When Whitney Anderson-Harrell became president and CEO of Elements Financial FCU ($2.3B, Indianapolis, IN) in February 2022, she took on the challenges and opportunities of succeeding Lisa Schlehuber, who was retiring after 17 years in the role at the Hoosier State cooperative.
Although this is Anderson-Harrell’s first time in the top spot, she brings more than 15 years of marketing, account management, and business development experience to the role. For the past seven years, she served as vice president and chief community development officer at the world’s largest university-based credit union, Michigan State University FCU ($6.8B, East Lansing, MI).
Here, the MSU alum (she also holds an MBA from Wake Forest University) shares what she’s learned and what she’s learning about leadership at a billion-dollar, member-owned financial services cooperative.
On becoming CEO …
My career track has provided me with many different opportunities that have prepared me for the role of CEO. The biggest thing that has led me to this point is that we’re all always learning — never stop learning!
That said, I’m proud to work for Elements Financial Federal Credit Union as our president and CEO. This is something I’ve been working toward, and I’m excited to be a part of such an amazing group of individuals who put our members first every single day.
On moving forward in a changing environment …
The executive team and I are excited to execute on our new strategic plan and navigate this new rate environment. We’re excited to continue to grow and expand in our markets. We will always keep our members, employees, and community first.
Lisa Schlehuber came to the industry late in her career but was a transformational CEO at Indianapolis-based Elements Financial. Learn more in “Exit Interview: Lisa Schlehuber, Elements Financial.”
On community and personal development …
My work at MSUFCU as chief community development officer provided me with the opportunity to work in many different capacities. April Clobes [MSUFCU president/CEO] is an amazing leader and mentor who allowed me to work on many different projects. That was pivotal for my career.
I worked with our university and SEG partners, internship programs, CUSOs, the Desk Drawer Fund [MSUFCU’s foundation], financial education, business development, community development, and many other opportunities. I loved working with all those amazing organizations and teams; that is what made every day so amazing and what made me want to lead an organization as CEO.
Each of these opportunities also helped me grow, learn, and develop as a leader, and I’m excited to bring some of those same themes to Elements Financial.
On leadership styles …
My leadership philosophy and styles are to lead with integrity, empathy, and transparency. I try to live and lead every day to the fullest. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Every day counts, and it’s important we do our best and work hard each day.
When I first went into management, I assumed everyone wanted to move up in the organization. I was wrong. There are people with all different journeys. The important thing is to listen to them and what they want.
On bringing learnings and lessons to the role of CEO …
The most important lesson/learning that I brought from MSUFCU is to listen to all our employees. We all make the culture of the organization. How we serve our members, employees, and community matters, — that is what makes credit unions different.
I also learned the power of saying “yes” and taking on new and exciting challenges. That is what creates new opportunities.
On being wrong and learning from that …
When I first went into management, I assumed everyone wanted to move up in the organization. I was wrong. There are people with all different journeys. The important thing is to listen to them and what they want. It’s important to support whatever professional development goals employees have.
Every day is a job interview. It’s so important to love what you’re doing and share your passion with others. It’s important to try new things, say ‘yes,’ and take on new projects even when it seems hard.
On advice for aspiring credit union leaders …
Every day is a job interview. Take the time to put in the hard work and listen to advisors, advocates, and mentors.
It’s so important to love what you’re doing and share your passion with others. It’s important to try new things, say “yes,” and take on new projects even when it seems hard. You can do it.
On time away from the job …
I love to spend time with family and friends — their support has changed my life. I also love to listen to all different types of music, read, and travel.
This interview has been edited and condensed.