An active volunteer and marketing specialist who worked her way to the top
I have lived in the Peoria area all my life and graduated from Woodruff High School. After attending Illinois Central College, I earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1988 and an MBA from Bradley University in 1991. I am also a graduate of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce Community Leadership School and the University of Missouri-Columbia Executive Marketing Institute.
I began working when I was 13 at the now-closed Heritage House. I worked retail at several other locations after that, which was a learning experience in itself. Later, I worked full time at Hyster Company and WABCO (now Komatsu). Once my son was born, I started as a part-time teller at CEFCU… that was 35 years ago, as one of only 200 employees. I’ve worked in just about every area of the credit union once or twice. Today, I am vice president of marketing, and CEFCU is one of the nation’s largest and most successful credit unions, with assets over $5 billion.
My husband, Bruce, and I have a son, Patrick Vaughan. He and his wife, Randi, have two children who keep us young and entertained. Other than spending time with them, I love traveling, golfing and working on my family genealogy. The most important aspect of my life has been my son. I raised him as a single, working mom for a chunk of his young life. My commitment to family and lifelong learning came full circle when, as a trustee of the ICC board, I had the opportunity to confer an associate’s degree upon him when he graduated from ICC.
Tell us about your extensive experience with Illinois Central College.
Prior to running for trustee in 1999, I’d served for four years on the ICC Educational Foundation board and five years on an ICC advisory committee. Education was the solution to my own economic struggles early in life, so I believe it’s vital to the people of central Illinois. At its core, ICC empowers young adults to determine the direction of their own lives and be all that they can and want to be. Displaced or disenfranchised adults find ICC gives them a second chance. In today’s economic environment, the need to retrench and retrain has never been more important.
The purpose of the college has always been to make quality education affordable and available to all who want it. When I completed an associate’s degree at ICC in 1974, the low tuition was attractive. When I returned as an adult working mother, ICC provided not just affordability, but access to education. It opened the door to completing an MBA, which helped fast-track my career. I’m just one of many examples of how ICC empowers people to change their lives.
There are a lot of challenges for community colleges, but my key concern for the future is affordability, as the state backs further and further away from financial support. Community colleges were initially set up as a partnership in which the state, local taxpayers and students each picked up about one third of expenses. Over the last decade, state support has dropped every year, and is now heading to single digits. If the state covered its third, ICC’s $135/hour tuition would only be $75/hour. The higher tuition goes, the more stress is placed on low- and middle-income students. While affordability is critical, so is quality—a low-cost education carries no value without delivering the goods. We are extremely fortunate to have such a high-quality community college.
All downstate community college trustees are publicly elected, and each is entrusted with a prized community asset that must be maintained and nurtured for future generations. Eventually, the asset we have safeguarded is passed on to other trusting hands. Selecting a new president who shares these values is key to maintaining the great ICC legacy. That will be the goal of the ICC Presidential Search Committee, and I am excited to be chairing that committee.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as vice president of marketing at CEFCU? Greatest accomplishments?
Much is changing in the field of marketing. Consumers are so deluged with messages that they just shut down. To get your message to the right person at the right time, you have to change your tactics. While traditional media is still important, digital media has established itself as a critical new channel. Digital marketing has been transformational, requiring additional resources and more sophisticated measurement and tracking tools. I’ve leaned heavily on digital marketing to share CEFCU’s message of the tremendous value we provide.
CEFCU's growth has brought some challenges, too. Our membership area now covers several media markets in central Illinois, plus a fast-moving market in Silicon Valley. Some people are still not aware that CEFCU has three branches in one of the most densely populated areas of our country. A number of years ago, CEFCU was asked by our federal regulator to consider acquiring a struggling credit union in San Jose, California. A management team studied the option thoroughly, and we agreed to take it. CEFCU “West,” as we call our California branches, is doing great and continues to add new members every year. This new market has been a unique challenge for me and my staff; plus, we're creating a number of brochures, radio ads and television spots in Spanish
Another challenge is just wrapping up. It was exciting to undertake a complete rebranding of CEFCU's logo, tagline, corporate color and signage. Extensive research preceded the process, so this has been evolving for several years. And just as digital media has changed the marketing landscape, website design has also evolved. Today, websites must be adaptable, so a consumer can view them on a tablet or phone, instead of just a desktop. It’s called “responsive design,” and CEFCU’s new, responsively-designed website was rolled out just this past October.
As a credit union, CEFCU operates differently than “for-profit” banks. When our growth is better than planned and/or our capital is excessively strong, we give the money back to our members. Last year, CEFCU returned $40 million back to the borrowers and savers who own it. We call that an extraordinary dividend. No other credit union has ever given that much back in a single year, and we know that banks don't return excess capital to their borrowers and savers—that's reserved for stockholders. We think that’s a unique achievement in the financial services industry. This year has been another very good year, so perhaps there will be a nice give-back at year-end 2015 as well.
Tell us about your contributions to the Peoria community in your various roles.
