Don Lewis, President/CEO, APGFCU
Don Lewis revels in the fact that he’s helping members build their wealth and empowering people in his position as president/CEO of Aberdeen Proving Ground Federal Credit Union (APGFCU). He sings the praises of his 300 employees and remains extremely loyal to APGFCU’s mission of returning the profits to the credit union members.
“I receive hundreds of letters written by members praising the service and excellence by our staff,” Lewis remarks. “It’s a connection that can’t get any better than that.”
The Wealth Footprint
Lewis celebrates 33 years working at APGFCU. He arrived at the credit union in 1979 as a specialist in the mitigation of risk with the goal of building a collection department. Lewis’s career footprint has stepped from collections to credit operations and along the path in a series of promotions in executive leadership. As president/CEO for the last 17 years, Lewis has facilitated the credit union’s tremendous expansion to over 95,000 members.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth of public understanding about what [APGFCU] can do with a financial cooperative,” he mentions. “It’s a credit union movement, and people are helping people.”
Rising Popularity of Credit Unions
Credit unions are popular because customers are member-owners of the not-for-profit financial cooperatives. Returning profits to members, credit unions offer lower loan rates, higher dividends on savings, and no or low fees when compared to traditional banks.
Lewis says, “[APGFCU] has a different feel … you are an owner and your ideas are going to effect change. You can control the destination.” His past experience in the banking world enabled him to appreciate the credit union movement difference, democratic member control, autonomy, and independence and member economic participation.
|2011 APGFCU Year-End Stats
• $7,252,838 Dividends on Shares
• $277,165 Member Rewards
• $97,352 Visa® Balance Transfer Rebate
• $489,967 Visa Classic & Gold Cash Back Rebate
• $116,247 Youth Promotion & Outreach
• $79,924 Donated to Charity in Harford and Cecil Counties
• $1,131,500 Coins Processed by Members at Branch Machines
Visionary by Nature
Lewis is charged with understanding and delivering what members want. He considers himself a visionary by nature, interpreting business needs in terms of goals and strategic thinking. As a result, he carries out the wishes of both the membership and the Board. “I’m an entrepreneur, perceiving opportunities and building upon opportunities,” Lewis reveals. “I am a teacher and I impart knowledge to our team with continuous learning and innovation.”
Terry Sexton, president of T.L. Sexton Co. in Bel Air, has known Lewis for 20 years and serves with him on the Harford County Boys and Girls Clubs Board of Directors.
“Don’s a very compassionate man, he’s a man of wisdom and he’s a humble guy,” Sexton emphasizes. “He would be the last one to stand up and take credit for successes.”
Sexton explains that the credit union, an organization with $900 million in assets, has grown tremendously to the level of one of the largest credit unions in Maryland. Sexton says, “The credit union’s success is no accident. It’s very obvious to me that Don is a strategic thinker and a visionary and when you have leadership like this, it grows in positive regions that it’s supposed to grow.”
Safe, Strong, Growing
Serving the community for 74 years, APGFCU is the largest credit union in Harford and Cecil counties, and the fourth largest federally chartered credit union in Maryland. APGFCU is ranked No. 1 in market share for both deposits and auto loans in the two counties.
While the growth of APGFCU is impressive, the credit union’s strength is attributed to strong leadership and a clear path for the future. Lewis accredits the conservative business model as the reason that APGFCU is safe, strong and growing. APGFCU was established for the APG employees in 1938 and incorporated by a small group of volunteers who endeavored to assist military families. These volunteers also recognized that families equipped to control wealth building would continue on a self-guided path to financial security. The foresight of volunteers prepared the credit union to grow beyond the gates. Building on the idea of families handling their own wealth building, APGFCU broadened its charter in 2003 to include Harford and Cecil counties with the adopted slogan, “Your Community Credit Union.”
“Some people think that they have to be employed by the government to belong to APGFCU, but anyone who lives, works, worships, attends school or volunteers in Harford or Cecil County can be a member,” Lewis declares.
