2023 CUES Distinguished Director Scott Burt has played a crucial role in helping Mountain America Credit Union achieve phenomenal growth.
Scott Burt, CPA, is an accomplished leader with a remarkable track record as a board member and a CEO at organizations that are renowned for helping others. Burt’s dedication to the credit union movement spans 43 years of board service at Mountain America Credit Union in Salt Lake City, including six years as chair. In that time, he has played a crucial role in elevating the organization to become one of the nation’s most successful credit unions, serving over 1 million members across six states through 100-plus branch locations.
“I love my service at Mountain America and am full of gratitude for it,” says Burt, a CUES member. “The journey began over 40 years ago, inspired by the principle of people helping people. Our small $135 million shop has grown to over $18 billion in asset size, and I’ve been along for the whole journey. When we started, Mountain America was not even in the top 50 in asset size. Now we are number nine and continue to grow. The change at Mountain America has been transformative. We’ve worked hard to stay ahead of the curve.”
For his role at Mountain America CU and his strong dedication to the credit union movement, Burt was honored with the title of 2023 CUES Distinguished Director. Those who work most closely with him at the credit union affirm that the award is well-deserved.
“It’s been my honor to work with Scott Burt for 29 years,” says President/CEO Sterling Nielsen, a CUES member who was honored with the CUES Outstanding Chief Executive award four years ago. “He has been an effective contributor and leader. His wisdom and dedication to the credit union is evident in the time and effort he contributes to the good of the movement.”
Much of Burt’s experience on the Mountain America CU board overlaps his impressive 27-year career with Children’s Miracle Network, now Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City that raises funds for children’s hospitals in the United States and Canada. During his tenure there as CEO, Burt interacted closely with board members.
“I learned about serving on boards from the Children’s Miracle Network when I was on the management side,” he says, which gave him firsthand experience that helped him work more effectively with the CEO and management at Mountain America CU.
“He has been a fantastic board member,” Nielsen says. “He is smart and articulate. He understands the role of the board and can guide an effective group of dedicated board members to do amazing things.”
Mountain America CU board members are effusive in their praise for Burt. CUES member Joel Steadman describes Burt as being uniquely dedicated to his duties. “He goes above and beyond what’s expected of him in a typical board chair role, and that distinguishes him as an elite leader,” Steadman says. “He’s worked hard to build a great relationship with Sterling, and I think that’s the key reason that our board works so well with our executives. Our growth has been astronomical when compared to the industry, and I think that has a lot to do with our strong board and our strong leadership team.”
Another board member, CUES member Julie Wray, is impressed by Burt’s leadership and how well he interacts with all board members, management and other credit union employees. “Scott is one of the most approachable, charitable and kind individuals I know,” she says. “He takes time to listen and offers great insights and advice. He has an unflappable nature, calm demeanor and positive attitude. He is also intelligent and thoughtful and due to his experience as an executive and CEO, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the board. He sincerely cares not only about the credit union and its successes but about the members it serves.”
A Unique Perspective
Burt’s devotion to the credit union movement stems from how much he believes in its mission. “What I love most about the credit union movement is the transformative impact we have on people’s lives,” he says. “We help people secure their first home, put children through college and weather financial storms. We give power to entrepreneurs and support retirees in their golden years. Those are the things I’ve found profoundly fulfilling. It’s easy to boast about how big you are, but the real accomplishments are in the daily helping of people.”
Burt became a member of Utah State Employees’ Credit Union, a predecessor organization of Mountain America CU, while working as an accountant for Salt Lake County. He took on that job shortly after earning his degree in accounting and a minor in business management/economics from Brigham Young University.
After passing the CPA exam, Burt worked for a regional accounting firm and later as a controller for a property management organization. He also has experience as a business owner, co-founding a property management firm specializing in time share management.
Burt’s career took a life-changing turn when he answered a newspaper ad from a nonprofit looking for accounting help. “That’s how I started my career with Children’s Miracle Network,” he says. “At the time, they were a small, struggling organization, and it wasn’t even certain they would survive. I took the job, as they were in great need of accounting help, thinking I would help for six months to a year and then find something more stable and promising.”
Fortunately, through proper budgeting, the nonprofit began to prosper, and at that point, corporate sponsorships started to flow into the organization. “That’s what saved Children’s Miracle Network,” Burt reports “and the job became so fun and rewarding that I never left. Twenty-seven years later, I retired as the CEO. We grew to become one of the largest children’s charities in the world, raising almost half a billion dollars each year.”
