When Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson paid a recent visit to HUD Federal Credit Union, it wasn’t simply because the credit union serves employees of the agency he oversees — it was to commend the $45 million institution for its innovative management training and internship program that creates a launch pad not only for millennials new to the industry, but also for accomplished credit union professionals looking for their next career move.

The initiative that first attracted Carson to HUD FCU is “three-pronged,” explained CEO William Kennedy, featuring a management training program for people who have recently graduated from college, an internship program for those still in college and the participation of “seasoned credit union veterans” who may be in transition and seeking a management position elsewhere.

Of these “seasoned veterans,” Kennedy said, “I hire them on a short-term basis — six months or less — as consultants in their discipline to mentor, coach, and teach the millennials at a very, very fair cost, while they seek a full-time credit union position.”

One such veteran was Valerie L. Murphy, who served as a mentor to HUD FCU interns.

A former director of marketing and business development at Energy FCU (which merged into Pentagon Federal Credit Union in early 2017), Murphy said she was referred to Kennedy and HU DFCU by a colleague.

“[Kennedy] was just starting as CEO at HUD FCU and wanted me to mentor their current marketing staff and potentially the management trainee/interns they brought on for the next several months, and it sounded both exciting and challenging at the same time,” Murphy said. “I wasn't ready to take my credit union marketing hat out of the ring just yet, and the thought of helping smaller credit unions survive and compete in the marketplace felt like putting on my favorite old sweater.”

Although Murphy is now employed full-time outside the credit union industry, she still spends some time at HUD FCU working with their interns and management trainee, adding that it feels “productive, worthwhile, and impactful.”

“My career started in a small credit union, with my boss mentoring me to become her replacement,” she noted. “What I learned in my time there really set the stage for what would become a lifelong career and passion for credit unions — which is why I believe in the mentoring process and feel that what Bill and I can teach these young people will bring them far, as well. Knowing I can help smaller credit unions to compete in this market and pass on what I've learned through the years — by helping to mentor the next generation of credit union leaders — is fulfilling.”

The management trainee program at HUD FCU focuses on teller services, member services, lending, social media/marketing, executive assistant roles, compliance, accounting/finance and IT.

“They [trainees] will be paired according to their skill set and needs of the credit union,” Kennedy said. “In general, teller and member services are in the first part of the program.”

HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson signs a book for Aaliyah Cuthrell, a management trainee at HUD Federal Credit Union
HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson signs a book for Aaliyah Cuthrell, a management trainee at HUD Federal Credit Union.

The current management trainee, Aaliyah Cuthrell, spends four hours a day in member services and four hours a day in marketing, he added. “I expect her to do this for about nine months then switch ‘discipline’ pairs as the credit union’s needs dictate,” he said. “I am looking at our two interns who graduate in May as management trainee possibilities resulting in two, possibly three, management trainees in total. These two interns are currently working on the teller line and member services.”

Kennedy said his programs were inspired and fashioned by previous experience in team projects he had in college and in other jobs.

“At previous credit unions I started internship programs and ‘quasi-programs’ that for all intents and purposes evolved into my current management training program,” Kennedy said. “I set out to create opportunities to help my credit union while perhaps providing a ‘farm system’ for future credit union leaders.”

HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson shakes hands with HUD Federal Credit Union intern DeAndre Watson during a visit to the credit union.
HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson shakes hands with HUD Federal Credit Union intern DeAndre Watson during a visit to the credit union.

Kennedy said even if there aren’t opportunities to work for HUD FCU upon graduation, chances are “pretty good” that another credit union will hire them, noting that the industry will need these young people as baby boomers retire.

“Attracting millennials now can possibly provide them an opportunity — if they work hard and continue their education—to segue into a management position in a relatively short period of time,” Kennedy said. “There are not many other places where that can occur.” (Kennedy noted that he himself was a beneficiary of a wave of retirements in 1986 when he entered the credit union movement — and within just seven years, he became a credit union CEO.)

But don’t just take it from Kennedy — ask Chris Johnson, chief financial officer at the $101 million County Educators Federal Credit Union in Roselle Park, N.J., who got his start in credit unions when he served as an intern under Kennedy at Jersey Shore Federal Credit Union, now a $150 million institution based in Northfield, N.J.

“The main lesson I learned from the program was to learn something new every day,” Johnson said. “The internship covered reconciliations, accounts payable/receivable, investment accounting and running an ALM model.”

HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, HUD Federal Credit Union intern Junru Li and HUD FCU CEO William Kennedy
HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, HUD Federal Credit Union intern Junru Li and HUD FCU CEO William Kennedy

Maureen Wilkinson, who has had an extensive career in the credit union movement, began as a staff accountant working under Kennedy when he was CFO at Department of Justice Federal Credit Union in Washington in 1991. (The credit union was later re-branded as Justice FCU, and today is a $753 million-asset institution based in Chantilly, Va.)

“I was recently out of college and had previous credit union experience as a teller while attending high school,” she said. “In addition to being my boss, [Kennedy] became an important mentor to me while working at the credit union. While we worked together at DOJFCU, [he] encouraged me to learn as much as I could, take on additional duties and responsibilities at the credit union, and, given his management style, I was afforded the opportunity to take on special projects that interested me and I grew professionally as a result.”

Wilkinson eventually became vice president of finance and administration at DOJFCU and later become president/CEO at three other credit unions: HP Rocky Mountain FCU in Loveland, Colo.; Warren FCU in Cheyenne, Wyo. (now called Blue FCU); and NationsHeritage FCU in Attleboro, Mass.

Overall, Kennedy commented, as a smaller credit union, HUD FCU needs to seek out and leverage resources to the greatest degree possible — and such training programs are a major part of that strategy.

HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson visited HUD Federal Credit Union to help the CU kick off its “Ring the Bell of Financial Freedom” promotion.
HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson visited HUD Federal Credit Union to help the CU kick off its “Ring the Bell of Financial Freedom” promotion.

While the current crop of interns and the management trainee got into the program to help forward their careers, the opportunity to meet the HUD secretary has definitely been a highlight. The former neurosurgeon and presidential candidate met with the credit union’s six interns and management trainee during his visit.

It wasn’t the first time Carson has called on HUD FCU, as Kennedy has sought out opportunities to develop the relationship between the man who leads HUD and the credit union that serves it. Indeed, the Trump cabinet member helped the credit union kick off its “Ring the Bell of Financial Freedom” promotion.

“Secretary Carson is all about taking personal responsibility and he has teamed with former college football coach Lou Holtz to create a program called ‘What’s Important Now’ (WIN) to help kids take ownership and break the cycle of poverty,” Kennedy commented. “This fit in very well with achieving financial freedom — our credit union’s tag line. He [also] encouraged me personally and directly to continue to make a difference in others’ lives especially through the internship and management training programs.”