Susan Makris On Leadership

Susan Makris, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Patelco Credit Union, explains the importance of leadership style and culture within a growing credit union.
Susan Makris, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, Patelco Credit Union.

The diverse professional journey of Susan Makris, senior vice president and chief human resources officer of Patelco Credit Union ($4.3B, Pleasanton, CA), began in professional services at Ernst & Young, LLP. She moved on to a role at Fifth Third Bank, leading human resource for the Investment Advisor and Processing Solutions divisions and returned to the Golden State via CoreLogic, a California-based data analytics company. In mid-2014, Susan joined Patelco in the role she holds today.

At Patelco, Makris is responsible for all human resources functions, including training and development as well as corporate communications and credit union affairs.

On what defines her as a leader

I try to be a trusted business partner toall of our team members across the organization.I simultaneously act as a change agent and talent architect in that I focus on how to best optimize the talent of our team.

On the importance of culture …

I spent most of my career working at professional and financial services organizations, in a profession where people are the differentiators.


PATELCO Credit Union
data as of 3.31.15

  • HQ: Pleasanton, CA
  • ASSETS: $4.3B
  • MEMBERS: 288,728
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 4.63%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 17.85
  • ROA: 0.88%

When I was hired, I was told we needed to build a new Patelco, to change the culture and fabric of the organization. This means operating as one team and making sure we are accountable, even for something as simple as dress policy. We expected member-facing employees to be business professional but corporate was business casual. To address this disconnect, we updated the dress code to business appropriate.

On a larger scale, we looked at our total reward program and discovered part-time team members were not eligible for medical, dental, and vision. Effective Jan. 1, 2015, all team members, full- or part- time, were eligible for medical benefits. This decision required a significant investment from the organization and approval from the board.

The feedback has been fabulous, and we hope it will be a differentiator in our overall ability to attract talent.

On rewarding good work

5 Things That Make A Great Leader

  1. Trust Integrity is not negotiable.
  2. Compassion Care for your employees.
  3. Stability Provide security and support.
  4. Hope Give employees the hope, direction, and guidance they need.
  5. Courage Lead change and do the right thing.

A lot of credit unions focus on how to incorporate sales and service. So we asked ourselves, do we understand what members value? How are we delivering it? If we focus on the right things, the performance results will come.

We should collectively reward for the success of the organization. Toward this end, Patelco eliminated referral and product commissions. Outside of financial advisors and mortgage sales representatives, all team members including the senior team are all rewarded the same. It’s now a different cadence in how the Patelco team works together.

On what inspires her

On a personal level, I like new experiences. One of my personal goals every year is that I have a new passport stamp. Seeing new things and new places challenges how I think, learn, and grow.

Professionally, I am pretty active in HR roundtables. I find inspiration through networking withinthe credit union industry and in organizations interested in thought leadership.

On her greatest accomplishment at Patelco

Seeing the beginnings of truly working as one team has been a great accomplishment for the organization but also one of the most difficult things we’ve done because of the amount of change involved.

When Erin Mendez joined Patelco in Aug. 2013 as CEO, she began looking at how she could diversify and strengthen the senior management team. I was excited by her vision, being on the ground floor and helping her build this talent management strategy.

On her biggest lesson learned

We have to have the courage to follow ourintuition and speak up.

For example: We filled a senior role, while I was at a previous organization, with a candidate that interviewed extremely well and his references were great. However, my intuition said even though he was qualified, he would have challenges, culturally. Within two weeks, his manager came to me to express concerns similar to mine that he didn’t express during the interview process we both knew this manager wasn’t a fit. In this moment I learned that I needed to speak up if I felt the organization was moving in a direction that was not in its best interest.

On making difficult decisions

After Patelco reorganized, we had to ensurethe skills of our peoplewere aligned to our business needs to take us to the next level. That meant individuals were personally impacted in terms of the roles they filled, which can be difficult.

On the future of credit unions

For us to be successful as an industry, we need to pay more attention to not only the big ideas but also to creating a culture of continuous improvement in what team members do every day to get their jobs done. We need to support them in those activities.

For us to be successful as an industry, we need to pay more attention to not just the big ideas, but also in creating a culture of continuous improvement.

We must capitalize on the cooperative nature of the credit union industry and look outside the industry for innovations.

As told to Rebecca Wessler

May 15, 2015

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