Burt’s career at Children’s Miracle Network intersected with his credit union volunteerism when the Credit Unions for Kids fundraising program was launched in 1996. “At the time, I was COO at Children’s Miracle Network and a director for Mountain America, so I had the unique perspective of seeing the development of the program from both sides,” he says. “Credit unions have raised over $200 million in the past 26 years, and 100% of that money goes directly to the credit union’s local hospital. To this day at Mountain America, our credit union raises $100,000 a year for Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake with the Swing for the Kids golf tournament. It’s impressive to see two wonderful organizations come together to do so much good.”
The Children’s Miracle Network board included administrators from many of the nation’s largest children’s hospitals as well as top C-suite executives from major corporations like Walmart, Hershey’s, Delta and Marriott. “It was like a Who’s Who of corporate America,” Burt says. “To be mentored by those people has been very helpful for me in my role at Mountain America. I was able to see how effective people can serve without being burrs under the saddle or causing problems for management. I am sure that helped me become a better board member.”
A Matter of Leadership
During his 43 years on the Mountain America CU board, Burt has worked with three CEOs, starting with Grant Clayborn and progressing to Gordon Dames and finally to Nielsen. All three CEOs contributed their unique talents to the credit union, steering the organization through good times and bad. Nielsen had a particularly tough challenge, taking the CEO role at the credit union just as the financial crisis of 2008 was devastating the world economy. At the same time, Mountain America CU was dealing with the aftermath of a merger with a troubled credit union, so Nielsen had to be diligent in getting everything sorted favorably.
“Sterling took over as CEO for Mountain America the same year as I became president/CEO of Children’s Miracle Network,” Burt recalls. “We both had to weather that same difficult period.”
Fortunately, Nielsen was up for the job. It is under his leadership that the most significant growth at Mountain America CU has occurred. He became CEO when the asset size was $2.8 billion and guided the organization to over sixfold growth in less than 15 years.
“One of the things that I’ve learned during my time at Mountain America is that your success depends upon having the right people in right positions,” Burt says. “As a board, the most important thing we can do is identify someone with vision and the courage to embrace change, then allow that person the freedom to help the credit union become what it can be and not get in the way.
“It’s important to get a person who has the ability to lead,” Burt adds. “We have been blessed to have Sterling as that person. He’s unassuming, he doesn’t have a big ego, and he has the courage and the strength to do hard things.”
Nielsen and the board work closely to enhance the culture of Mountain America CU. “The culture has evolved to where we always rank as one of the top places to work every year,” Burt says. “We have shifted away from a sales culture to a culture that is focused on what we can do to help the member. Our employees embody this new culture, and massive credit to Sterling and his team for steering us in this direction.”
Burt also has been diligent about ensuring that board members have the knowledge and skill sets necessary for governance of an ever-expanding credit union. Board member Wray is especially appreciative of Burt’s leadership on this issue, noting that under Burt’s direction, the board has developed a process to conduct a self-evaluation of its effectiveness.
“This process helped the directors to determine areas to focus on, from attracting more diverse representation on the board … to ways to improve time spent on discussing strategic direction,” she says. “Scott also encourages development and continued growth and learning by the directors, encouraging them to attend trainings, conferences and other educational opportunities.”
Burt also has been diligent about his own development, taking advantage of educational opportunities from CUES and other industry organizations. “Every year, Sterling and I attend the CUES Symposium that focuses on leadership development of the CEO/board chair team,” Burt reports. “It’s especially valuable because all the major credit unions are there sharing their experiences.”
A Fulfilling Life
Outside of his service to Mountain America CU, Burt’s life is enriched by volunteerism for other worthwhile organizations and his devotion to family. He has served on several nonprofit boards, including ServiceSource’s local affiliate PARC, which creates employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and Utah Community Action, which serves over 60,000 people annually through core programs like Head Start, an early childhood development program serving low-income children and their families. He also is proud of his work for the Mountain America Foundation, funded by Mountain America CU and its members to make a difference in the lives of the people in the communities the credit union serves.
Burt’s ever-expanding family circle has added great joy to his life. He and his wife, Pam, have five adult children (three girls and two boys), all married with children of their own. “We’ve been blessed with 22 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and we expect many more to come,” he says.
In his spare time, Burt enjoys following college sports and some professional sports like basketball and football. He himself has participated in various sports over the years. “Now, I’m focused mainly on having fun with golf and getting in workouts at the gym,” he says.
As he reflects on his board service, Burt can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride and gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of the credit union movement. “My journey as a volunteer board member at Mountain America has been a privilege and a calling,” he says. “I’ve served with amazing leaders, talented employees and dedicated volunteers who have had a lasting impact on me, on our credit union and the credit union movement as a whole.” cues icon
Based in Missouri, Diane Franklin is a longtime contributor to CU Management magazine.