Laurie Baker, 2020 New York Women in Banking Winner

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Laurie Baker

President and CEO
The Summit Federal Credit Union

How did you get into this field? What keeps you motivated to stay?

I really stumbled upon my first position. I was simply looking for a job and wound up accepting a teller role at a local credit union while I pursued my master’s degree. I had always been a credit union member, but now I was able to experience the “people helping people” philosophy of credit unions from the vantage point of an employee. It really struck a chord. Every day, I saw firsthand how much financial services and sound financial advice can mean to the lives of so many people. I knew it was the kind of work I’d get great satisfaction from.

It’s this opportunity to be a positive influence for people, both through the credit union itself and the work we do in the community, that is the biggest motivating factor for me. I’ve been at The Summit for over 25 years. I started in lending, and along the way moved into management and more strategic roles. Because I’ve experienced such different aspects of our business, I’ve been able to see the impact of each piece and how they work together toward the collective goal of serving our member-owners. I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing people throughout my career. No one is an island at a credit union, and the collaborative work environment truly keeps me inspired and motivated.

Have you had any great female mentors? What is the importance of mentoring and is this something that you focus on?

Mentoring is important on so many levels. I really enjoy taking the opportunity to help others grow and instilling the confidence in them to try something new or different. It’s amazing to watch someone evolve over time. Making a difference in this capacity is very rewarding for me.

My personal story about working with a great female mentor is somewhat unique. In actuality, I think we have mentored and acted as a trusted sounding board for each other over a span of years as each of us has navigated our own career path.

Our relationship began when I was a member of a Board Selection Committee to identify a new Chief Executive Officer for a local agency. Shortly after the selection was made, I became the Board Chair and offered this person advice and guidance during a very challenging time for the organization she led. Her talent level, courage and work ethic was undeniable, and something to admire and learn from. I certainly learned from her, and now I find myself in the role of CEO as well.

Even though my Board term came to an end, the relationship has continued and grown. I know I can speak for both of us when I say that the value of our connection is tremendous. Mentors and mentees can learn a lot from each other, and reversing roles as we continue to grow in our careers and in life is not unheard of. We all have something to offer others, and personal development is not finite.  

What is your favorite movie? TV show? (pick one) Why?

One of my favorite movies is Hidden Figures. I have watched it well over 20 times. The story is about three brilliant African American women working for NASA in the 1960s who directly impact the success of the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. It’s a story about racial and gender inequality, inequity, change of perception, relationships, talent, resilience and hope. I love the movie because it depicts the reality of that time and tells a story that would not likely be told otherwise. The perseverance and determination of the main characters is truly inspiring. The movie is based on a true story; it is a “must see”!

What do you consider your greatest success?

My greatest successes professionally are shared, and it’s difficult to pick just one. We have a phenomenal team here at The Summit, and together we’ve weathered some significant challenges in the past 25-plus years. One of those was with our CFO Leanne McGuinness and former CEO Mike Vadala--getting through the financial crisis of 2008 without laying off a single employee. Another is our growth of assets from $80 million when I started at The Summit in 1993 to $1 billion at the close of 2019. Today we are serving more people and helping them reach their goals, which is truly the primary mark of success for a credit union.

On a personal level, I would say the adoption of my two children is my greatest success. The adoption process can be very difficult, time-consuming and emotionally exhausting. It takes a leap of faith, hope and perseverance. But once that process is complete and that baby or child is in your arms, nothing else matters!