Blake Woods - Do The Jobs That Others Won't
Blake Woods has accomplished a tremendous amount within the credit union industry in his ten years in the movement – and there are no signs of stopping him. His new position as Advisor, Credit Unions at TransUnion takes him to conferences and credit unions throughout the U.S. to learn and to talk about industry insights. We got the chance to sit down with a very busy very eager Blake Woods.
How did you get your start in the credit union space?
At the start of my senior year at Michigan State University, I was frantically filling out applications for internships. So many, in fact, I don’t really remember applying for the one I eventually accepted at Lake Trust Credit Union. I do remember texting my friends that my new job had an elevator. My interview was on the top (sixth) floor. I thought that was really cool. I remember I had to call my Mom on day one because I was asked to fax something and did not know how.
About halfway through my internship, Lake Trust announced a major merger. They asked me to stay on full time to help the influx of work that a merger brings. Flash forward to ten years later, I was still working there. I had spent time in marketing, public relations, e-commerce and, most recently, the innovation team, giving me a well-rounded skillset and understanding of the credit union space. In August, I made the leap to TransUnion, working in their credit union vertical with Sean Flynn, who I met when we CRASHED the GAC back in 2013.
Congratulations on the promotion, leaving the industry to work for a partner is a leap that many of us make, tell me about your current role and your experience moving to the vendor side of the industry?
Within the credit union industry, I spend a lot of time traveling to credit unions and conferences to talk about the current and future state of financial services. My position at TransUnion is to provide industry insights and help credit unions remain thriving members of the communities they serve. I certainly was aware of the stigma in moving from a credit union to a vendor or partner. In my 90 days of experience, I’ve done my best to breakthrough those misconceptions. I truly believe that within fifteen seconds of conversation, people can see my intentions are to advance the cooperative movement.
I think there’s plenty that credit unions, leagues, and partners can learn from one another. It has been encouraging to see more credit union vendors gain access to opportunities within the credit union system. TransUnion has been very supportive of my continued efforts with Filene, the NCUF, and The Cooperative Trust.
The success of our movement is dependent on inclusion, and seeking diverse ideas from all interested parties. I am excited to take the resources and education TransUnion affords me to help credit unions become the financial partners their member-owners deserve. Our slogan is Information for Good, and I’m motivated to make that more than just words.
Absolutely, lets transition back to you and your role. Traveling can be difficult, how do you keep a good work life balance?
Luckily, I’m able to work from home. It’s been an adjustment, but I am getting better each week. I’d invite your readers to shoot me any tips they have on improving productivity remotely. I find that part to be tougher than the travel.
In fact, the travel was one of the things that attracted me to this role. When talking it over with my fiancé, we felt like this was the time in our lives for me to try a role like this. It’s not as glamorous as many might think. I had both legs of a trip get cancelled a couple week ago. All the hotels start to look the same, and you forget where you are when you wake up some days. But honestly, traveling is much easier when you are surrounded by fellow credit union advocates. No matter where I go, I usually bump into someone I mentored in DE, or a fellow i3er or CRASHER. That’s incredibly valuable, and I look forward to leveraging my network even more in 2020.
In regards to good work life balance, I love to play hockey and snowboard. I’m getting married in June, so my fiancé and I have been spending lots of time on that. Truthfully, she’s done an amazing job taking the lead on planning while I navigated the career change. It’s going to be a blast, and she deserves all the credit. We have a dog named Wallace, and he means the world to us. He’s sleeping on me right now actually.
Well said, that is why we started Cultivate, we got to see all the people out there doing great things and wanted to be able to share their stories and further connect people. We were fortunate to connect with you at Big.Bright.Minds and know you are a previous i3er, tell us about that experience and what it has done for you?
I couldn’t recommend i3 more. The networking has been the most valuable. Everywhere I go, I run into people I met through that program. I think being an i3er gives you instant credibility in the credit union space. I think about the experiential “day-away” trips we took, and the people I shared that with every day.
Before i3, I used to feel like the token millennial in the room. Which was fine, and a role I even embraced. But after i3, I gained internal confidence. I noticed my co-workers started seeking my opinion, and engaging me to think strategically. I was able to become more comfortable speaking in front of large crowds. That’s a big part of my role now, and I owe a lot of my success to the programming Filene built.
I got emotional when I got accepted into i3. I knew it would change my life and it did.
That is great, what advice do you have for young professional that want to have the opportunity to CRASH or apply for these types of events but might be hesitant or afraid of getting turned down?
First off, my grandpa had this saying. “There’s two times to do things, now and right now!” If you’re waiting for the perfect time to apply for i3 (or CRASH, or any of these programs) it will never come.
The other big lesson I’ve tried to give YPs is to do the jobs that others won’t. Roll up your sleeves, be dependable, and put in the work. Employees like that a hard to come by, and you’ll find your employer bending over backwards to keep you engaged. Others will take notice and follow your lead.
Lastly, when talking to your supervisor or leaders in your organization or industry. Ask them how you can help them be successful. No one ever says that to executives. I remember the first time I did, my manager at the time was really taken aback. Ask them how you can help them reach their goals. Or if there’s an opportunity you’re interested in, tie it back to how it will help drive success for your team or the organization. Or better yet, the members you serve.
People often wondered how I got so many opportunities as a young professional. I was very fortunate to be blessed with forward thinking, selfless leaders at Lake Trust. But I also was strategic in the way I approached these opportunities. I didn’t just forward an email and say please. Do the research.
Couldn’t agree more. What do you think are some of the struggles of our generation in the credit union space?
You know, when I started at the credit union, for the first three years it was just a job – somewhere I went Monday through Friday from 9-5. After having the opportunity to CRASH the GAC, I found the higher purpose of cooperatives. This was inspiring, and it led to other opportunities like i3. I had found my career.
Years later, I would attend the DE program through the NCUF. I learned about the global credit union movement, the development issues members’ face, and how to actually make a difference. Now I had found my life’s purpose - my calling. How many of my friends in other industries can say that?
Young people need to be introduced to what the industry has to offer. It’s painful to know so few YP’s are aware these opportunities exist. In my opinion, there’s no better industry for young professionals to make their mark.
That’s why I am so encouraged by what you are doing here with Cultivate. You’re uncovering all the opportunities, continually offering inspiration and providing examples for the next generation of credit union advocates. What I love most about your interviews is that it humanizes some of these successful young professionals. We’re all just normal people who had access to an opportunity and took it. Let’s get more young people that same chance! I can’t wait to see what they do with it.
People Helping People, that’s what it is all about. What does 2020 have in store for Blake Woods?
I cannot believe my 2020 calendar is already filling up! I am excited to have some different speaking opportunities lined up, showing credit unions how they can leverage Information for Good. At TransUnion, we’ve been at the forefront of the rise of the Fintech industry. Credit unions were the original innovators and disruptors of financial services. That’s our DNA. I am excited to take what we’ve learned from the Fintechs, and help credit unions amplify their impact on the communities we serve. I think there’s a lot of potential for those two groups to partner, collaborate, and learn from one another.
We all see the stats on how many people are in financial distress. Our world needs problem-solvers, why not us?
Connect with Blake:
CUltivate is people helping people with our mission to spread the word, connect the people, and give an outlet to share your stories. Know someone in the industry we should interview? Drop us a line at CultivateYP@gmail.com