When Kathi Gill started as a head teller at what was then called Baton Rouge Teachers Federal Credit Union in May 1981, the company had eight employees and managed about $9 million in assets.
Today, Neighbors Federal Credit Union has more than 200 employees and manages about $500 million, making it larger than some of the Capital Region’s community banks.
In her three decades with the company, Gill has served as a branch manager, and as vice president of member services and has run just about everything but the computer system and the accounting department. But, she says, the crux of her job has remained almost the same.
“I was always in charge of the service culture,” she says. “Anything that touched a member’s hand has always fallen directly under me.”
And as the company grew, so did her responsibilities.
You didn’t have to be a teacher to join Teachers, but you or a family member did have to be employed in education. The company realized it had to expand its focus if it wanted to thrive, Gill says, so Teachers converted from an occupational charter to a community charter in 2003. Now, anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in the nine-parish Capital Region is eligible for membership. Hence, the name change.
The banking and credit union industry has become more competitive over the years, she says, and there are plenty of places to get a loan or a checking account. Neighbors can’t compete toe-to-toe with the Chases and the Capital Ones of the world, so the company has to differentiate itself by “trying to create raving fans and really becoming the financial partner with our members,” Gill says.
Neighbors’ previous CEO retired at the end of 2007, but he had been talking about stepping down for years. Gill prepared herself for the possible opening through continuing education and certification.
“I knew that this opportunity was going to be there,” she says. “I wanted to make sure that I positioned myself to be a viable candidate.”
Since moving into the top job, Gill has made a point of meeting every new hire. One of the changes she’s made is turning the annual member meeting, which always was poorly attended, into a member appreciation week. A customer who drives through just might end up having his or her windshield washed by the CEO.
“I’m a team member, just like all of my 200-plus employees,” she says. “I do not ask my team to do anything I would not do myself.”
Gill had two young children when she embarked on her career, and says younger businesswomen often ask for tips on balancing work and family. Her advice: Be true to yourself, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
“You can’t be perfect, but you can be damn good at both of them,” she says. “Different days create different priorities. Make the decision that’s best for you at that time, and don’t beat yourself up over it.”