• Aubrey Ward

Christian Hartley - Starting a YP Group

Christian Hartley has been in the credit union industry for over 15 years and it's all because of 6 little words, “We Love to Promote from Within.” Christian has made the most of her time in the industry by CRASHING the GAC and taking that passion to become one of the founding members of Leaders Engaging in Action and Development (LEAD) in Mississippi. Christian is the epitome of what leaders should be; she wants people to try to take her job because it shows passion and drive, and those are the people she wants to help organizations move forward. We were lucky enough to sit near Christian at the CUNA YP Conference and her enthusiasm and passion was one of a kind. We were lucky enough to snag some of her time - check out our chat below!

Tell us about how you got your start in the credit union industry and what has kept you here?

I started at the credit union on December 1, 2003. It was a brisk Monday morning… :) Prior to my job in the credit union industry I worked at Chick-Fil-A in the local mall, and team members from the credit union would come down for lunch and mention; “You know, when you turn eighteen you should apply for a teller position.” I’ll never forget my interview, I remember Jessica Volz (HR Specialist) stating that “we love to promote from within” and that there were opportunities to grow within Keesler Federal.

I took that to heart, and as a recent high school graduate with no clue on ‘what I wanted to be when I grew up’ decided to see if that would hold true. It did- and by the grace of God, I progressed up the Retail Operations chain within Keesler after my start as a Teller to Financial Service Representative, Loan Officer, Assistant Manager, and now Dual Branch Manager. It’s so easy to discuss my career path but it was a long road. The reason that I stayed initially was because of the opportunity to grow and now I stay because I’m so passionate about our CU Movement and the opportunity to inspire and develop our future CU leader’s in their growth.

You crashed the GAC in 2018 – tell us about that experience and how it shaped who you are as a person and an advocate in the credit union industry?

Best.Crash.EVER. I know, I know, everyone who has crashed says that about their class, but ours was really special. How many people get to say that Lauren Culp, #girlBoss, and the new CEO of CUInsight was their mentor?! Let me say to anyone reading this- apply to Crash GAC. RUN. Do it now. It will reinvigorate your passion for all things credit unions, you will get priceless networking opportunities, and be surrounded by young leaders who are “just like you”, motivated, driven, and high achieving who are doing amazing things for the credit union movement. Our little class now boasts CEO’s, COO’s, Managers, Mentors, and Innovative LEADERS who are respectfully disrupting the status quo on what “millennials” and “Gen-z’ers” bring to the credit union movement.

My experience at GAC was amazing. I was selected to be on the Social Media Takeover Team. I met Jim Nussle and asked to accompany him and the CUNA Board to the White house for his meeting with President Trump. I met Maurice Smith and got an opportunity to chat with him- such a gracious gentleman. I got an opportunity to speak with Gigi Hyland; I hiked the hill and took selfies with the Mississippi Senators and Congressional Representatives, (who are tremendous supporters to MS Credit Unions) and I took part in the parade of flags. My picture was used during the “open your eyes to a credit union” presentation during the general session, in short- it was amazing.

How did it shape me? I remember being on the plane to DC and thinking: “I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I want to be a good representation of Jesus Christ, my amazing state of Mississippi, and of my credit union Keesler Federal. I want to get everything out of this and just don’t want to disappoint anyone.” I remember making a promise to myself to “say yes to everything. Don’t leave any opportunity for excellence untouched.” And on the flight back to MS, emotionally, physically and mentally spent, I knew I’d left it all on the table. I took every opportunity and ran with it. There was nothing I “wished” I had done. I was thoroughly engaged, and even in my exhausted state, somehow reinvigorated- and wanted to take ACTION on all I learned. I didn’t want to let the fire die. I was All In. The day after I touched down in MS I texted our league president (and CUNA Board Member) Charles Elliot. My text said something along the lines of “thank you so much for the opportunity and support to Crash GAC, and can you please point me in the direction of the MS Credit Union Young Professionals Group, because I’d like to join” and I promise- it was less than a minute and he texted me back: “We don’t have one. You should start it.”

