Liz Gilmore is the CEO of Members United Credit Union.
Liz Gilmore has a green thumb for business. The avid gardener long ago planted the seeds of her success when she dedicated herself to learning all she could about the finance industry.
She is now the CEO of Members United Credit Union, a blossoming financial institution.
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In her recent interview with Herald reporter J.D. Sumner, Gilmore talks about her professional life and shares a touching story about one of her more memorable patrons.
Q: What was your first job?
A: Well, my very first job was at 16 at McDonald’s, the local McDonald’s, and I was actually the fry girl. So my responsibility was basically to make sure that those fries were hot for those bags and those meals.
Q: What did you buy with your first paycheck?
A: Actually my dad had been out of work that year. He was a self-employed cabinet maker and I had senior dues that I had to pay so my first check went for my senior dues.
Q: What do you do to motivate yourself and your employees?
A: We try to have staff meetings monthly and my management team meets every Wednesday. I like to stay involved and know what’s going on in their departments. I like to create a team environment and I like for them to be part of that team and I like to be there with them and let them know that they can call on me for anything that they might need.
Q: If you were stranded on an island, what three objects would you like to have with you and why?
A: I guess the first thing that I would want would be my Bible, which I could read and it would give me comfort and faith. The second thing would be a knife to use to build things or make things and to hunt and the third thing would probably be a compass so I’d be able to find my way around the island.
Q: What do you like to do in your off time?
A: That’s kind of a hard question. I just recently took this position and relocated to Albany so I haven’t had a lot of down time. Normally I like working in the yard and gardening. That kind of relieves a lot of stress. I love to cut grass. I enjoy that because there are no phones, I can totally block out everything and it helps me to relax. I like to get out into the yard and piddle around and garden.
Q: What’s your favorite work-related gadget?
A: My iPhone. We currently have three branches here in Albany and one in Columbus so if I’m at the Columbus office or I am at one of the other branches, I can always be in touch with all my employees as well as them with me. I don’t know how I’d make it without my phone.
Q: If you could have lunch with anyone living or dead, real or imaginary, who would it be and why?
A: There is a member that passed away several years ago and I drew a lot of knowledge from him, just in talking with him about his financial background. He started out at Tom’s Foods as a vendor and worked on the vending machines but had acquired a significant amount of wealth over the years. And I always enjoyed having him come into the credit union and just listening to how he acquired his wealth and the decisions he made in his life. And I just drew a lot of knowledge from him in running the credit union as far as him making investments. And he had other small companies and jobs; he had rental properties and I enjoyed listening to how he would diversify his money and his investments. To start out with little means, I thought it to be so interesting how he acquired so much wealth and just through experience and trial and error how he became so wealthy and yet, at the same time, he was still that same person. To look at him, you would never know he was such a wealthy man and so smart, because sometimes he would just come to the office in his overalls after working outside on his tractor or something.
Q: If you could talk to someone who is considering joining your industry, what would you tell them?
A: I would probably tell them that you don’t get to this position overnight. It requires a lot of dedication and hard work and you constantly have to be learning your field. In this industry, every day there are compliance changes, things we have to contend with. You also have your competitors. Technology is moving so fast, you almost have to stay one step ahead of your competitor. There’s a bank and a credit union just about on every corner and if you don’t offer that personal member service and have that relationship, they can pretty much go anywhere.
Q: Have you had any mentors or role models in your life?
A: I wouldn’t want to say it was one particular person. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some great women managers and I have worked for men, but there is a difference. For me, I could relate more to the women. I had one manager tell me one time, “Never assume anything,” and I always thought that was great advice because you may assume that an employee knows what you want them to do, but, you can tell them but you must observe them to ensure that they are carrying the task out. That was early on in my career and I thought that was really good advice because if you assume, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble pretty quick.
Q: If you had unlimited money and time, where would you go?
A: I would love to go to Europe, Italy in particular, just to see the countryside. I’ve viewed it online in pictures and my husband and I, we are planning a trip, I don’t know when. I would just love to view the country and experience the culture.
Q: Are things getting easier for women executives in your field?
A: I think you make your own way through hard work and dedication. I still think, though, that there’s a lot about ‘who you know’ and where you know them and in what company. I think everyone is pretty much on equal footing, there again, it pays to know people in the right places and that’s in any field or any position. If you’re trying to get employment at a particular company, a lot of times it makes a difference if you know someone already working there.
I wouldn’t say that men versus women; I don’t think it makes any difference whether its a man or woman. I think it’s all about who you know and your work ethic and your dedication.