How This Millennial Became A Credit Union President At 27

Wes Gay, Forbes
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Millennials will represent 75% of the American workforce by 2025. This statistic is commonly used, but there isn’t much thought put into the implications of that number. The reality of this number will fundamentally change businesses, as it is unprecedented for one single generation to comprise such a majority of the workforce.

This number is significant when compared to the 63.3% of executives eligible for retirement within the next few years. That number breaks down to roughly 10,000 people retiring every day. As baby boomers retire, younger employees have the opportunity to step into vacant roles. Millennials are currently leading the way in getting promoted, as one study found 87% of millennials have taken on management roles in recent years. This is compared to 38% of those in Generation X and 19% of Baby Boomers.

Jared Freeman became the youngest president ever at ASECU last year. (Credit: Trey Taulbee/University of Mobile)

Jared Freeman became the youngest president ever at ASECU last year. (Credit: Trey Taulbee/University of Mobile)

What can millennials do to prepare themselves for leadership roles? What decisions can they make now in order to be ready for leadership, and even executive level, opportunities? I spoke with Jared Freeman, President of the Alabama State Employees Credit Union. Freeman became the youngest CEO in the credit union’s history when he took the position at age 27. He shares his decade-long preparation that led him to his current role.

Know what you want

“I started working at a credit union at 16,” says Freeman. “I knew money didn’t grow on trees at our house, and I didn’t want to spend two years in high school begging for money to go to the movies.” As he began working in the credit union, he developed a passion for the finance industry. This industry is not particularly friendly to younger employees, and millennials in particular.  Freeman quickly discovered the challenges he would face in his career choice, but those didn’t deter him from pursuing his goals.

Look for underused opportunities

Many high school students have jobs, with one study stating as many as 28% of students over age 16 have a job. Most students work these jobs after school or on the weekends. This schedule doesn’t work for businesses like banks that maintain weekday-only hours, and often close by 5 PM. Many schools across the country offer something called a “work release program,” which is an opportunity for juniors and seniors to leave school early in order to go to work.

“I left at 12:30 every day to go to work,” remarks Freeman, “and I would work until 5:30 or 6. This program wasn’t the most popular thing on campus, but I did what I had to do.” Those who are looking to advance their career may focus too much on popular programs and trends, yet sometimes the best opportunity is the least popular one. Millennials looking to advance their career should look in unlikely places for ways to achieve their goals.

Work hard

“I quickly discovered that corporate America in general, and banking in a small town, is about asking a few questions, coming early, staying late, and showing you are interested,” observes Freeman. “Leaders at the bank weren’t used to people who took initiative.”

These characteristics can best be summed up in the last word Freeman uses: initiative. In a research paper done at the University of Konstanz in Germany, researchers created a game where the results mimicked real-life scenarios. The “leaders” in the game were the ones who demonstrated initiative in the game itself. As the researchers point out, “Taking the initiative is a crucial element of leadership and an important asset for many jobs.” Taking initiative is often not complicated or difficult. As Freeman points out, initiative is as simple as asking a few questions and demonstrating a willingness to work beyond the expectation. 

Be creative to stay on track

It can be difficult to achieve goals during certain seasons of life. Whether it’s marriage, children, or earning a degree, circumstances can make it more challenging to still achieve the desired results. This reality became true for Freeman while finishing his MBA. “For the final semester of my MBA, I worked it out with the university to have only one class on Monday nights,” Freeman says. “I did the remaining classes as a distance learning student, despite my university not offering official Distance Learning classes.”

Creativity in completing his MBA allowed him to work full-time at the same credit union he worked at during high school. His university was two hours from his job. In order to attend class on Mondays, he left work on Monday at 1, went to class, spent the night at a friend’s house, then drove back to be at work at 8 AM. This determination and creativity led him to work full-time while finishing his MBA. His overall journey for a bachelor’s degree and MBA took only five years.

Focus on the people

“My loyalty is to our 35,000 credit union members,” observes Freeman. “My goal is to have the best credit union in the country.” This hyper focus on serving customers well has led to sweeping and profitable changes under his leadership. During his first year as President, the credit union experienced a 250% increase in income. They earned more in the first eight months under his leadership than 2013-2015 combined.

“Our main issue was a culture of complacency,” remarks Freeman. “Every policy has been rewritten.” One policy change involves the bonus program. The previous program focused on longevity. The new program focuses on a “pay for production” model that is paid monthly as employees achieve goals. Those not eligible this program are eligible for a bonus plan. More and more companies are incentivizing employees with this “pay for production” approach, and it is particularly popular with millennials.

What to say to millennials

What advice does Freeman have for millennials looking for success? “Never let any sense of entitlement be shown. Always try to show the willingness to work harder than anyone else.” He goes on to say, “People are so terrified of failure in our generation that they’re not willing to take risks or make decisions. Right or wrong, I’m going to make an educated decision and run with it.”

 

This article was written by Wes Gay from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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