Change for the Better

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Ginny Fleischman learned long ago to follow her heart — and her own good sense

Ginny Fleischman is president of Green Mountain Credit Union in South Burlington, ranked 16th in the state in overall financial size and thriving under her leadership.

by Liz Schick

Back in the ’60s, when “tune in, drop out” were bywords for the boomer generation, Ginny Fleischman went to work at a bank in New Haven, Conn., immediately after high school graduation. Ten years later, she says, having the urge to do something “wild and crazy,” she “quit to become a ski bum” and moved to Mount Snow in West Dover, where she worked at a hotel to finance her skiing addiction.

Fast-forward to 1992, when she joined the Green Mountain Credit Union in South Burlington as president. It was a three-person office with $3.5 million in assets, having started life as a credit union for Green Mountain Power employees. Under Fleischman’s leadership, it has grown into a full-service institution with three offices — South Burlington, Rutland and Montpelier — and 15 full- and part-time employees. It serves 4,392 members affiliated with 87 companies throughout Vermont — as varied as Green Mountain Power, Husky and Vermont Gas to Bed, Bath & Beyond, The Inn at Essex and the town of Highgate. The credit union now boasts assets of $16.5 million.

In between lies the tale of the life and career of a person who describes herself as “pretty boring.” Hah!

After high school, Fleischman worked her way up the ladder at the Union & New Haven Trust Co., starting as a clerk in the statement and bookkeeping departments. From there, she spent time in all the bank’s operations areas while taking night classes at New Haven College in West Haven. Eventually, she was assigned the task of creating and supervising a new department: customer service.

photoGreen Mountain Credit Union has offices in South Burlington, Rutland and Montpelier, and 15 full- and part-time employees. Jean Prouty is branch manager of the South Burlington office.

Consumer concerns had been handled by any available bank official. During those years, there weren’t a lot of role models for women in the financial services field. Indeed, there was only one other woman at her bank, so this promotion was a great vote of confidence in Fleischman’s abilities.

Her epiphany arrived in the form of a comment from a stranger. “I used to live in downtown New Haven,” says Fleischman, “and I walked to work. One day, I was walking, and a man passed me, and said, ‘You’re late this morning.’ I didn’t know this man. He said, ‘I usually drive to work, and I see you every day. You’re in a green coat.’ I thought, ‘My God! I’m in a rut!’”

She gave her notice.

Fleischman took a job with Snow Lake Lodge at Mount Snow, working the front desk. It was there that she met her future husband, who was in the hospitality business. She took another career detour to follow his career opportunities.

They moved, first to the Borscht Belt of the Catskill Mountains, back to Mount Snow in the early ’70s, and then as far from the ski slopes as she could get, she thought at the time, to Orlando, Fla., where they opened John Newcombe’s Tennis Resort.

Early in the 1980s, they moved even farther away from the ski slopes — to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they opened and ran the newly restored Virgin Isle Hotel.

They returned to Florida, but all was not well with the marriage. They separated, and Fleischman returned to college, earning a degree in business and finance at the University of Central Florida in 1986. She had also returned to the financial services field when she joined Sun Banks in Orlando, where she worked in personal banking for a couple of years while finishing school.

“I’m definitely not a hot-weather person,” Fleischman says, admitting she didn’t want to spend any more time away from skiing and her family, who were in Connecticut. “I always loved Vermont,” she says, “and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else after being away for so long.” Friends encouraged her to come to Burlington, where she joined Howard Bank in 1987.

By then, “there were many women in the banking industry,” says Fleischman. She served as manager in the North Avenue, Winooski and Essex Junction branches before returning to the main office as assistant cashier. “I don’t think they have that title anymore. You’d never know it, but that assistant cashier actually was an officer’s title.”

When the economy took a dip in 1991, the bank retrenched, and Fleischman worked at various jobs in the area until she was offered two career positions on the same day. She made the decision to join Green Mountain Credit Union in November 1992.

Although the board of directors hired her to run the credit union, her title was simply “manager.” Fleischman explains that there was no title of president when she joined, “but a strategic plan we have instituted since then has helped the board recognize the need to position ourselves for the future, and the title of president was deemed necessary.”

Among the 29 credit unions in Vermont, Green Mountain is ranked 16th in overall financial size, she says. It operates as a full-service financial institution, and while Fleischman is known to still personally handle some lending functions and works with the branch managers, her days are primarily taken up with strategic plans to improve services and ensure its continued growth.

photoGreen Mountain Credit Union’s assets have grown under Fleischman’s leadership from $3.5 million to $16.5 million. Wil Mobus and Sue Covey are member service representatives.

As John St. Hilaire, chairman of the board of directors, explains, the larger the credit union grew, the more it became apparent that planning and controls were necessary.

“We knew we needed to become more proactive and develop a strategic plan,” he says. “Ginny researched the process, found the right consultants and set up a meeting with the board. About four years ago, after bringing everybody together, Ginny created our first strategic plan.”

Every year since then, the board meets to update the five-year plan, and every other year it meets with a consultant to ensure that Green Mountain Credit Union is on track. “Ginny was not only instrumental in instituting the plan, but is diligent in keeping it going and carrying out the process,” says St. Hilaire.

Fleischman proudly points to the fact that this year the credit union instituted e-statements. While it has a third-party servicer for its credit card program, she is working to bring the operation in-house so members will have online access to their accounts. “We are also looking at instituting an automated lending program to go with our online banking, so members can apply 24/7 for a loan and get an instant answer,” she says.

In addition to everything else, Fleischman spent much of 2005 in a hard hat, working with contractors as they were building Rutland and Montpelier offices.

“As a small institution, we all wear a lot of hats, from throwing sand out when the parking lot is icy to waiting on customers,” Fleischman says with a grin. “I like coming to work every day because I get to help members; and even though the union continues to grow, we still strive for personal service. When you call us, you get a real, live person, not an automated menu, for example.”

This dedication to service is seconded by Laura Howland, a longtime member of the credit union. “Everyone at the credit union goes above and beyond the call of duty,” she says. “I’m a cardiology nurse and sometimes can’t get out of the hospital by 4:15, in time to make the bank’s 4:30 closing. I know I can call and let them know that I’m running late. I tell them what I need to do, and someone always waits for me to finish my transaction. Where else could I do that?” She shakes her head. “Nowhere. Anywhere else I’d just be a number.”

What Howland also likes is that Fleischman is almost always visible when she comes into the office just off Shelburne Road on Laurel Hill Drive. “When I bring in my boys, ages 5 and 9, Ginny makes a point to come out of her office and invite them in, because she knows they like sitting in the big office chairs. It’s like she is their personal piggy bank.”

Fleischman commutes 15 minutes from Shelburne, where she is sharing a house with George Haskins, her younger, windowed brother. During her years in Burlington, she has been active in various professional and charitable organizations, for 10 years serving on the board of directors and as an officer of the Vermont Credit Union League, and as secretary for the South Burlington Rotary Club. She spent five years on the board of the YWCA of Vermont, ending her tenure as its president.

At the moment, however, Fleischman has decided to spend her free time closer to home. “Right now,” she says, “I think my life is kind of boring, although I like spending my limited free time with family, having dinner with friends and just relaxing at home.”

Boring, maybe, but a rut? Never!