To say that Mike Howard’s career path has been unusual would be an Understatement. The former GE Energy engineer is now CEO of Parks Heritage Federal Credit Union, a nearly 50-year-old credit union that markets almost exclusively to medical professionals in the tri-county area of upstate New York. The industries may be drastically different, but according to the CEO, “business is business, whether you’re in charge of a $20 million capital project or a $20 million credit union. The same principals will always apply.” Howard draws a distinction between management and leadership, believing that leadership inspires people to do things they previously thought impossible. Under his leadership, Parks Heritage has experienced a drastic increase in their member base while also seeing their assets increase by 12 percent in less than 18 months. Here, the passionate CEO shares the steps to leading a profitable business, regardless of the industry.
1. Establish a Cohesive Brand
Before Parks Heritage reconsidered its brand, the credit union’s logo featured a woman reclining in a hammock with the slogan, “Relax, we’ll take care of you.” According to Howard, this had absolutely nothing to do with the direction the credit union wanted to move in. “Your brand has to say something about who you are, and it has to be something that members and prospective members can relate to,” he says. “We work with medical professionals, so we did an entire image overhaul, making sure that everything from our colors to our verbiage said we serve the medical community.” Park Heritage’s new slogan reads, “We care for those who care.”
2. Staff the Appropriate People
When Parks Heritage revamped its image and brand, the organization went through a 60 percent staff turnover. Many of those who were let go had worked in hospitals in the past, but their experience didn’t necessarily translate to success in the banking industry. Today, each employee that is hired must not only read author Ken Blanchard’s Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service, but they must also complete a report on the book. Operating under the premise that customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low, the book teaches that simply satisfying customers is no longer good enough. For a business to be successful, it must create “raving fans.” “This book teaches our employees the three secrets to keeping customers for life, and teaches them important lessons about customer service,” Howard says.
3. Be Consistent
Howard aims for his staff to be consistent in everything they do, meaning that every member who walks through the credit union’s doors has as positive of an experience as the preceding and following member. “The message is, ‘Here’s who we are, here’s what we do, and here’s what you can depend and rely on each time you walk through these doors,’” Howard says. “I want every member to walk out of here thinking that they can’t imagine banking with anyone else.”
4. Keep the Focus Local
One of the tenets of Raving Fans calls for defining a service window. For Parks Heritage, that means having a hyper-local focus on the medical-professional community in its service area. With Howard at the helm, the credit union focuses the entirety of its efforts on the tri-county area, keeping the credit union’s marketing campaigns local. This ensures Parks Heritage gets the best eyes on its message.“One of the key differences between credit unions and banks is that banks take everyone—they don’t serve the special needs of any one particular group,” Howard says. “What differentiates us is not only that we are here to provide financial services specifically to medical professionals, but many people don’t realize that credit unions are owned by members. All of our revenue is either invested back into the credit union or paid out to our members. Everything stays local.” Moving forward, Howard wants to expand the credit union’s reach while still providing its members with the local, personalized service they’ve come to expect. Currently based in Glens Falls, New York, the plan for the next five years is to open a branch in Saratoga, New York. The move will truly solidify the credit union’s goal of being the premiere financial institution for medical professionals in its service area. “I know we can accomplish this and once we do, we’ll be exactly where we need to be,” Howard says.