Darden Restaurants had little experience in the credit union industry when it decided it wanted to provide financial services for its 200,000 restaurant workers nationwide. So, it scoured the Orlando, FL, area for an executive who could build a leadership team from the ground up and guide the transformation of Multi-Media Federal Credit Union into a new identity as Darden Employees Federal Credit Union ($28.8M, Orlando, FL).
The restaurant company eventually landed on Jim Kasch, luring him away from his position in strategic alliance at Partners Federal Credit Union ($1.1B, Burbank, CA) to the helm of Darden Employees.
“My coming here happened naturally and organically,” says Kasch, who over time had built a relationship with the restaurant company executives leading Darden’s credit union project.
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The Right Leadership
Kasch’s background is in marketing and sales. In college he lugged copiers up and down the street to local businesses, gaining exposure to a variety of industries in the process. He then delved into banking, working as a teller while studying at the University of Phoenix. He earned a bachelor’s in business management from the University of Phoenix and in 2010 he earned an MBA from Florida’s Stetson University.
Kasch worked in the leisure industry for Disney for approximately one year and was drawn to its credit union, at the time called Vista Federal Credit Union. He signed on with Vista FCU as the marketing manager in 1998 and was soon leading a successful business development team. It was at Vista FCU where Kasch says he learned the value of sponsorship and how to reach out to forge new relationships.
For example, Kasch tapped into opportunity at Disney’s Synergy, a summit held every other month where Disney’s business units shared what they were doing for promotion opportunities. Kasch convinced the meeting’s organizers to allow a Vista FCU representative to attend and posit marketing ideas.
“What they didn’t realize was at the time we had about 60,000 members who were Disney cast members and who loved Disney things,” Kasch says. “And I said, ‘I send monthly statements out to all of these folks. If you have something you want to promote, we can put ATM messages out. We can promote it to cast members.’ And it worked.”
Disney soon acknowledged the credit union as not just an employee benefit but also an effective communication channel through which to reach its own workers. Much of the foundation that Kasch built at Vista FCU carried over as the credit union transitioned into its current $1.1 billion iteration, Partners Federal Credit Union.
In 2010, after Kasch had demonstrated the full scope of his abilities at Partners, Darden Restaurants tapped him to lead its new credit union.
A Team Effort
Once with Darden, Kasch put together a team of six executives with diverse backgrounds, including a marketing executive from the Orlando Sentinel and a chief financial officer who came from Vista FCU. The four existing employees of Multi-Media transitioned into similar positions or moved to new areas that matched their interests. Whether new or returning, each member of the executive team focused on one or two key areas of the business, replacing the jack-of-all-trades mentality that had been a necessity at Multi-Media.
“The goal was to be six feet wide and a mile deep rather than a mile wide and six feet deep,” says Kasch. “[Employees] were used to doing 50% of everything because Multi-Media was such a small shop.”
With each individual focusing on owning a narrower slice of the business, the institution created a formal communication process among all of those working gears to make sure the institution was moving forward.
“I was fortunate that I had enough information, knowledge, and experience that I could come in and draw up a plan,” Kasch says. “When I came here, there was no plan. Darden Restaurants knew what it wanted the endgame to look like, but it’s been wonderful about letting me and my team draw up how we get from A to Z.”
In a trend that began prior to the credit union’s relaunch and continues even now, the executive team meets every day to communicate about both departmental and institutional issues. These meetings give executives the chance to tackle issues together or even contribute new ideas or solutions to one another’s departments.
“I don’t work in IT, but I serve the members so I might have a good idea that IT can help me put together,” says Tonya Voltolina, chief financial officer. “We play off of one another and use our own strengths to bring some unique perspectives to the table.”
Working together, the group quickly developed a road map for scaling the small credit union’s operations nationwide.
Playing Nice With Other
In many cases, Darden Restaurants proved to be a resource for fresh ideas and insights the executive team might not have otherwise had access to.
“They are brilliant people there,” Kasch says. “They’ll tell you, ‘Look, I don’t know your business,’ but they can learn it in about a half hour.”
Conversely, the company faced unexpected challenges that it could not have solved without the guidance of Kasch and his team.
For example, Darden Restaurant executives were initially impressed by the fact that Multi-Media’s core platform could handle up to 100,000 accounts. But the credit union’s executives soon realized that serving members electronically across the country would require a heftier investment in new technology.
The credit union and its sponsor also had to address other issues such as a legacy online banking program that required credit union staff to manually check whether members had paid their bills.
“We knew right away what wasn’t scalable,” Kasch says.
But having a captive sponsor group brought the credit union light years forward in terms of its analytic capabilities. During the transition, credit union executives leaned heavily upon Darden Restaurants for information to paint the clearest possible picture of employee wants and needs — and then move the institution toward that ideal.
“There’s an art and a science to marketing, but it’s a two-way street,” Kasch says. “Darden had to be willing to share its employee information with us. And it did.”
In return for this cooperation, the credit union is now in a position to offer unprecedented, tailored service to each of its new members.