Right on the Money

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Being in the right place at the right moment can make all the difference

Stephen PostSteven D. Post was within a couple of weeks of entering the graduate program at a business school in upstate New York when he decided he didn’t want to leave Vermont. A job as a loan collector at a small credit union in Rochester, Vt., his adopted home, was all it took to launch a lifelong career. Post is chief executive officer of Vermont State Employees Credit Union in Montpelier.

Steve Post tells a story about the time he and his son were on the road looking at prospective colleges. “He was talking about his future,” Post says, “doing all that talk; and he said to me, ‘So whatever made you want to be a credit union manager?’ And almost before I could even respond, he said, ‘Because nobody grows up wanting to be a credit union manager!’”

Post, the longtime CEO of the Vermont State Employees Credit Union in Montpelier, laughs at the memory. “I told him it’s kind of ironic, because my interest is in sociology and economics, and the credit union world is a perfect match.”

Although in hindsight Post does seem to be a perfect match to his profession, he encountered it almost by accident. A native of Washington, D.C., he grew up in Denver, where his father had gone for a business opportunity.

After earning a degree from Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., with a dual major in economics and sociology, he returned to Denver and took a job in the public utilities division of the state of Colorado.

He married Nancy Cooper, his best friend from high school, and after four or five years, they decided to leave Denver. “We found out that her aunt owned a place in Rochester, Vermont, so we moved here with the intent of my going to graduate school at the William Simon Graduate School of Business at the University of Rochester in New York,” says Post.

“I was within a couple weeks of going out to Rochester, and we decided we’d stay in Vermont instead.”

That was a big decision and it required finding work. It happened that White River Credit Union, a small co-op in Rochester, was looking for part-time help. “I took that position, and that was the beginning of my career,” says Post.

“That position” was loan collector, he says, adding, with a chuckle, “If you can imagine a flatlander coming in to do loan collecting in a small town ... I met everybody.”

“My job was part time,” he says. “There was only one full-time person — managing it — and eventually we just started to grow the credit union and add services. I got more and more engaged in it; was assistant manager and then became manager.”

After 10 years with White River, Post accepted a job with GE (Burlington) Employees Federal Credit Union, the predecessor of NorthCountry Federal Credit Union, as finance officer. He commuted to Burlington from Rochester, usually spending a couple of nights a week in Burlington.

“I ended up being there only about six to seven months,” he says, “and then the finance officer position at VSECU was open.” He applied and was hired, and joined the credit union in 1988.

He commuted to Montpelier (about an hour each way) for four years before he moved his family there.

VSECU was formed in 1947. Its first “office” was a small cubby in the state capitol, Post says. In the 1960s, a dedicated building was built on State Street, which served as headquarters until 1994, when a new, 28,000-square-foot building, designed by architect Bill Truex, was ready for occupancy. By then, Post was at the helm.

Yvonne Garand, Donna Russo and Charles KarparisOn Steve Post’s watch, VSECU has grown from 20 employees to nearly 130, and from $80 million in assets to $500 million. Yvonne M. Garand (left) is business development officer: Donna Russo is human resources officer; and Charles D. Karparis is retail officer.

In 1990 (“or maybe ’91,” he says), the then-general manager, Clyde Coffrin Jr., retired, and Post was named to the position. “That’s been my position since,” he says, adding that the title was changed to CEO about 10 years ago.

“In the credit union’s 60-plus years, there have been only three managers: Clyde Coffrin, Clyde Coffrin Jr., and me. Each of us served about 20 years, so I’m beginning to worry,” he says with a grin.

If performance is any bellwether, he can put his worries to rest. When he started, the organization had 20 employees; now employees number just under 130. When he started, there was about $80 million in assets; it’s now touching $500 million. “We had, I think, about 16,000 members, and now, about 45,000,” says Post.

VSECU is Vermont’s second-largest credit union by assets and members, and the 10th largest state-chartered financial institution. Its six branches are located in Chittenden and Washington counties (two each); and one each in Rutland and Waterbury.

“He runs an excellent credit union,” says Joseph Bergeron, president of the Association of Vermont Credit Unions, who met Post not long after he moved to Vermont. “He’s been on my board since then at different times — though not currently — and we’ve been connected through credit unions.”

Post is very member-driven, Bergeron says. “The purpose of a credit union is to have it run for the benefit of its members, not for stockholders or making profits. He just naturally has that in the front of his mind at all times.”

Bill Turex, Terrencd Field, Lisa Hommel and Steve KoenemannThe Vermont State Employees Credit Union was formed in 1947. It moved into its current home, an elegant building designed by Bill Truex, in 1994. Terrence Field (left) is chief finance officer; Lisa Hommel is product operations officer; and Steve Koenemann is information officer.

Change has created its own set of challenges, not the easiest of which was responding to members who have objected to changes taking place. “For example, most of the credit union industry went through a transition from being a very closed organization for a small group of people to being more open and broadly accessible,” says Post. “When we changed our membership from its core state employee group to expand beyond that, it’s proven very valuable to us, but it was not one that was wholly endorsed by all the members.”

Twenty years ago, says Post, the credit union movement was pretty small and provided relatively modest types of services — “just a savings and loan program. About 20 years ago, there was a movement to become more full-service and add checking accounts, credit cards, and all the financial services people were requiring at that time.”

The regulatory requirements were changed by Congress and various states to allow this broader activity, he says. These days, the structure of the organization is what makes the difference.

Along the way, the challenge has been on maintaining an organization that is in a constant state of change and developing the human resources that are needed to make it work. “I have a great group of people working here,” he says. “The management team has about six people on it, who have been here anywhere from 20 years to eight, working with me. Externally, the challenge comes from keeping up with the pace of change in the financial services area and figuring out how to provide value for our members.”

To stay abreast of changes coming down the pike, Post and his staff meet regularly with personnel from other credit unions. “There’s quite a bit of interaction between us,” he says, adding with a laugh, “We’re in what we like to call ‘co-opetition’ with one another.”

There’s also continual staff training internally, much of which is conducted at the Corporate University, housed in the organization’s former headquarters building on State Street. “We find that staff are more engaged and will learn better if we get them off-site and away from their work environment,” says Yvonne Garand, business development officer.

When his son and daughter were small, Post says, most of his time outside of work was focused on their activities. These days they are pursuing their own paths, with Foster, 27, in Salt Lake City, and Kim, 23, in Boston. Post enjoys golf and wilderness canoeing, including a solo trip in Ontario. He recently took Nancy with him to Ontario for the first time, “but that was less wilderness,” he says, laughing.

His other hobby is painting landscapes in oil. “I just decided I was going to try oil painting,” he says. “I painted for a few years, and then, before I developed a lot of bad habits, my wife gave me a class from Studio Place Arts in Barre as a Christmas present.”

As for his career, Post still gets up every day enthusiastic about heading to the office. “It’s been interesting for me in my 25 years, roughly, in the business that it’s always been full of opportunity. It’s never reached a point where I said, ‘This has run its course.’

“I think the cooperative business model and value we can bring to the marketplace is getting greater, so that’s what we aim to do —to make this credit union available to any Vermonter.”

Hanging above his desk is a sign that reflects the philosophy that continues to guide him. It says, “What we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” •