SAC Federal Credit Union
An Interview with Gail DeBoer, President/CEO of SAC Federal Credit Union
By Arees Uresti and Cornelia Vremes, Creighton University MBA students
In 2012, SAC Federal Credit Union was nominated and presented with the Better Business Bureau Integrity Award, recognizing the organization for its efforts to build an Ethical climate and its continuous commitment to Excellence.
Background and Career Trajectory
Mrs. DeBoer grew up in the Omaha area and went to Gross High School. She recalls that back then, girls were not encouraged to go to college and even being in the top ten percent of the class, the girls who did go to college became teachers or nurses. Mrs. DeBoer earned an Accounting Degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an MBA from Bellevue University. She joined the Credit Union in May 1988 working in the Internal Audit area for seven years. She then got promoted to VP of Operations and assumed this role for twelve years. From 2006 to 2007, Mrs. DeBoer served as the Executive Vice President of SAC Federal Credit Union and in 2007 was appointed the President/CEO of the organization.
When asked what interested her in the Accounting field, Mrs. DeBoer humorously revealed that “looking at my brain profile, it will explain everything.” She had a natural inclination towards order; analytics and Accounting “just felt right.”
We asked whether Mrs. DeBoer ever imagined herself as a CEO while pursuing her degree and she responded that she did not have that much planning in mind. DeBoer really enjoyed Internal Auditing, but when opportunities arose she sought new challenges. When the previous company president was thinking about retirement, Mrs. DeBoer went for her MBA and took leadership classes to prepare for a future leadership role.
What do you like and dislike most about your role?
Mrs. DeBoer mentioned that she likes being able to make a difference. Her top position allows her to do that. Every day she makes decisions that impact the employees’ and members’ lives. Although sympathetic, Mrs. DeBoer is aware that not every case can be helped. Mrs. DeBoer dislikes when she cannot help her employees or a Credit Union member.
“Kindness is not that hard.”
Mrs. DeBoer takes pride in the company’ s collection department, as she gets more letters from members about collections than any other department. According to Mrs. DeBoer, the company really shines when it helps their members get through difficult times. The employees take the time to create a plan that would work for both parties and these same actions get recognized by the members.
Established in 1946 with just 12 employees, SAC Federal Credit Union serves more than 62,000 members and over 200 employees at 21 different locations, providing business services, mortgages, indirect auto lending, and personal financial services. With the mission “To be our members' trusted financial partner providing tailored solutions to support them throughout their life events,” the organization has been growing and evolving into a strong and dependable institution. For the Aiming Higher interview, we had the privilege to talk with Mrs. Gail DeBoer, the President/ CEO of SAC Federal Credit Union. Mrs. DeBoer assumed the role in 2007 and under her leadership, the organization opened multiple new locations, added its Culture Development department, launched a branding initiative and increased its charter to include additional counties.
Her current role brings a lot of responsibility and according to Mrs. DeBoer, some days that can weigh heavy knowing that ultimately she owns whatever the problem or situation might be. Mrs. DeBoer states that one could not anticipate what that feels like. With the employees and members in mind, Mrs. DeBoer is constantly making decisions that impact them and they count on her making the “right decision.”
Describe the culture of your organization.
A few years ago, SAC FCU worked to change the culture to make it more employee-friendly. They first implemented a training program to show the employees that the company cares about them and their career growth. Second, the Board reviewed the Mission and the Vision and with the involvement of Senior Management and the employees, a set of core values was created. “We are very passionate about our core values” cites Mrs. DeBoer. The core values, Respect, Integrity, Service, and Excellence help everyone focus on what is really important to the organization. To DeBoer’s surprise, “that alone could start to change the culture.” According to Mrs. DeBoer, “we took that beyond our employees” and all business partners are held to the same standards and values. The company had to “fire” some of its long time partners simply because they were not living up to the core values.
SAC FCU has an Ethics and Code of Conduct policy that is currently
under review to be even more specific. Two of the company’s employees went to Business Ethics Alliance workshops. Because of this, it was decided that the Ethics policy would be reevaluated and signed by employees every year going forward. In addition to that, the Credit Union is also going to go through Ethics training.
With all the changes that the organization experienced in the past few years, Mrs. DeBoer wanted to preserve a very focal aspect of the culture, the “potluck mentality.” “We are very family friendly” mentions DeBoer and it is very important to her that the employees make it to their children’s soccer games or school events.
What does Ethics mean to you?
Mrs. DeBoer strongly states that: “You really need to do the right thing and it is pretty non-negotiable here. In certain situations, if you have to wonder you probably should not do that. My gut tells me if it is right or wrong and if I have to think about it, it is probably wrong.”
“We do the right thing.”
Is there a connection between how you were raised with ethical values as leader in a company?
Mrs. DeBoer believes that most of one’s Ethics are set early in life.
Her parents were very moral and ethical people and they did not just talked about it, they modeled it. She was raised in a Catholic family who went to church every Sunday. Her parents really modeled the moral value and all the experiences after solidified DeBoer’s values.
Can you give an example of an easy and a hard ethical situation?
As an internal auditor, Mrs. DeBoer had a lot of experience in dealing with unethical situations. An example like charging personal dry cleaning to the corporate credit card or stealing money would be an easy, black-and-white issue to handle. Why would anyone risk their job? As Mrs. DeBoer reflects on this question, she mentions that she never felt bad for catching those misdeeds even though there was some empathy if the person caught was in a difficult family situation; however it was ultimately the “wrong thing to do.”
Can you walk us through the process if you were offered a trip to Hawaii?
“At that point, I would not even do business with you.” Mrs. DeBoer recalls an example of a lawn care provider for the Credit Union and he offered lawn care services to DeBoer’ s personal property. That provider was immediately taken off the list of possible vendors “because that is just unacceptable.”
When asked whether it felt uncomfortable to be faced with ethical situations and how to discuss them, without any hesitation Mrs. DeBoer said “No, I do not think it is ever uncomfortable, I would not find having a discussion on Ethics uncomfortable. It is not something that I shy away from.”
When working with car loans or mortgages, what are some of the ethical issues that you see?
Starting with the statement that everybody witnessed the economic events in the past few years, Mrs. DeBoer states there were financial institutions bending a lot of rules which in turn contributed to the overall economic crisis. Loans were made to people who did not have the ability to repay them and not providing proper documentation were clearly a couple of unethical situations that occurred. DeBoer affirms that it was not fair to the people given the loan and it was not fair to the people bundling those loans. SAC FCU never did that, so the organization was not hit as hard by the economic crisis. The Credit Union has a lot of indirect loans through dealerships and when the company gets bad paperwork, Mrs. DeBoer states they hold the dealerships accountable to make sure these situations are avoided in the future.
What are the biggest ethical challenges that you think the younger business professionals face today?
Mrs. DeBoer states that the younger professionals today have challenges that other generations did not have; however they need to be aware about the privacy issues presented by technology and the changing rules around technology including Social Media. DeBoer concludes that “privacy is not what it used to be.”
“Always follow your core values.”
When asked about tips for young professionals who aspire to be leaders one day, Mrs. DeBoer affirms that one must always follow his or her core values and never compromise them. “You always have to be aware with whom you are associated, how you conduct yourself all the time personally and professionally” concludes Mrs. DeBoer.