CEO Success Stories
Service, Simplicity, Technology, & Focus
Women and young professionals often face extra challenges in climbing the ladder to business success.
But the professional openness in the credit union industry has propelled talented people to the top more rapidly than in many industries. Tiffany Ford, CEO of the $490-million University of Michigan Credit Union since October 2011, is a prime example.
A native of Detroit, she earned both a BA in accounting and MBA at Michigan State. A job in public accounting after graduation gave her, she says, “a great opportunity to learn about the internal operations, mechanisms and risk inherent in running a credit union.” A couple of years later she made a natural transition, becoming Assistant Vice President of Internal Audit at Michigan State Credit Union, with $2.2 billion in assets. “I was extraordinarily fortunate to move to an institution run by Patrick McPharlin, whom I’m proud to call a mentor. A true leader, he balances respect for people with a high level of professionalism that permeates the entire credit union.”
In her 10-plus years at Michigan State Credit Union, Tiffany moved from Internal Audit to Vice President, Contact Center to Vice President, Finance and ultimately to Executive Vice President of Lending, Collections and Support. Asked about the key to her growth she says, “It takes understanding and working with the team. I’m constantly learning, listening andwatching. I focus on the people and the services that, together, we provide. As my pastor says: ‘team work makes the dream work’.”
Moving from East Lansing to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan Credit Union meant much more than just switching sides and colors at the big football game between the Spartans and the Wolverines. Tiffany’s husband and two young daughters were part of the decision-making process, too. When she interviewed with the Board of Directors she was two months pregnant with her son. “Of course, I had to tell them exactly where I was in my life,” she says. The Board’s response was “extraordinary. All I received were smiles and ‘Congratulations!‘” They told her that family comes first, “and they meant it,” she says. “Once again, the good people in credit unions were right by my side.”
The University of Michigan Credit Union is in a very stable position financially, with 9% capital and a field of membership that includes university faculty, staff, students and alumni, a local community college, as well as the University of Michigan Health & Hospital System. “I also had the good fortune to inherit a great team, every one of them,” she says. Immediately after she was hired the COO, Candy Keene, briefed her fully and, introduced her personally to the rest of the team. “It was a good start,” she say
With a stable base of 49,000 members, the credit union is intent upon growing relationships with current members. The management team has rigorously examined the credit union’s lending products and policies; it has studied the barriers in products and pricing; and it is finding ways to build deeper relationships. Tiffany uses three words keep the organization aligned— service, simplicity and technology. And there’s one other key word: focus. In her own life, she credits an uncle for that last one. “I was a tomboy as a girl and loved all sports, including basketball. My uncle was the guy in the stands always shouting, ‘Focus, Tiffany!’” It paid off then, and it’s paying off now. The credit union is on track to increase year-to-year earnings by 50 basis points.
Tiffany considers herself blessed to have been surrounded by and to have learned from others who were able to see more in her than even perhaps she saw in herself. When people ask for advice about their own careers, she urges them not to under-value themselves. “If you’re willing to work hard, if you believe in yourself and the power of teams, and if you focus, you will grow,” she says