The Power of Experience

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MDC Director of Product Development Sarah Lietz tells us about her role as Board Chair of US Federal Credit Union:

Where does my story begin? I’ve worked at MDC for almost 10 years, and was with CUNA Mutual for 2 years before that. Twelve years of credit union industry experience—not bad, but certainly not as much as many of the credit union professionals I work with every day. So when I ran for the board of US Federal Credit Union ($1.03 billion in assets serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul Twin Cities Metro community) in 2010, I assumed it would help me in my job at MDC—especially gaining a better understanding of the issues facing our owner credit unions every day—but I was entirely unaware of the number of “aha moments” waiting for me. From managing my roles as a board chair and my position at MDC, the question becomes: how do I leverage this duel responsibility to bring value to our credit union owners?

  • Street cred. When I talk to MDC owners about my role as board chair, many are surprised, but all are pleased. It gives me a certain level of credibility—we can share war stories related to leading a complex financial institution through a firestorm of challenges.
  • Relevant projects. Colorful discussions at the board room table every month directly relate to the hot projects at MDC —member experience, compressed margins, competitive differentiation, and other topics on the credit union horizon. Having a better understanding of issues top of mind to credit unions ensures the projects we launch at MDC are relevant and beneficial to our owners.
  • Stronger leadership skills. Leading a monthly 2-hour meeting with 8 other directors, an associate director, the supervisory committee, senior management, and the CEO is a lot different than just showing up. Having 20 people looking at me at the start of meeting makes me want to step into the challenge and lead—a drive that carries over into my role at MDC.
  • Idea incubator. I often talk to US Federal employees to get some informal feedback on potential MDC projects. How do members use technology in the branch? Which questions are trending in the call center? Their feedback often leads to project improvements before our owners even see them.

How does this tie into the bigger picture? Our team uses experiences outside of our MDC roles to learn, think critically, and expand. We believe in the power of life experience—our team, our credit unions, and their employees can all learn from exposure to new events (both in and outside of the credit union industry).

Of course, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. The typical credit union board of directors doesn’t have a lot of direct experience within the credit union industry, and US Federal is no exception. Simply because of my day job, I have more access to industry experts and have brought several of them in to the credit union to speak to the board. Because of my knowledge of the industry, I am able to challenge the management team more, ask the hard questions, and push for more progressive strategy—which makes the organization stronger and better positioned for long-term success.

It’s been an incredibly rewarding five years on the board. Having a direct say in the overall direction of a billion dollar credit union and representing the interests of my fellow members is more than enough to keep me going.

Plus, I really like being called Madame Chair.

Still have questions? Sarah would love to talk more about her experiences with you! Shoot her an email