New Gesa CEO Don Miller: ‘One of the Best Ways I Can Serve is to Listen’

“At Gesa, as we consider new products and services, our focus is on how we can help the member in a financially prudent manner, and not on how we can maximize profit.”Don Miller, president/CEO of Gesa Credit Union

You can ask Don Miller about his priorities as the new president and CEO of Gesa Credit Union. You can talk about the roles he’s played in 26 years at the credit union, or how narrowing margins will impact future growth. But in the end, it really all comes down to one simple truth: Don Miller wants what Gesa Credit Union members want.

And he will do whatever he can to make sure they know that.

“One of the best ways I can serve members in my new position is to truly listen to them,” says Miller, who served as interim CEO for six months before a nationwide search by Gesa’s board of directors made the title permanent in December. “What are their needs and frustrations, and how can we meet those needs and address their frustrations? After all, this is their credit union.”

Miller reads every comment card his members submit. He plans to implement a broad series of focus groups and surveys to assess members’ needs, and says Gesa will refine and adjust its products and services based on what members tell him.

“The most important aspect of a financial institution is trust,” he says, and giving members a real voice in the future of their credit union is key to maintaining — and exceeding — the trust they have in Gesa’s mission to be the best financial institution in eastern Washington. Their feedback, Miller says, “can help us make that happen.”

As he prepared for “a new year of fresh possibilities,” Miller sat down with Anthem to reflect on his time at Gesa, and to talk about what he sees in the credit union’s future.

Q: Gesa has been your professional home for more than a quarter century. Tell us a little bit about how you got to Gesa, and what you’ve done in your time there.

A: I’m originally from the Ellensburg area. I graduated from Central Washington University, and earned my MBA at Washington State University Tri-Cities. Gesa was my first job after college, and it has been a big part of my life since the day I started as a junior accountant in 1987.

I have been fortunate that prior CEOs allowed me to hold several diverse positions, which provided me a broad understanding of Gesa and the credit union business. I was VP of Financial Management for more than 10 years, VP of Corporate Strategic Projects for two years, SVP of Finance and Operations for three years (which included responsibility for HR, Operations & Facilities, and Accounting/Finance), Chief Sales Officer for one year, and interim CEO for six months.

Q: What are your passions outside the office, both personal and professional?

A: Certainly, family is very important to me. My twin boys are high school juniors who are very involved in school and sports activities. My wife and I spend a lot of time watching their activities, and we enjoy their trail of friends going in and out of our home.

On the professional front, I am passionate about Gesa’s participation in helping our communities be strong and healthy. It is very rewarding to see the impact our lending has in the community, whether it be commercial-related or consumer-related loans. I am also interested in getting more involved with regulatory issues and concerns, because they impact our business on a daily basis.

Q: What first attracted you to credit unions, and what is it about the movement that most inspires you?

A: I liked the concept that a credit union was a cooperative, and that maximizing profit was not the primary focus. At Gesa, as we consider new products and services, our focus is on how we can help the member in a financially prudent manner, and not on how we can maximize profit.

Q: What are your priorities as CEO? What do you tackle first in 2014? What are the biggest challenges you foresee?

A: Having raised my family in eastern Washington, I know how important thriving communities are to our lives and how they impact opportunities for our youth. At Gesa, I plan to look for additional and broader ways to benefit and prosper the communities in which we live and serve. I hope to expand the financial relationship with current members, and continue to grow and serve new members in more areas of the state.

We recently went through a core conversion; so, fully utilizing and enhancing the new systems will also continue to be a major focus during 2014.

We have been fortunate because the economies Gesa operates in have remained fairly strong. However, like everyone else, narrowing interest margins and challenges to other sources of income is a concern. The rapidly evolving technology requires us to routinely adapt and refresh our IT systems, which is another impact to net earnings. Additionally, I do believe this historic low-rate environment will eventually come to an end, and the potential speed of those future interest-rate changes is concerning. We closely monitor the composition of our balance sheet and make decisions to position us for that future day.

Q: Describe the Gesa of the future — where do you hope to take the credit union? What roadblocks stand in the way of that vision?

A: In recent years, Gesa has added mortgage and commercial accounts to its offerings. I believe there is opportunity to grow and mature those lines of business. Certainly, growing the branch network or delivery channels requires considerable investment, so we need to continue generating the income necessary to sustain healthy growth. This is an ongoing challenge in the midst of narrowing margins.

Q: When you look back years from now on your tenure as CEO, what do you want your legacy to be — in the office, in the community and in the Northwest credit union movement?

A: When my career is over, I don’t believe people will be remembering individual successes or accomplishments. Instead, I think they will remember the overarching flavor of my efforts and contributions. Did I make decisions and contributions in a positive or negative manner?

I strive every day to contribute in a positive manner and positively impact those around me, and that is how I hope to be remembered. I tell people that I strive to conduct myself in a manner that leaves me liking the person in the mirror. My goal is to leave the organizations and communities that I am involved in better than before I came along.

 

Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.

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