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Published February 20, 2001
Volume 9, Number 2



"People Helping People," the Credit Union Creed, is A Natural Fit for 1stUSCU's John Salle


By Jay Hipps
Network Editor 



If there's a key ingredient to the modern recipe for career happiness, it's having a job that reflects your personal values. 

John SalleFor example, take John Salle. Now president and CEO of Hacienda's 1st United Services Credit Union, his first job out of college was as a field auditor for the Internal Revenue Service. 

"I had a couple of audits that just really hurt me -- you know, I had feelings for the people, I saw people hurt by it," he recalls. He left after four-and-a-half months.

That's hardly the right job for a man who notes, "what makes me tick, I suppose, (is) the desire to want to be helpful." Considering his background, his motivation is not too surprising. 

The son of Croatian immigrants who settled in Albany, Salle learned early on the value of education and work. 

"My family was poor and lived very simply," he recalls. "We grew our own vegetables and had chickens and rabbits even though we lived in the city." 

Following the example of his older brothers and sister, he decided early on that he wanted to work to help support his parents while at the same time creating a better life for himself. 

"That was my driving force -- to learn something about business and then go to work," he says. "I think it probably helped me focus tremendously -- I knew by the time I was 12 years old I was probably going to be an accountant or an attorney."

That early focus helped dictate the college he chose, which was Armstrong Business College in Berkeley, a small private school with a singular focus: business. 

"I really enjoyed that school. It was taught by professors who for the most part had business backgrounds: retired senior vice presidents, various economists, attorneys, marketing people, and accountants that were either actively in business or had retired and got their teaching credentials," he says. 

Finally given the opportunity to pursue his goal, Salle earned a B.S. in accounting with a minor in finance, going to school year-round so that he could finish in three years instead of four. "I was three units shy of a second minor in business management," he says with a tinge of regret. His work schedule during his last term -- he worked for an accountant during tax season -- prevented him from getting those last credits, however. 

That turned out to be a good decision, though, as one of his co-workers at that accounting firm visited him when he was still with the IRS and invited him to interview with the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions, which at the time oversaw the nation's credit unions. 

He found a job where he could contribute to a community -- in this case, credit unions -- by helping guide them through the regulatory process to aid in their growth. 

"I enjoyed the work very much and stayed there almost eight years, working my way to a position where I was in charge with problem-case credit unions for the most part -- the more complicated, involved problems."

His rapid advancement put him in another dilemma, however. "I got as far as I could in the region and the next promotion was going to be in Washington, DC. I didn't want to go to Washington but I knew if I turned down the promotion, it would finish my career (with the bureau). Once you get to a certain level, if you turn down a promotion then you're not considered for another one too soon." 

One of the organizations he had been working with was searching for a new CEO and Salle was selected from over 100 candidates, spending seven years there before going to work for the company that did the credit union's data processing. That turned out to be another dead end. 

"I found right at the beginning that there was too much red tape and too many layers of corporate structure to get anything done," he says. "After I left the company, four years later, something that I worked on in a presentation was finally implemented." 

He made the choice to move back to the world of credit unions.

"You get spoiled working at a credit union because even though you're in management, you're still in the action with your employees -- there aren't many levels in between." 

The credit union he joined then, 20 years ago, went on to become 1st United Services Credit Union. As president and CEO, he's been instrumental in their growth. The organization currently serves 51,000 members through 14 branch offices and three more offices are expected to open this year. 

"We've done all the technological enhancements we thought were necessary to make us efficient and it's worked -- we're one of the leaders in the industry efficiency-wise," he says. 1stUSCU has also added services, most recently on-line banking and bill paying. 

One of his secrets, he says, is that he tends "to be more people-oriented. I can give directions, I can give criticisms, but I feel for people. And maybe because I feel for people, I look for the things in them that I see are strengths and then concentrate on that with them," he says. "We all have weaknesses and I point those out to them but not to their detriment. I try to point out and give them a plan of corrective action and if they accept it, they progress well."

He's planning to retire three years from now and shows the perspective and insight of a man with such a breadth of experience. The overwhelming impression is that he's simply grateful for all that has come his way. 

"I think I was fortunate that I got the opportunity, I was just really lucky to get acquainted with the credit union movement," he notes. 

Even his time spent with the IRS and Bureau of Federal Credit Unions as a regulator had its benefits, he notes. 

"By learning the regulations and seeing various operations, you learn the most efficient ways of doing things and the best procedures and then you apply it to yourself when you're in your own organization," he says. "I've been able to develop something myself, contribute to the success of an organization rather than just the regulatory process."

It's turned out to be a good fit.

"I think my personal makeup, my strengths and weaknesses fit well in this industry because of our concept of 'People Helping People' and learning that at an early age -- help each other out, stick together.

"I was lucky and fortunate. I worked hard and I got into an industry that I really feel comfortable in. I still look forward to coming to work."

 



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