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August 01, 2017

How It All Began

As I write this, today is my 25th anniversary as CEO of MIDFLORIDA CU. As of today, MIDFLORIDA is nearly $3 billion in assets with 50 branches and about 850 associates. This year we are enjoying record growth and net income. Of course, it wasn’t always this way!

When I applied for this job 25 years ago the credit union was about $100 million in assets and struggling financially. Our financial regulator had asked the board to dismiss the previous President and the board was looking for new leadership. The “help wanted” ad said the board wanted someone with broad financial experience to manage the credit union. I thought I was that person.

The first interview was over the phone; the interview went well and the chemistry with the board seemed good. The secretary of the search committee later called me and made an odd request. The search committee wanted to fly to Indiana, where I worked, and interview me face-to-face and meet my existing boss. She told me that this was common in the education system. Well, it wasn’t common in the credit union industry, but I agreed to it. My boss was not that happy about me interviewing elsewhere and was especially not pleased about meeting my perspective future employer, but she agreed.

We had a good interview and the committee asked my boss if they could take her to lunch. She agreed and we went to the nicest restaurant in our little town in Indiana. After lunch, I patiently waited for the committee chair to pick up the tab. However, after several glasses of water I realized that he didn’t intend to pay and I knew my boss wasn’t going to pay. So I ended up paying for my own interview lunch!

Well, I passed the second test and the board asked me to fly to Lakeland to interview. I’m a numbers guy, so I asked for copies of MIDFLORIDA’s financials. I analyzed them in great detail and decided two things: 1. They weren’t making enough loans and 2. Their expenses were too high. I developed a plan to grow loans and accounts and to cut expenses.

When I got to Florida for my interview, the acting President told me that the board was planning to shrink the credit union to improve the financial ratios. She suggested I would have a better chance at getting the job if I recommended that strategy. As the interview wrapped up one of the board members asked me a very direct question: “What are you going to do if you get this job?” I looked at the board and said “We’re going to grow!”

Well, as you know, I got the job. After settling into my new position, I called an all staff meeting. We met at the old Gary Road office. I told the 70 or so employees in attendance that we were going to cut $1 million out of our budget and return to a 1% ROA. We were then going to use our net income to begin advertising loans and free checking accounts, and to start growing.

Amazingly, no one objected, no one fought back. (Later an employee told me that she was just happy to still have a job.) On that day 25 years ago MIDFLORIDA became a team, with a shared vision of the future.

Kevin Jones