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Vermont Business Magazine: Jean Giard and Vermont Federal

Vermont Business Magazine: Jean Giard and Vermont Federal

March 14, 2024 -

Excerpt From Vermont Business Magazine - It is remarkable that during her 18 years on the senior management team of the Vermont Federal Credit Union, Jean Giard, now its President and CEO, helped grow the institution from $160 million to its current size of more than $900 million in assets. And it is still growing.

How did she do it? It’s all about company culture, Giard said.

“Our staff are the reason we’re growing,” Giard said. “They are the front line. They’re the ones who interact with our membership. They have the relationships, and they do a fantastic job of serving our members and helping them with their financial needs. My team and I have really worked hard to improve our culture.”

Giard recited management consultant Peter Drucker’s famous phrase, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

“It’s absolutely true,” she said. “If you don’t have a good culture, then you’re not going to grow. If your employees are not supported in a meaningful way, then you’re not going to grow. And you’re not going to be successful. When I took over, we had a challenging culture, and we slowly built it to a more collaborative, supportive, staff-focused environment. And that’s how we grew.”

Credit unions may look like banks and act like banks, and even have drive-up windows like banks, but they are, in reality, nonprofit membership-driven financial cooperatives. A membership fee entitles members to all the benefits offered by banks, but with a difference — in banks, part of the money goes to stockholders, so it leaves the institution. And sometimes that is a large portion of the money.

“Credit unions have the same products and services that banks do,” Giard explained. “We like to think we do it with a heart. The member has a share and has a vote on anything that goes on in the credit union. All of our revenues go back to our membership, like a cooperative would. The revenues are used to reduce fees, to reduce loan costs and loan interests, and to have higher increase deposit rates as opposed to banks.

Giard, a certified public accountant, came to the credit union as chief financial officer after a long career as an auditor and as the audit partner at Williston’s R.F. Lavigne & Co.

Giard is uncomfortable in the spotlight — she was even uncomfortable doing the interview for this profile — but her influence is widespread and, in one respect, crucial. Vermont has very few female presidents of banks and credit unions; Giard is considered an inspiration.

“There are still far more men than women in leadership roles, and I think if you looked at the financial sector in particular, you would see that discrepancy is even wider,” said Megan Manahan Bliss, a shareholder in the law firm Cahill, Gawne, Miller & Manahan and chair of the Vermont Federal Credit Union board.

“Anecdotally, at a national conference Jean and I recently attended together,“ Bliss recalled, “we were invited to a roundtable for female CEO and board chairs, and the group numbered approximately 40 in a conference of about 450 overall. I am certain not all females in those categories were present, but it’s indicative of the breakdown.

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