Reaching out like that right away shows your determination, talk to me about establishing a YP network in Mississippi – tell us about that process, what you’ve learned and what advice you would give to others wanting to start a YP Network?

Just do it. If your state or county or region doesn’t have one, or doesn’t have an active one, just take a deep breath and do it. Feel free to call me. Get a network together, I promise you, you are not alone. Sometimes, people need to see us just doing it. Not talking about it for one hundred fifty years, but taking action and doing something.

Charlie put me in touch with Sedric Brinson (Statewide Federal) and Drew Allen (Members Exchange), two young leaders in the Mississippi credit union movement who had similar crashing and DE experiences, and we got together our ideas and started putting things in motion. Drew came up with the name LEAD while running on the treadmill and we went with it! “Leaders Engaging in Action and Development AKA LEAD_MS” It was a team effort for the name and the board member roles, for sure!

Implementation is key. The guys (Sedric, Chair, Drew, VP) on the LEAD board are so supportive. I have so much respect for the leaders at Filene/Cooperative Trust and the mentors, because coordinating the application process, the kick off meetings, and then the quarterly events has been a task!

I would say 90% of what you see in LEAD_MS is what I took from my experience Crashing. From our application process, how we communicate, and even down to our attire when we crashed our annual meeting-I used all of my resources because I knew it worked. Lauren Culp made time and had a conference call with me, I sent a chat to our CRASH2018 GroupMe and got tons of resources and encouragement to kick off LEAD. I’ve kept them up to date, and will forever be thankful for those connections.

Our League (MSCUA) has been TREMENDOUS in their support. From their hospitality in hosting our Kick-Off, to allowing us the opportunity to ‘just do it’ and shine bright for our amazing state, to being the primary sponsor in events that we want to do or attend, the team of extraordinary leaders at MSCUA is phenomenal.

We agree every state should have a YP Group and be fully supported by their State Credit Union League, Nice Work!! We were fortunate to meet you briefly at the CUNA YP Conference – what inspired you to attend that event and what did you take away from that to help you both professional and personally?

Sedric (LEAD_MS’s Chairman) and I (Chair-elect) were so nervous to ask about attending this! MSCUA had just allowed LEAD to crash the Mississippi Credit Union Association’s Annual meeting… they had hosted us at the MSCUA HQ in Jackson, MS- and here we go again asking to go to this three-day conference on behalf of LEAD. However, we shared in our ask that this was the start of a “legacy of leadership” and that attending the CUNA YP conference would be beneficial for LEAD and for us; not only this year, but also for years to come. Again, MSCUA supported; asking to hear back from us when we returned, and oh my goodness, did we ever have feedback for them. We met Ben Herring and Staci Herring from Minnesota and Illinois who shared with us about their “day of service” that was coming up in October, and we took Action and created Mississippi’s first CU hosted day of service: #CUCares. Since we were the late guests to the party, we partnered with the Illinois and Minnesota day of service to maximize our impact. I loved the concept of having a specific CU day of service that could have statewide impact. It was successful, and we look forward to growing it to the likes of the #CUKind and #CUForward.

CUltivate took part in CUForward Day this year and it is one of the most incredible opportunities in the movement today, again props to you for seeing the opportunity to spread this to your state. What changes would you like to see in the industry to help elevate young professionals?

Develop us. We WANT to learn from our industry leaders. Please don’t hoard knowledge, please share it. As I think back to my class of 70+ crashers in 2018, and the current class of 14 LEAD’ers in Mississippi, we all had the same mission: Develop to excellence in an industry we LOVE. We want to gain the knowledge from those we look up to. I’m super thankful for the personal mentors in the movement who’ve supported and pushed me, but as a whole, there is work to be done.

I tell my (Gautier-Vancleave) leadership all the time, “Step back and let your team members be great. Allow them the opportunity for excellence. Why wouldn’t you?” I’ve found that my success as a leader is completely dependent on the success of the team that I serve. If they succeed, I succeed. So my mission is to give my team every tool they need to be excellent in all they do.

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


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