Inspiration and Courage to Forge Ahead During Turbulent Times

The 2020 Herb Wegner honorees represent everything that’s right with the credit union movement.

By Shazia Manus, Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer, AdvantEdge Analytics

In turbulent times like these, it’s critical to stay grounded on our industry’s “people helping people” philosophy and our collective purpose to help consumers reach financial security. Credit unions have a rich history of assisting their members in times of need. Consider the year 1934, when President Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act on the heels of the Great Depression to give Americans a way to avoid predatory practices of larger financial institutions.

That same altruistic spirit is alive and well in our industry today. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the 2020 Herb Wegner Memorial Awards Dinner and was inspired by the many different ways to have an impact in the credit union space – exemplified by the three honorees. The awards are also evidence of the power of diversity, equality and inclusion, each of which is alive and well thanks to cooperative stand-out leaders like these three.

2020 Herb Wegner Honorees

Teresa Freeborn

Teresa is a tireless advocate for female leaders with a boldness that is both inspiring and contagious. When she shared the unspoken reality facing women around the world at a Global Women’s Leadership Network event several years ago, I was blown away by her delivery. Even though many of the topics she was addressing were hard to hear, she presented them with such positivity and an enduring belief that change was just around the corner. It was a highly motivating talk, and one I’ll never forget.

Since that time, Teresa has continued to champion for more women in leadership within the credit union space. She has continually challenged women and men alike to be bold and to use their own personal story as the catalyst for becoming a change agent. With the heart of a marketer, she is always selling the credit union difference, introducing what I imagine are hundreds of new people every month to movement. The industry is incredibly lucky to have her.

“I just know what I want. I go get it, and it’s no holds barred. I might get a little bruised and battered along the way, but that’s just what’s going to happen.” Teresa Freeborn

Maurice R. Smith

Maurice speaks softly, but has a big voice. A gentle, humble human being, he’s the type of person who puts others far before himself. It’s likely one of the reasons the credit union industry was a draw for him. Leaders in this sector do not have to push against profitability pressures to do the right thing; looking out for the best interests of the people you serve is rewarded with its own special version of prosperity. Maurice’s achievements are a great example of how personal career success can result from taking a people-helping-people approach to everything you do.

Those who know him say Maurice was built for credit union service. They’ll tell you he’s a tireless leader (In fact, they say, it’s a mystery as to when he sleeps). What I really loved learning about Maurice is that he allows his team to make mistakes because that’s how leaders can more clearly see the possibilities – and more importantly – pursue them with gumption, not fear. It’s a method of leadership I very much appreciate, and I’m proud to serve an industry that recognizes the wisdom in that approach.

“Given the opportunity, I think most people would prefer to matter, to know their voice counts.”Maurice R. Smith

John Fiore

If there’s any leadership persona that really thrives in the credit union industry, it’s that of the collaborator. John is a collaborator in the truest sense of the word. He has a strong history of getting key industry players to work together for the ultimate betterment of the movement and the people we all collectively serve.

The special sauce of John’s contributions seems to center on a strategic selflessness. He will stick out his neck and put his reputation on the line to go after what he believes is the best way forward. It’s a characteristic you just don’t see in the C-suite of megabanks and big tech firms, and that’s why the endurance of the credit union industry is so crucial. With compassionate leaders like John setting the standard for tomorrow’s credit union executives, the industry won’t only endure; we’ll achieve the market domination consumers deserve.

“I thought when I retired, I could just walk away from the movement. I realized I couldn’t. It’s in my blood. I hope I can continue to contribute in some fashion until I leave this Earth.”John Fiore

The 2020 Herb Wegner honorees are proof the credit union industry allows people to become the best possible version of themselves. Whether you’re a marketer from Canada, a farm kid from North Carolina or a person who stumbles into the industry and soon finds it part of his DNA, the credit union movement has a place for you. This is a wonderful industry with an exceptional history and an even more exciting future.