Into the Unknown

MJ Neusaenger
Contributing Writer

6 minutes

Taking chances and trusting herself has been the hallmark of credit union CEO MJ Neusaenger’s career.

Ask CUES member MJ Neusaenger, president/CEO of $280 million Transportation Federal Credit Union, what has helped her get from where she started to where she is now, and she’ll tell you that persistence has played a big part in her career trajectory.

“I believe in never giving up,” Neusaenger says. “No matter what happens, no matter how many times you get knocked down, you just have to get back up and keep going. Also, I think it’s important not to be afraid to take chances and step out of your comfort zone. When I look back on my life, if I hadn’t left the job or the place I was in at the time, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity at Transportation Federal Credit Union.”

Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, Transportation FCU has four branches—two in Washington, D.C., another in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and one that just opened in Alexandria this April. Currently, the credit union has 50-plus employees serving over 14,000 members.

Neusaenger landed at Transportation FCU in May 2019, stepping in as CFO. Six months later she became the interim CEO, assuming the CEO position in June 2020. She arrived at that organization with decades of industry experience under her belt.

“I began my career at a bank in California where I worked as a member service representative for four years,” she recalls. “After my divorce in 1987, my daughter and I relocated to Florida. While job hunting, I stumbled upon an ad in the classifieds for a teller position at an Orlando hospital-based credit union. Despite not knowing much about credit unions, I decided to apply and was hired on the spot.”

Several months later, a job opened up in that credit union’s accounting department—her “ultimate career goal,” says Neusaenger. She jumped at that opportunity and has worked in accounting and finance ever since.

Her career path has been one of steady ascent, with stints at other Florida credit unions, always accompanied by promotions and increased responsibilities. Along the way, she earned a Bachelor of Finance degree from the University of Central Florida (1999), followed by an MBA degree in 2018 from Webster University, Orlando.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to make a change, even when everything isn’t completely planned out,” advises Neusaenger, adding that joining Transportation FCU meant leaving friends she had known for more than 30 years and family behind. “Everything in life happens for a reason. I entered the credit union industry and have been loving it ever since.”

Below, Neusaenger reveals to Advancing Women some of her most satisfying accomplishments and challenging moments throughout her career as well as providing insights on how the industry can better support women who want to move their careers forward.

How has your background in accounting and finance helped you prepare for your role as CEO?

“Studying accounting and finance helped me decide what credit union job offer I wanted to take. Understanding the financials gives you great insight into the potential growth and success of the credit union. I believe this is vital for any CEO because every choice we make impacts the credit union’s financial success now and in the future.”

You’ve had a long and successful career. What have been some of your most satisfying accomplishments so far?

“Moving up the corporate ladder. I started as a teller and worked my way up to becoming the CEO of a mid-size credit union. Understanding how all the different parts of the operations fit together, especially coming from a member-facing role, feels like solving a puzzle. After 37 years in the credit union industry, I am most satisfied with my career growth and maturity in the industry.”

MJ Neusaenger
MJ Neusaenger
Transportation Federal Credit Union
“I believe in never giving up. No matter what happens, no matter how many times you get knocked down, you just have to get back up and keep going. Also

What leadership challenges have proven especially memorable?

“During the big resignation wave of 2020-2023, I ended up losing three senior team members and several key midlevel managers right in the middle of a crucial core conversion project. Because we’re a small credit union, we couldn’t match the salaries offered by bigger financial institutions to retain top staff. It was tough, but we had to push through and finish the job.

“Adding to the challenge at that time was the pandemic. While everything was shutting down, we had to keep running to serve our members. With a reduced staff, it was hard to meet member needs and establish a hybrid workforce. But we managed to come up with a solution that still works well for us today.”

How did you get through it?

“I stayed focused, rolled up my sleeves and did whatever was needed to get things done. Some days, I had to juggle multiple roles like IT manager, operations manager, comptroller and CFO all at once. It wasn’t by choice—as the credit union leader, the work had to be completed. Thankfully, I had a dedicated team that supported me throughout.”

Along with your team and their support, are there people within your credit union or the industry that you count on for advice and feedback?

“During my time at Transportation FCU, I’ve had the support of Keith Washington, our board of directors chairman. He’s always honest, and we can talk openly about anything, which has made a huge difference for me.

“I also seek guidance from (CUES member) Andy Grimm, the CEO of $4.3 billion Apple Federal Credit Union (Fairfax, Virginia); the CEO of $5.2 billion SECU (Linthicum, Maryland), David Sweiderk; and John Bratsakis, president/CEO of the MD|DC Credit Union Association. They’ve all been instrumental in helping me as a CEO, offering sound advice and ideas. Even though we’re part of different-sized credit unions, there’s no real competition among us. They’re just great people who keep encouraging me to push forward and never give up.”

What has been some of the best career advice you’ve received? And what is your advice for women who want to advance in this industry?

“The best advice I ever got, and what’s led me to where I am today, came when I attended a retirement party for a CEO years ago. She talked about the importance of seizing opportunities, no matter how daunting the task may seem. She spoke about embracing change and learning, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone.

“Looking back, I once passed up a job opportunity only to end up training the person who got the position. That experience taught me a valuable lesson. So, when the chance to become the CEO of this credit union arose, I took a leap of faith. It was scary, but I held onto the CEO’s advice about seizing opportunities. And here I am today. So, my advice to women in the credit union industry is simple: Don’t give up, be proactive, and claim your rightful place at the table.”

How can credit unions best support and inspire women in their efforts to thrive in this industry?

“I believe we need more women visible in our industry, not just at big credit unions, but also at smaller ones. Women need to be highlighted in both top as well as entry-level positions. Having diversity and women represented across the industry is crucial. It inspires others and shows that anything is possible. Also, celebrating women shouldn’t be limited to just [Women’s History Month in] March; it should be an ongoing effort throughout the year.” cues icon

Pamela Mills-Senn is a writer based in Long Beach, California.

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