Over the last 20 years, I’m proud to have had a hand in shaping CEFCU’s role as a corporate citizen. When I started this position, we participated in a few sponsorships, but had little experience in corporate giving. Today, CEFCU is widely known as a generous community partner and is frequently seen as a leader among area businesses in giving to capital campaigns or sponsorships. Corporate giving falls under my umbrella, and I’ve enjoyed support for many efforts that strengthen our community and make it a better place to live and work.
Locally, we’ve supported the Peoria Zoo, Easter Seals, the Children’s Museum, the Girl and Boy Scouts, Peoria Riverfront Museum, United Way, UICOMP’s Cancer Research Center, Children’s Hospital of Illinois, UnityPoint|Proctor Cardiac Care Center, Midwest Food Bank, Wildlife Prairie Park, and many more in Peoria, Springfield and Bloomington. I also initiated CEFCU member scholarships at local colleges. We have endowed scholarships at Bradley University, Illinois State University, Illinois Central College and for Peoria Promise. Currently, we’re working to establish endowed scholarships at Heartland Community College. It’s exciting to think our members will benefit from these scholarships long after I’m gone… in fact, in perpetuity. Two naming sponsorships I acquired for CEFCU were particularly fun: CEFCU Summer Stage in Bloomington and CEFCU Center Stage on the Peoria Riverfront.
Over the years, I’ve worked on many committees, chaired many events, and served on many boards. I enjoyed seven years on the Chamber of Commerce board and chaired the Small Business Committee. And I’ve been blessed to have not only chaired the ICC board for a third time, but also the Easter Seals board and the Children’s Hospital of Illinois Community Advisory Board. It’s been rewarding to work with so many amazing people.
As an ICC trustee, I’m pleased to have been an integral part of ICC North by transforming an empty, deteriorating building complex into a vibrant college campus, bringing affordable, accessible education to the most densely populated pocket within our service area. I’m also pleased with the ICC Career Center, culinary arts, and the expansion of healthcare and technology programs during my time on the board.
Hiring a president is a trustee’s most important responsibility, and we’re ready to do that once again. As chair of the ICC Presidential Search Committee, I’ve had some new challenges, but there are 18 other great people on the committee who take this responsibility to heart. I’m confident the Search Committee and the Board of Trustees will select a great new president.
What advice would you give to young people who would like to attain similar leadership roles?
Most people don’t start at the top; they work through a number of positions to learn the business and develop into strong leaders. That’s also true with board positions. I’d encourage young adults to volunteer on committees that support not-for-profit organizations. As board positions become available, they will already be connected and a proven value to help reach the organization’s goals. Before you are selected for leadership, show you have a passion for the organization’s mission and will be an active board member if selected. There’s nothing wrong with hard work and working your way up.
What is the secret to maintaining a balance between work and your personal life?
I don’t think there is a secret, and I don’t see many women achieving it. The balance generally goes too far in one direction or the other, generally in the direction of work. We have to be mindful to cognitively pull back and take time for family when it gets off balance. Recent studies suggest that as much as 80 percent of the workforce say that work-life balance is a personal goal—everyone is feeling the need for day-to-day balance. Across all age groups and genders, people are feeling a strong need to counteract the hustle and bustle by occasionally slowing down, even carving out family time for “no phones.” So, I believe the “balance” is always in flux. Although my husband is a calming influence for me, I sometimes rebalance by golfing with girlfriends or even cooking for the family. Time spent in the kitchen can be very healthy.
What was the most pivotal point in your career?
Years ago as a newly divorced, single mom, money was extremely tight. It’s hard to imagine now, but at one point, I didn’t even have enough money to replace a broken mop. I think it was washing my kitchen floor, sans mop, that became “the” moment. I was determined to jump ahead as fast as I could, and education was my answer. I didn’t have money for graduate school, but because I had graduated from college with a 4.0 GPA, Bradley University offered me a 50-percent scholarship—that was my ticket to better economic times. So, off I went to get my MBA and opportunities for growth. Fortunately, I ended up working full-time for CEFCU before the semester started, and CEFCU generously covered all my tuition. I appreciated that help and, hopefully, CEFCU has benefited from its investment.
What’s the hardest life lesson you’ve had to learn?
There have been two. The first was learned by living through divorce as a young mom. I learned that it’s okay to be alone… in fact, it’s much better than being in a difficult marriage. That experience really challenged me, but I believe I’m stronger and a better person today. There’s a wonderful sense of “centeredness” or peace that comes from knowing you’ll be okay all by yourself. The second sounds simple, but is so hard for new managers to put into action, and that’s delegating to staff. That’s not just giving them work assignments—it’s also trusting and respecting other professionals to own part of your responsibilities.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
I don’t know that it was advice, but maybe an observation: Do you want to change your family tree? My son wrote a paper some years ago on how we’ve changed our family tree through education. He’s a teacher, so he was interested in our family’s educational history. He noted the tough start my parents had; neither had completed college or had a skilled trade. As the first in my family to complete a college or post-secondary degree, he pointed out how that one milestone in my life will impact generations of people in our family tree… some of whom have not yet even been born.
He saw that a college education helped me advance in my career and allowed us a better life than my parents had. He, in turn, finished college and now expects his two children to do so. I think we have the ability to change the footprint we leave after our lives, whether that’s our children, nieces and nephews, or even neighbor children. We can change our family tree. iBi