Two Washington Credit Union Leaders Keep the “People Helping People” Philosophy All in the Family
Sister CEOs support each other as they come full circle in their credit union careers.
It’s not unusual for members to turn to their credit union in times of need. Like family, credit unions are known for helping members in good times and bad. That could be why Katie Zowada and Jeannie Potter don’t hesitate to embrace the “People Helping People” philosophy when they need help. They’re both credit union CEOs and sisters who often call on each other when it comes to running their respective credit unions.
While most siblings experience some degree of rivalry, that’s not the case with these sister CEOs. For Jeannie, CEO and Manager of Tesoro Northwest Federal Credit Union in Anacortes, Washington, their collaboration makes sense.
“As the CEO of a very small credit union, I wear multiple hats,” said Jeannie. “We are both on the same data processor, which makes it ideal to bounce ideas off each other of or just get recommendations. We are also each other’s disaster site, should either of us lose the ability to service our members.”
As CEO of WestEdge Federal Credit Union in Bellingham, Washington, Katie doesn’t think twice about supporting Jeannie, particularly when her sister returned to the credit union CEO role after numerous years away.
“We get along even as sisters,” said Katie. “It was only natural for us to gravitate toward each other. I am glad to be a resource for my big sis anytime.”
The sisters had early beginnings at WestEdge in the 1980s (known then as GaPac Employees Federal Credit Union). It was the credit union where the sisters grew into their careers and where their older sister, Beckie Breakey, once worked as a teller. Beckie recommended the credit union to her sisters and at one point, all three sisters worked at WestEdge at the same time.
“As a SEG credit union in the 1980s, it (WesEedge) was fun…,” said Katie. “Jeannie had more seniority and worked in the operations department. I was promoted to loan clerk and eventually to loan officer with my own office – well sort of. I was squeezed into the lobby waiting room!”
Katie and Jeannie attended CUNA Management School together from 1996 to 1998, and then life took them down different paths. Jeannie moved to Michigan, working in credit union data processing and later as a credit union CEO before returning to the Northwest to work at Washington’s Industrial Credit Union before eventually joining Tesoro in 2016. Katie continued at WestEdge, moving into roles with greater responsibility until she was placed into the CEO role in 1999.
“Jeannie and Katie have a good, respectful relationship,” said Beckie. “They’re both pretty strong personalities and have great ideas; they also have compassion for their community. I think that’s why the credit union is such a draw for both of them.”
Their collaboration brings a lot of benefits to the sister CEOs.
“…We know each other and we know our system,” said Jeannie. Her sister echoed her sentiments.
“The advantage is I get to connect with my sister more often,” Katie said. “The little sister is finally helping the big sister as she researches services and updates policies and practices. It really is about ‘People Helping People’ and we are no different.”