Her advice for younger women: “Like yourself, be yourself, trust yourself, reward yourself and share yourself.”
Hard work and dedication helped Sue DeStephano become president/CEO of First Capital Federal Credit Union in York, Pennsylvania, but asking for advancement, training and opportunities propelled her career trajectory.
Little did DeStephano imagine when she took a part-time job at a clothing store after college that this would set her on the path to her current position, but that is exactly what happened. One of the store’s regular customers, a local credit union manager, noticed DeStephano’s exemplary customer service and asked if she would be interested in coming to work for her.
“I said, ‘what’s a credit union,’” DeStephano recalls, laughing. “I had no idea it would become a life-changing moment and that it would become my career. This June, it will be 29 years, which is amazing to me.”
She first landed at the credit union in 1989, and that organization merged into First Capital FCU in 1999. As a result of this merger, the organization doubled in size to around $50 million in assets. Today, assets total $200 million, with the credit union’s 58 full-time and four part-time employees serving nearly 19,000 members from more than 500 select employer groups in York County.
“We serve the largest employer in York County, which is a large healthcare system, as well as companies in the manufacturing industry and small local businesses,” says DeStephano. “We have three branches and a contact center, all in York.”
DeStephano stepped into her current role in 2016, after the former president/CEO (and one of her mentors) retired. Although she’s been with the same organization for her entire professional career, she obviously hasn’t been standing still. She started as a loan officer—ideal for her outgoing personality and customer-service bent.“I absolutely love lending; I was a loan officer for 10 years,” she says. “I owe a lot to my early credit union days, because I learned so much and built so many wonderful relationships. Getting to know our credit union members and being referred because you provided great service was so satisfying.”
Shortly after the merger, DeStephano expressed her desire to move into management and was promoted to lending manager. A few years later, she became VP/lending (a position she held for 10 years) and a member of the senior management team. In 2014, she rose to become the vice president of operations, a move that added commercial lending and branch operations to her plate. Then, after competing with external candidates nationwide, she took on her latest endeavor as the organization’s top leader.
Speaking up has been her best career move, says DeStephano. “I was always raising my hand to be involved. I continually asked for training and I asked for advancement. This led me to become involved in various projects where I was able to share my opinions, demonstrate my work ethic, my positive attitude and my love for the credit union.”
She also spent three years attending the three segments of CUES’ CEO Institute, prompted to do so by her mentor and former president/CEO, Dennis Flickinger. Seeing that she had leadership potential, he signed up DeStephano and another colleague for the institute, which is held at three prestigious business schools. She calls the experience “amazing and life-changing in so many ways.”
DeStephano credits this mentor for giving her valuable advice over the years that helped prepare her for advancement. In fact, she says she has a list of advice from him posted in her office and looks at daily. What’s on this list? Some of her favorites include:
- Look forward to coming to work every day.
- Don’t stop learning.
- Members are the reasons we are here. Do a good job for them.
- Keep employees happy and make it fun.
- Trust is the foundation of everything. Be true to yourself first.
As for what she would tell younger women just starting out in their careers, DeStephano says her first advice is to “like yourself, be yourself, trust yourself, reward yourself and share yourself.” Also, speak up, ask for advancement, find mentors and use them to grow. Ask for training. Love learning, embrace new ideas and roll your sleeves up and work hard. And don’t be afraid to tackle new opportunities, even if they seem intimidating at first.
“Becoming a manager and raising that bar for myself was challenging but exciting,” she recalls of that first step taken many years ago. “I got to work with so many amazing people that taught me so much in my personal and professional journey.
“And now today, we have a very cohesive senior management team that I’m proud to work with,” DeStephano continues. “I really love the energy and ambition that comes from the others on my team and try hard to lead with enthusiasm and passion.”
Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, California.