Exit Interview is a new series from CreditUnions.com that shares the insight and experience of credit union executives who are retiring after many years of service to the movement.
Jenny Lorenz became president and CEO of Linn Area Credit Union ($539.5M, Cedar Rapids, IA) in January 2016 and retired effective July 1 after 35 years with the cooperative.
The Back Story
When did you join the credit union movement?
Jenny Lorenz: I joined the credit union movement in March of 1986 as office manager here at Linn Area Credit Union. I have been with Linn Area ever since.
What was your career path to president/CEO?
JL: I was one of eight employees and we had about $11 million in assets when I was hired. We had one main location and another part-time, small office with one employee.
When you only have eight employees, a wide variety of services offered, and an in-house computer system, you become somewhat of a jack of all trades.
Jenny Lorenz, retired President and CEO, Linn Area Credit Union
Over the years I was responsible, at one time or another, for our member service, back office and payment processing, accounting and financial reporting, compliance, training, HR, computer system, and new products/services. As I think back, about the only areas I didn’t actively oversee were credit underwriting or collections.
So, my official title evolved from office manager to operations manager to vice president of operations, to senior vice president to executive vice president, then finally president/CEO.
When is your retirement effective? Who is succeeding you?
JL: My successor, Paula O’Rourke, came from within our credit union and was most recently senior vice president for operations and finance. I brought her on board, basically replacing my former role, six years ago. She assumed the CEO role on July 1.
At the request of our board, I will remain employed in a consulting capacity through the end of 2021 to help with the transition. Paula is a talented leader and has been integral in executing our strategy since she joined Linn Area. I have the utmost confidence in her ability to continue to focus on our mission of positively impacting the lives of our members and our community. I’m excited for her to bring her own style to the president/CEO role.
How much has Linn Area grown since you took the helm?
JL: When I took over as CEO, we had total assets of $366 million and five locations. As of the end of May 2021 we were just shy of $540 million and still at five locations.
Our strategy throughout my tenure as CEO has not been to increase traditional brick-and-mortar facilities but to enhance digital products and increase adoption of those products. We’ve been extremely successful at this while keeping member satisfaction at the high level we desire and our members deserve.
This strategy served us extremely well during the pandemic as we were able to serve our members with very minimal disruption, even during those months when our lobbies were closed.
“I hope that people will remember me as someone who inspired them to succeed, someone who wasn’t afraid to work with others to make good things happen, and that people felt I had a positive impact on them, our members, and our community.”
Learnings And Legacy
How has the credit union industry changed during your career? How do you think the CEO’s role has changed?
JL: I think one of the biggest changes in the industry I’ve experienced throughout my career is the degree of regulation and compliance issues that now have to be dealt with.
Another would be competition. Back when I started, our competition was the other local financials. Now we are competing not only within our geographic market, but with online banks, non-banks offering financial products, and with fintechs. The speed of technology and innovation is much faster today than when I started. Personally, I like this as it has allowed us to do more for our members more quickly.
Industry consolidation also has changed dramatically. There are fewer and fewer credit unions each year. I feel the role of today’s CEO requires continual learning, reliance on the experts within as well as outside our organization, willingness to adapt quickly, and a constant focus on our mission of people helping people.
CU QUICK FACTS
Linn Area Credit Union
HQ: Cedar Rapids, IA
DATA AS OF 03.31.21
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 21.67%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 8.85%
What is your best piece of advice for someone assuming the CEO role at a credit union today?
JL: Always focus on the credit union as a whole and resist initiating action that doesn’t benefit the membership collectively. Always remain focused on the mission, effectively communicate and gain support of that mission, and then set action plans in motion to support the mission.
Communication is critical in the CEO role. Being an effective communicator means being open minded and accepting everyone’s input. Don’t just dictate your own ideas or desires or those of others who are like minded.
And lastly, I would advise to truly celebrate and utilize the talents of those on your team. Everyone has unique skills to offer and the most effective teams are ones that do a great job of championing everyone’s skills.
What would you most like to be remembered for as CEO at Linn Area?
JL: I hope that people will remember me as someone who inspired them to succeed, someone who wasn’t afraid to work with others to make good things happen, and that people felt I had a positive impact on them, our members, and our community.
More Leaders Talk
CreditUnions.com also offers insights in leadership philosophy and experience in our On Leadership series of articles. Two recent installments:
What are your plans now? How will you start your retirement?
JL: I love to travel so I plan to do a lot of that. I’m not a fan of being cold and I love to be outdoors so I’m looking forward to being able to go to the Southwest a few months this coming winter. I love to bike, hike, compete in triathlons, and explore new places. I also look forward to doing more volunteering and spending more time with family and friends.
What’s left on your bucket list?
JL: I’m planning to do a cross-country ride next summer, starting from the West Coast and ending at the East Coast. I plan to marry that adventure with raising awareness and money for Alzheimer’s in honor of my mother. There are other things on my list but that’s the one I’m focusing on right now.
Do you have any final words to the credit union industry?
JL: Keep growing! Our communities need a choice when it comes to their financial wellbeing. Credit unions provide this important choice. I’ve been blessed to be in this industry almost my entire career and feel a great sense of pride that we are truly people helping people.
This interview has been edited and condensed.