Planning with a GPS
Lewis says that in order to plan for the credit union’s success, he surrounds himself with a strong executive team of strategic thinkers. His staff includes six senior vice presidents and one executive vice president. “We deliberately recruit the best and retain the best,” he states. “I believe in the greatness of people, and I have the greatest employees.”
As a strong believer in diversification of thought, Lewis feels that it’s important to employ people that think differently. He believes that when people come together in a collective sense, great things happen. Lewis says he draws experience from a corporate culture where mentoring was extremely important. “I have to understand GPS and I have to have a destination,” Lewis declares. “We are here but we need to be there and we are on course … planning is very much a part of the duties.”
How a Pastor Empowers
Lewis pairs his career at the credit union with his spiritual calling as an ordained minister for the last 30 years. He serves as pastor of Faith Christian Fellowship of Randallstown. He says that it’s a blessing to witness empowerment in the workplace.
“When I see an individual step up in [his/her] power, it’s a joy. Sometimes people don’t know the power they possess. They don’t know the quality of life that they impart. People just come alive. I get a kick out of positive change,” Lewis reveals.
Since Lewis feels that the credit union is about serving the members, he seeks opportunities to improve outreach efforts. “That’s why the credit union is such a match for me; it’s about the people,” he stresses. “It’s not about money; the emphasis is on the people.”
Like most compassionate people, Lewis doesn’t like to see people suffering in poor financial conditions. He imparts that suffering often results from a lack of financial knowledge and says the credit union works with people on such matters. He says, “[APGFCU] has a credit re-establishment program. There are people whose credit scores are not that great. If they pay their loan as agreed for one year, [APGFCU] will lower their rate for the remaining term. [The credit union] believes in recovery and re-establishment of people.”
Branch Expansion on the Horizon
Currently, APGFCU offers 11 branches in Harford and Cecil counties and the public can anticipate more branches in the future. Locations include Aberdeen, Amyclae, APG, Bel Air, Edgewood, Elkton, Forest Hill, Havre de Grace, Laurel Bush and North East. APGFCU’s first student-run credit union branch opened in February at Edgewood High School’s Academy of Finance in Aberdeen. Students are trained to run the branch, located inside the bookstore.
Lewis says APGFCU will continue expansion with energy and pace. The upcoming Fallston APGFCU branch, located on Route 1 and Mountain Road, will be a full-service 3,200-square-foot branch that, depending upon permits, etc., will open by early 2013. Concurrently, APGFCU celebrates a 75th anniversary next year.
APGFCU also recently launched a new website. Members enjoy the cleaner, less cluttered format, the ability to change font size for improved readability, and new search tools that enable visitors to quickly find content. Web navigation changes include online banking login at any time, from any page.
Sharon Sykes, senior vice president marketing, describes APGFCU as “very fortunate” to be located in Harford and Cecil counties with dedicated employees bringing the spirit of the cooperative to work. “[Employees] are positive about their homes, their community and their jobs, and it’s a privilege to work with them,” Sykes says.
Lewis articulates that the credit union’s mission to build wealth and empower people begins with the staff. He believes that for employees to act in the best interest of the members, they need to be financially literate. He says, “We believe employees who are knowledgeable about how to build personal wealth will in turn make better wealth-building coaches for our members.”
Small Businesses Benefits
Lewis is interested in how many times the dollar bill circulates within the community and has developed key business relationships. In addition to business savings and checking accounts, APGFCU offers the Buy Local program, which is backed by 34 community businesses. Launched in November 2009, this program maximizes the dollars in circulation within Harford and Cecil counties. APGFCU seeks diversified businesses to offer members high-quality products and services at a lower price. The program also imparts exclusive discounts, from 5 to 20 percent, waived or reduced fees and special offers that foster win-win relationships in the true spirit of the financial cooperative.
