Credit Union Executives Society
Editor's Note: On July 16, 2010, DeFarra Gaymon died unexpectedly. Fred Johnson, CUES president and CEO, remembers him in this Skybox post.
I started my career in the banking industry, working as a teller throughout college. Upon graduation, I got into my bank’s management training program and then continued to move up the ranks within the banking industry, in the areas of customer service, business development and commercial lending.
In the early ‘90’s, banks suffered from a recession, similar to today’s situation, which afforded me a new opportunity. I came across what was called a credit union—not knowing exactly what a credit union was. After doing some extensive research, I realized that credit unions sounded better than banks, as they relate to people-helping-people. I entered the credit union movement as VP of lending at Palmetto Health Credit Union in Columbia, S.C.
Palmetto Credit Union was a smaller credit union. I enjoyed it a great deal because it helped me to really understand the true philosophy of credit unions. From there, I had an opportunity to go to a much larger credit union—South Carolina State Credit Union—which was about $500 million in assets. I went there as VP of operations/lending. When I went there, they had a total of 12 branches. Between me and the team, we grew from 12 branches to 20 before I left. There was a lot of growth throughout the state of South Carolina. In 2004 I got an opportunity to move to Atlanta, where I became the EVP of Atlanta City Employees’ Credit Union.
One of the reasons I decided to join CUES in 2007 was because I had aspirations of becoming a CEO and many of my credit union mentors that guided me had various partnerships with CUES that provided them training, education, development and participation in many different focus groups. Under their mentorship, I saw their success and how they used CUES to help them advance. Through my mentors, I saw the value of being a CUES member and how it would help me accomplish my goal of becoming a CEO, as well as offer me some of the vital tools needed to lead such an institution.
I entered into CUES’ CEO Institute I program as an EVP in 2007 on a three-year scholarship from CUES and the African American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC). After my first year, I was promoted to CEO. It was wonderful getting promoted as I was going through CEO Institute because it was a huge accomplishment for me. Many of my peers there were EVPs just like myself and it also gave them aspirations to be a CEO. I still keep in touch with many of my classmates. Two of them I entered the program with—Ernesto Flores of Camino Federal Credit Union Montebello, Calif. and Rico Bautista of GHS Federal Credit Union in Binghamton, NY—became CEOs shortly after I did.
During CEO Institute II, I had just become CEO and needed to fill what was once my job and I needed help. The program at Cornell University was teaching us the importance of a thorough process in making decisions within your credit union or your life in general. I met a wealth of great people through CEO Institute and decided that during that year at Cornell I would use that course as an opportunity to hire my EVP.
I formed an interview panel consisting of nine classmates I had bonded with. They were all in different roles. Some of them were already CEOs; some were in similar positions to the one I was filling. These nine classmates had become part of my immediate networking circle and I embraced their expertise to help me select my EVP.
On our own time, we went through the interview process and all of the procedures that were being taught at Cornell. I ended up selecting one of my classmates, Tarra Jackson who is also a CEO Institute graduate, from Delaware to come and work as my EVP. She’s been with me now over a year. That, alone, to me is more powerful than becoming a CEO because I actually used what I was taught.
My ultimate career goals are to become the CEO of a credit union with an asset size of $150 million plus and to become a consultant to credit unions and other entities, providing financial literacy programs that help employees and members become financially savvy. I currently write newsletters and articles for colleges and universities, the local newspaper and some national magazines. It’s just my passion to share information that can change a person’s financial life.
I tell colleagues that if their aspirations are to join the ranks of upper level senior management, then CUES offers educational programs and exposure to individuals who have already accomplished these goals.
My name is DeFarra, from Credit Union of Atlanta, Atlanta, and I am CUES.