How Deb Gallagher’s Focus and Consistency Leads to Success at Capital CU



This month’s CEO spotlight comes direct from the Credit Union Directors and CEO Conference. Keep reading to find out what chief executive officer Deb Gallagher’s lifelong career there has meant for Capital Credit Union in Bismarck, ND. Discover insights into the legacy she hopes to leave behind for her CU and what advice she has for other credit union CEOs.

My CEO spotlight this month is on Deb Gallagher of Capital Credit Union in Bismarck, ND. Capital has about $400 million in assets and 10 branches. I met Deb at the Credit Union Directors and CEO Conference this past August where she was a guest panelist for one of the main sessions. I was impressed with her thoughtful answers and the way she led Capital, and I asked her to discuss credit union leadership with me.

What impressed me most about Deb was her calm demeanor and disciplined focus on fundamentals like culture, strategy, members and financials. One key to this focus is Capital’s strategic roadmap, which is a living, breathing document rather than something collecting dust on a shelf or hibernating on the CEO’s laptop. Deb considers that roadmap critically important to her leadership. It helps her and her team focus resources and efforts annually. It also serves as a filter to help her team exclude certain efforts or investments that look good but fall outside the scope of the roadmap.

Deb’s CEO Journey

Diligent learning and passion for her credit union have characterized Deb’s CEO journey. Beginning her professional life at Capital as a high school senior when she was 17 years old, Deb has spent her entire career there. Early on,the CU had only $5 million in assets and eight employees. She enjoyed the credit union’s philosophy and mission and eventually became CEO, a position she has held for 21 years.

When Deb first became CEO, the greatest challenge was comprehending the responsibility of the job. As a new CEO, she was in awe of the role and the faith her board had placed in her. Her first few years were spent understanding her responsibility, growing into it and delivering on it. It was much more about dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s” in her early years.

After becoming more comfortable in her position, Deb began migrating out of a hands-on role to developing more of a vision of what Capital could consider and achieve. Evolving through the first few years helped her better understand the process Capital needed to undertake to grow and thrive.

All in all, it has been a consistent journey of growth as both a person and leader, especially in the aspect of engaging and energizing other people as the industry has changed and Capital has evolved. One thing I hear continually from seasoned CEOs like Deb is that you have to learn to let go of certain actions and responsibilities, and you have to work very hard to attract and retain bright, hard-working people. Both of these mindsets have been instrumental in Deb’s success and Capital’s growth.

Continuing the Journey

What I liked hearing most about Deb’s CEO journey is that after 21 years she hasn’t stopped learning and progressing. She is still passionate about her credit union and leading it forward. She sees herself as being in the final phase of her career and has started to reflect on the condition in which she wants to leave Capitaland what needs to happen to achieve that aim.

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