Teaching Financial Literacy
As APGFCU exists to help members build wealth, a key element to increasing prosperity is financial literacy. All APGFCU employees are educational resources, from branch and call center staff to professionally trained financial counselors. APGFCU’s separate financial education department provides over 700 classes reaching 13,000 people.
Lewis says APGFCU has discovered a way to work with many generations at the same time and has incorporated financial teaching into school programs. Moola-Moola, APGFCU’s mascot, along with a cast of fun characters, help teach children financial literacy and fundamentals on saving money.
“We are working with teachers and helping teachers develop curriculum,” Lewis remarks. “It is a great joy to see our children run into the credit union ahead of their parents to make their deposits.”
Countless Community Partnerships
APGFCU has over 50 community organization partnerships, a list too numerous to print that includes APG, Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna, Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County and Cecil County, Harford Community College and many more.
|APGFCU Community Outreach
• In 2011, Education Credit Union Council of Spanish Fort, Ala., awarded its first annual Lifetime Achiever Award to Tina Mike, assistant vice president and manager of the Financial Education Department at APGFCU.
• Presents free financial education workshops onsite and online for members and non-members
• Holds an annual Spotlight a Solider essay contest to honor our war fighters
• Awards $10,000 in annual scholarships for college to Local Member Youth
• Annually collects school supplies to benefit GEEF – The Greater Excellence in Education Foundation
• Serves up the annual pancake breakfast to support the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County
• Provides free financial seminars to businesses foremployee enrichment
• Provides a free baseball tournament each year for local teams to enjoy the Ripken Experience in Aberdeen
• Sponsors all the free kites at Bel Air’s annual kite festival
• Fundraises and support s a team for the annual Relay for Life walk in Harford County
• Sponsors annual Toys for Tots collection and sponsors families during the holidays
Lewis spends a great deal of time with Harford County Boys and Girls Clubs and has been with the organization for 17 years, serving on the Board. Volunteers on APGFCU’s Board of Directors actually created the Habitat for Humanity in Harford County. Fundraising for the Boys and Girls Clubs and the American Cancer Society is conducted annually at APGFCU. The Board of Directors at the credit union is intricately involved in supporting the community and decides on amounts determined by a percentage of assets. “The [APGFCU] Board is saying, as we grow, that we are committed to helping the community grow,” Lewis says.
Last year, APGFCU collected 500 wireless phones for Cell Phones for Soldiers. Other outreach activities include shred days twice a year and youth teams supported by the credit union. Lewis served on the Ripken Stadium Management Board for 14 years, and APGFCU continues to host youth teams. Lewis says, “We want people to touch and experience the Ripken experience. We are always looking for good things to happen.”
Betsy Campion, president of Campion Insurance, met Lewis in 1994, serving together on the Economic Development Advisory Board. She also worked with Lewis on the Ripken Stadium Management Board and the Harford Business Roundtable for Education. Campion says Lewis’s positive attitude results in reassuring leadership.
“On the Ripken Stadium Board, [Lewis] was the steady, clear thinking, always composed personality that you could always rely on for advice,” Campion remarks. “He’s very confident, calm and steady and always finds a way to solve problems.”
APGFCU conducts other outreach activities, including the Bel Air Kite Festival and programs recognizing and supporting the military. For the last six years, APGFCU sponsored the Annual Community Invitational Tournament at Ripken Stadium for local youth and sport teams.
APGFCU also has a relationship with Harford Community College and is partnering with them on their arena, currently under construction. Supporting the arena will enable people of all ages to enjoy educational, sporting, cultural and civic events. “We realize, as a cooperative, that no man or woman is an island and it’s about community relationships,” Lewis concludes. “We see a larger family.”
While change and growth are part of APGFCU’s plan, Lewis imbibes a feeling of comfort and ease. As part of the community, he welcomes members and employees who find it easy to speak with him. Sykes says, “It’s access … people walk up to Don and tell him stories and they usually walk away laughing.”