10 questions with The Summit FCU’s Laurie Baker

Baker Laurie photo

Laurie Baker, a past chair and current director of the New York Credit Union Association’s board of directors, will begin her new role as CEO of The Summit FCU on Feb. 1. Baker, who is succeeding current CEO Mike Vadala, has been with the Rochester-based credit union for more than 25 years and served as its chief operating officer for 19 years.

Baker recently sat down with The New York Minute to discuss her journey to becoming CEO, the changes to the credit union movement she has witnessed during her career and more.

Q. Can you describe your career path and how you landed at The Summit?

A. My first exposure to credit unions was as a young member of Bethpage FCU when I was growing up on Long Island. College brought me to upstate New York. Soon after graduating, I started my credit union career as a teller at Sidney FCU. When I made the decision to move to the Rochester area, I applied at The Summit.

I began my Summit career as a loan officer. At that time, we were under $100 million in assets. By 1998, I had been promoted several times and was the VP of Lending and Human Resources.

In 2001 I became COO, adding different responsibilities to my role, including marketing, community relations, business relations, branch operations, call center operations and member investment services.

During my time with The Summit, the credit union has grown to 250 employees, $1 billion in assets and more than 85,000 members.

Q. How has your time as COO prepared you for the role of CEO?

 A. I’m a person who likes variety in my work, and enjoys a challenge. I’ve been exposed to many different facets of the organization. I think having varied experiences helps prepare you for advancement, and certainly helps you think more globally.

Leading our strategic planning efforts in tandem with the CEO, as well as with other senior leaders, has certainly been instrumental to my development. As I assume the CEO role, I plan to continue my leadership role in this arena.   

Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to create a strong team, and really think strategically about organizational development. I believe this is a necessary foundation for our ongoing success, and will set the stage for future growth.

Q. What can credit unions, especially larger ones, do to attract more women to leadership roles?

A. We certainly have not had any issues attracting very competent women to leadership roles at the Summit! I’m very proud of the women I work with and their depth of knowledge, dedication, and expertise is tremendous.

I think nurturing talent from within is very important. This begins with a strong onboarding process, training and development opportunities, and exposure to other leaders in the organization.

At the Summit, we have implemented both an Emerging Leaders Program and a Mentorship Program that have been quite successful.

The culture of credit unions is one of access and equality. Improving knowledge of what credit unions are and how we are different, especially to graduating high school and college students embarking on a career is very important.

Q. As CEO, what are some of your near-term and longer-term goals for the credit union?

A. Our “Talent Optimization Strategy” will be at the forefront. We want to make sure we are positioned well for the future by identifying talent, focusing on development, and giving our employees opportunities to grow. Having the right people in the right jobs is crucial.. A focus on empowerment and accountability will be part of this initiative — and we believe employee engagement will be positively affected.

An effective and formalized Technology Road Map will be key to our success. We believe that a focus on technology will drive differentiation and improved experiences for both members and staff.

By embracing data analytics, and creating a digital relationship solution, we plan to foster member loyalty and drive growth. More effectively targeting members and potential members with the products and services they need and want will strengthen the member experience.

Q. What is the single biggest challenge facing credit unions today?

A. Sustainability and relevance —remaining competitive in an ever-changing financial services market. Driving growth and remaining profitable, as well as giving members the most value and improving the member experience also rank high on credit unions’ challenges.

Q. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen at your credit union and within the credit union movement over the years?

A. At The Summit, the biggest change we have seen over the years is the immense growth of our footprint, membership and assets.

Regarding the credit union movement, the consolidation within the credit union industry is certainly the biggest change. We have far fewer credit unions, yet membership and assets continue to grow.

Q. You are a CUES Certified Innovation Executive. What does that mean exactly?

A. I had the tremendous opportunity to be part of CUES’ inaugural “Strategic Innovation Institute,” which was a multi-year program held at both MIT and Stanford. It was a great way to learn from others in our industry and from the great minds that teach at these incredible universities. Being a Certified Innovation Executive means I am better prepared to lead strategic change and promote innovation within our credit union to help us achieve short- and long-term goals.

Q. How and why did you become involved with the New York Credit Union Association?

A. I’ve spent almost my entire career working for credit unions. It seemed like the next logical step for me. I wanted to get to know more credit union professionals across the state, better understand their issues, and help to represent them. I wanted to affect positive change for our industry both at the state level and national level through advocacy efforts.

I joined the board of directors and then served as board chair for a two-year period. It has been a fantastic experience.

Q. Can you talk about some of the other organizations you’ve volunteered with, and why you feel it’s so important to volunteer your time?

A. I have a personal desire to lend my time and expertise to organizations that help children. Giving back to the community is a must, and a by-product of being involved and serving on boards is certainly the expansion of your network. It’s very rewarding to work collaboratively to solve difficult issues. You learn a lot from your peers.

Two organizations I support include The Mary Cariola Children’s Center and the Villa of Hope. The Mary Cariola Children’s Center serves children and young adults through academic, residential, and community outreach programs. The highly skilled staff is committed to working with youth with disabilities.

The Villa of Hope offers a variety of programs for youth and families in need including residential services, community-based programs, mental health and addiction services, and educational programs.

I also like to help support causes that can help women further their professional aspirations, including the Rochester Business Alliance Women’s Council, Rochester Women’s Network and the United Way of Great Rochester Women’s Leadership Council.

Q. What are the traits of a good credit union leader?

A. A good leader in any industry should have an innate desire to make a positive difference in people’s lives. They should be trustworthy, authentic, a strong communicator and a good listener. They need to know how to define and articulate a vision, and then trust their team to achieve that vision. And they need to be committed to acting on their promises.


One thought on “10 questions with The Summit FCU’s Laurie Baker

  1. Sharon Houde

    Congratulation to you. Please remember how you started in the Credit Union life and treat all of your staff with respect and understanding no matter if their are a Manager or a Teller.

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