, SGFCU has succeeded in attracting a younger member demographic. The average age of its membership has declined from 49 years when Hardy joined the organization to around 43 years today. The credit union tracks its member demographic data monthly, and Hardy says that fully 60% of new members that join are millennials.


Data as of 09.30.15

  • HQ: Geismar, LA
  • ASSETS: $29.0M
  • MEMBERS: 3,075
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 2.51%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 10.40%
  • ROA: 0.27%

Along the way, Hardy has experienced both the benefits and challenges of leading a financial cooperative so early in his career while managing a young executive team and working with a mixed-generation board of directors. With just 3,075 members and nine employees, SGFCU struggles to compete for talent with larger financial organizations. Recently, a couple of the credit union’s young senior executives left the organization for other opportunities, pushing Hardy to rebuild the executive team once again. Only this time he brought a bit more seasoning into the mix as SGFCU prepares to take the next steps in its long-term growth strategy.

Want To Learn More? Ronaldo Hardy talks about employing millennials in the Callahan Associates webinar How To Manage A Millennial Staff

I never hired because of age, Hardy says. I always started with what skills we needed and what we could reasonably afford. Those things allowed me to make decisions on who we decided to hire.

Here, Hardy shares his thoughts on what works and doesn’t work with integrating millennials as senior leaders into a forward-thinking credit union.

What was your initial objective in bringing in such a young management team?

Ronaldo Hardy, CEO, Shell Geismar Federal Credit Union

Ronaldo Hardy: We were an organization that was looking to grow. Being a small credit union, finding the right talent to fit our strategic goals and initiatives can be difficult. Our salaries are not as robust as some of the larger organizations, but we still want to be able to recruit the right talent to help us move forward.

Initially, what caused us to develop such a young team was a matter of what we needed in skill versus what we could reasonably afford to pay. At that time, it was okay to have a management team that was developmental because we were transitioning the brand and the culture of our organization, getting new systems in place, and building the structure and framework to grow.

What were some of the hurdles that you faced with a young executive team?

RH: There were a lot of knowledge gaps that existed when we were dealing with younger people. I started here as CEO when I was 27, but prior to coming in I had spent two years in banking and then seven-and-a-half years at a large credit union.

The people I hired didn’t have that same robust background. There were a lot of things about the way the organization worked that they had to learn. They didn’t really understand basic ALM analysis and modeling, which drives a lot of the strategy of the organization. Those knowledge gaps created some barriers for us as an organization; there were times I wanted to introduce new programs or new products where our time to market would be a bit longer than what I desired.

What caused us to develop such a young team was a matter of what we needed in skill versus what we could reasonably afford to pay.

Fast forwarding to the recent changes in personnel, why did you and your board decide to transition to a more seasoned executive team?

RH: I lost two of our four executives to a larger organization that could pay them more. That’s a challenge when you’re dealing with younger staff. They are in their developmental years of their career, and after you’ve developed them to a certain point, there might be an opportunity that comes along that seems better. When you’re a smaller organization, you can’t always compete on certain factors. So we try to compete on the culture of our organization, the vision, and really sell the dream of where we’re going.

When we lost those two employees, I sat back and said, What do we need now? It was, to me, imperative to bring in people who have been where we’re trying to go, and that shifted our hiring. We decided to pay a bit more for experience, but we believe the return is going to be worth it.

What are tips you would offer to a credit union trying to recruit young leadership?

RH:Vision and purpose are key. Help them understand the purpose of the organization and see the big picture for the organization. Also, have unconventional working terms and allow them to work from home. Younger people are building families and they are going to need that flexibility. As long as it’s not excessive, we allow parents to bring their children to work if they have to, and we have a space that their children can go.

That’s a challenge when you’re dealing with younger staff. After you’ve developed them to a certain point, there might be an opportunity that comes along that seems better.

Are millennials less loyal to their employers than prior generations?

RH: I don’t know if it’s less or more, but I definitely think loyalty has been redefined. In the past, loyalty meant I’m going to stay somewhere for the duration of my career. The way I view loyalty now is, while I am an employee of the organization, I am going to offer the organization all that I have. I’m going to fulfill the expectations the employer has for me, but I’m going to expect the employer to also be loyal to me and take care of me while I’m taking care of the organization. Once either side stops making that investment, then it’s okay for either side to end the relationship.

I think that’s where the difference is in today’s workforce. We come from the generation that saw our parents go work in organizations for 20, 25 years and get laid off before they reach retirement. So, we don’t necessarily have the same mindset that this employer is going to be loyal to me for 45 years, and I think that’s what has reshaped the definition of loyalty.

What are some attributes that might suggest a young candidate without many years of professional experience would be a good hire?

RH: I look to see if they are a self-starter. Do they need heavy direction or can they work with minimal guidance? I also am looking at how they manage relationships with people. Lastly, I’m looking at what type of service they do in the community because it communicates to me that this is a person who’s willing to give their time.

In my interviews, I ask questions that challenge people’s thinking right on the spot. I also use case studies and get them to respond strategically in a short period of time. I’m looking for innovation and how quickly they can analyze an issue and bring a relevant solution to the table.

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January 11, 2016

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