The first time someone called Caroline Redmann an “IT nerd,” she was flummoxed. Today, as chief operations officer at Blackhawk Community Credit Union in Janesville, Wis., she wears the label like a badge of honor.
“IT has become one of the most important areas in developing a competitive strategy for the credit union,” said Redmann. “IT has changed from being an area that supported operations to a department that leads direction.”
With more than 28 years working in the credit union movement, Redmann’s path to COO was unconventional. She initially studied fine arts as an undergraduate before switching to a business major. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Lakeland University and her MBA degree from the Wisconsin School of Business.
“Technically, the only IT-related course I took was a data processing class in high school; long before a computer was available in a classroom,” recalled Redmann.
In 1991, Redmann was hired as a loan officer at Community First Credit Union. Two years later she accepted a position as a financial service manager at Commonwealth Credit union. After five years, she accepted the job of vice president of service center and marketing at Kraft Foods Federal Credit Union. She held this post for seven years.
It was Redmann’s next professional move that placed her squarely in the IT arena. She accepted a then newly created position of vice president of innovation at Heritage Credit Union. For nearly seven years, she was charged with overseeing both the IT and marketing departments.
“I was thrilled and a little scared to add technology. I couldn’t imagine any department that requires more change, continuous learning, adaptability and responsibility,” she said. “I knew immediately that IT would be the most challenging yet rewarding area to lead.”
Don’t judge a book by its cover
While Redmann concedes that on the surface it may not appear that she would be an ideal candidate to lead an IT department, she counters that the “diversity in her background” and “experience in various roles was the perfect environment to understand IT issues from a front-end perspective.”
Every department, she added, benefits from diversity, and IT was traditionally an area that hired solely for technical skills.
“In my role, I help provide balance,” said Redmann, who became Blackhawk Community CU’s COO is 2012. “I can bring a broader perspective of the business needs and help align the IT strategy to meet our goals.”
Like most successful executives, Redmann said having a mentor was critical to her success. Blackhawk Community CU’s VP of IT and information security officer, Richard Borden, whom she refers to as a “trusted partner,” helped ease her transition.
“When I was assigned to IT, I knew I would have to understand systems, infrastructure and security at a higher level, so a mentor was imperative. I was fortunate to have that person already working with me,” said Redmann. “Richard had both the knowledge and patience to not only provide me details on the current systems, but we also had frequent conversations on trends, new technology and long-term strategies.”
Blackhawk Community CU’s IT department consists of eight employees, excluding Redmann. There are five male employees and three females, and team members’ ages range from 30 to 62.
“There is no doubt that the majority of IT positions were filled by men when I started my career. I still catch myself saying, ‘I have this IT guy that can do anything,’ ” said Redmann. “Today it is just as likely to be a woman. The positions have morphed from a general IT person that did everything, to highly specialized job descriptions. In the past few years the technology trends are dictating a more diversified employee.”
IT areas of interest
While Redmann explained that her overall technology objective is to provide seamless account access to the credit union’s 51,200 members in whatever channel they choose, with as few clicks as possible, she realizes that the goalpost is continually being moved.
“When I first started at Blackhawk Community CU, we were far from realization. We had to keep reacting to breakdowns in outdated systems and employee turnover was challenging,” she said. “After creating a vision and a few years of hard work, we completed a rebuild of our infrastructure, implemented new platforms and products and developed a highly effective team, making us well-positioned to finally see the rewards.”
Redmann is also excited by tech platforms such as predictive analytics, user experience (UX) , blockchain, chatbots, real-time payments and natural-voice applications. Blackhawk Community CU, she added, was one of the initial investors in CUNA’s CU Ledger initiative to prove the value of general ledger technology.
“I am convinced [ledger technology] will be utilized for many applications in our industry and cannot wait to see what develops,” she said. “Technology terms and acronyms can be intimidating, but I like to simplify all of these into one concept – all of them are just new tools to provide better service to our members. That is something every credit union can embrace!”
For more from CU Journal's "Women in Tech" series, can be found here:
Women in tech: A 40-year career focused on innovation and mentorship
Women in tech: From wedding planner to CU innovation architect
Women in tech: From Silicon Valley startups to CU boardrooms
Women in tech: How an outsider is helping credit unions evolve
Women in tech: From Red Cross intern to credit union executive