Thanks to her dedication to spreading the credit union idea worldwide – and her determination to foster diverse representation in CU leadership and membership – the National Credit Union Foundation has bestowed a 2018 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement on Susan Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates.

Mitchell is one of four Herb Wegner Memorial Award winners who will be honored by the Foundation at an event in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 26, in conjunction with the Credit Union National Association’s Governmental Affairs Conference.

In 2009, Mitchell became the founding chair of the Global Women’s Leadership Network, an offshoot of the World Council of Credit Unions. She has a passion about the importance of women to not just run the household and the family, but also serve as leaders in the community. She volunteered her time with no budget and limited resources to create GWLN and make it the premiere global credit union program for women, engaging thousands of women from an international network. She has created an initiative to raise $2 million for scholarships, member education, empowerment grants and programming facilitation opportunities for credit union women.

Susan Mitchell, CEO of Las Vegas-based consultancy Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates
Credit union consultant Susan Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates, a 2018 Wegner Award winner.

Her contributions also include the creation of the Athena Leadership Award, presented to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to women’s leadership in the international credit union movement. The Athena Award presents individual impact and recognition of women’s efforts to financially empower each other, women within their communities and credit union members.

Mitchell serves on nominating committees for three credit unions in California and Nevada (SCE FCU, Ventura County CU and Boulder Dam CU) to ensure future leaders represent a diverse field of membership. She works with boards and volunteers to give educational programs and ensure balanced governance in terms of diversity and representation.

Helping CUs all over the world

Mitchell has created local “Sister Societies” for the Global Women’s Leadership Network, bringing hundreds of credit union women and men together to promote financial empowerment, provide education, engage in networking and increase awareness of the credit union commitment to changing lives. These Sister Societies are formed by countries and their associations, as well as cities based on credit union prevalence and reach.

The GWLN has nearly 2,000 members from 78 countries, offering 47 scholarships to women from 22 countries.

Mitchell also acted as a mentor to Elenita San Roque, the first female CEO of the Asian Confederation of Credit Unions. San Roque went on to receive the 2016 Athena Award for her execution of building a multi-purpose cooperative in the Philippines that trains female credit union members on enterprise management and one-on-one support to enhance their trade, resulting in a 23 percent increase in their income.

Four Sister Societies have been created in Asia to further advance women’s leadership and connect people to the global network of credit unions.

Influence felt by ‘staggering’ number of professionals

According to the Foundation, Mitchell has served as a mentor to many friends and colleagues from around the world. The Foundation said the number of individuals who came forward and spoke of her influence on their professional development and success was “staggering.”

“From credit union CEOs to lending, human resources and training leaders, Mitchell encourages everyone she meets to be more successful and influential leaders in their own roles. She acts as a catalyst, setting higher goals and encouraging people to push themselves,” the Foundation said.

“Sue is such a tremendous bundle of energy,” said John Gregoire, chair of the Foundation's Wegner Awards Selection Committee and president of The ProCon Group. “We have all benefited from that energy focused on enhancing the lives of all those touched by credit unions. I know her as an excellent consultant, but even more for her wonderful work in the founding and continued success of the Global Women’s Leadership Network.”

“Over the last eight years, she has invested more than her time – she has invested herself in changing lives all around the world. It is her passion for people and the mission of credit unions that make her special,” said Barry Jolette, retired CEO of San Mateo Credit Union, and past chair of both CUNA and World Council.

“While at CUNA, I actively became a part of the Global Women's Leadership Network and have seen the growth and impact of the organization worldwide,” said Bill Cheney, president and CEO at $14 billion SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Santa Ana, Calif. “Sue traveled to Africa and was part of the Busia project in 2010 and she has spent seven years visiting local communities throughout the United States to coach, mentor and identify future leaders to support and shape the credit union industry. GWLN’s growth would not have been possible without Sue's leadership.”

“Sue is a strong and spirited warrior leader,” said Nicole Brusewitz, VP of education and events at the Mountain West CU Association. “She has always held a larger vision for me than what I would have held for myself, and set my target further than what I would have aimed for.”

Tears, then complete silence

Mitchell told Credit Union Journal when she took the telephone call informing her she had received the award it was an extraordinary moment.

“It is truly an honor to be selected for the Herb Wegner Outstanding Individual Achievement Award,” she began. “When you focus on the work you do, you don’t often think about getting an award. I must tell you, it astonished and surprised me. When I was told, I burst into tears and then complete silence. It was unbelievable! I don’t think I have ever been that emotional, other than special moments with my family. This award touches my heart and stands as a shining moment in my life because it comes from my credit union family. I will share it with the beloved village of people who stand beside me and are truly making a difference in the world.”

Mitchell founded her financial consulting company 30 years ago. It was headquartered in Boulder City, Nev., near Las Vegas, to be close to family, including the ability to take care of her grandmother, her parents and her husband’s parents.

“Our first major client was Wells Fargo, as I had experience working with banks,” she recalled. “We helped the first video information centers in Wells branches. We started working with a couple of credit unions, which gave us an opportunity. The credit union industry became our primary focus because of the social mission. Doing the right thing is also good business. Being part of an industry that impacts lives has been part of what we do since the beginning.”

Asked what the future holds for the credit union industry, Mitchell said in a world that at times seems “out of control,” to feel safe, to feel hope and to be surrounded by your “family” is key to a sense of normalcy and a feeling of security.

“Credit unions can fulfill that purpose – the industry is made up of a family of volunteers, members and staff working together to rebuild lives and foster dreams for the future,” she said. “I have seen the best of credit unions in their response to the recent hurricanes and fires. I have seen tragedy in our local community in Las Vegas, and people rallying together to help each other. Can credit unions unite behind their mission during this critical time in history? I believe that is the most important question to be asked of our leaders.”

“With money being returned from NCUA, and many credit unions seeing growth, it seems like good times,” Mitchell continued. “However, there still are some 20,000 payday lenders, 50 percent of the population needs help, business model transitions, bank purchases, blending of the systems and CECL ahead. These are tough challenges and I hope that the industry isn’t lulled into complacency.”

Mitchell is passionate about many causes, perhaps none more than the Global Women’s Leadership Network. She recalls in 2009, Brian Branch, president and CEO of WOCCU, had a “vision on a global level” to financially empower women as a cornerstone of World Council’s mission of changing lives.

“He reached out to me as a volunteer to chair the initiative and develop a strategic plan to make it happen. It started by reaching out to our personal networks and asking them to believe in making a difference through women. And through hard work and relentless commitment it has become a premier initiative that has mobilized the industry on a global level.”

For anyone who wonders why all credit unions should be involved in GWLN, Mitchell says the answer is clear: “Because it is good for the financial health of families.”

“It is good to build economic growth in all countries,” she asserted. “And, a diverse representation, internally and externally, is good for every credit union’s bottom line. It is much more than a women’s initiative – it is a human initiative. The business reason is to engage in the conversation and be relevant.”

Mitchell noted the impact credit unions have had globally by giving back to their communities. She is intensely proud of the results GWLN has earned by giving scholarships to come to WOCCU meetings and initiatives to 47 women from 22 countries.

“I believe strongly when you give money you want to see the results. The money given to GWLN goes back into the credit union movement. It is good for business and good for the brand,” she declared. “We make sure women are at the table when it comes to CEO interviews by helping them with their development. In other countries, we tailor what we do to that particular country. We have groups for widows and survivors of domestic violence. We do clothing drives to help women get back into society after a rough time.”