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RJ Montes - What makes everything possible.

Contagious energy and passion backed up with a drive to help others around him, this is what RJ Montes is all about. Every interaction I have had with RJ has been special, you don’t want to miss this interview.

Approaching 13 years at Dupaco, talk about your journey, what has changed, what still motivates you.

First off, I want to thank you all for putting these articles together. What an amazing vehicle to motivate and inspire each other. We all have a story and the more we share the more value we will add to each other and make our world a better place. I am not sure at 42 I can still be classified as an YP as l think 40 is the cut off, but I certainly still feel young at Heart so thank you for affording me the opportunity to share. One of my friends, Erick Kephart, likes to tease me about this as I would attend some of the YP luncheons here in Dubuque prior to the pandemic. Ultimately, it is about the journey and I am still on mine and that’s what motivates me. There is no proverbial finish line. I am constantly learning and growing.

The credit union movement and particularly Dupaco allow me to be authentic. By that I mean our values of People Helping People align with my personal values and I get to live out my passion and mission to motivate and inspire others to be the best that they can be in any given moment. Regardless of if it is physically, mentally, or spiritually - day in and day out – my dedication has not changed even if my title or job description has.

After a few years at the Credit Union a colleague of mine mentioned in a meeting that I was passionate about lending. That night I went home that night asking myself if in fact that was a passion of mine. I thought it made me sound kind of boring. It was that statement that made me step back and ask myself what I was passionate about. I poured myself into trying to understand my passions by engaging mentors, reading, learning, and self-evaluating. I ultimately realized that lending was just one vehicle that helped me to live out my passion to motivate and inspire others to be their best. Those opportunities to really help me to dig in and educate members by asking questions, seeking to understand, and then helping them help themselves. My mission has been by north star ever since no matter what changes have happened.

I think many of us are falling into what could be still considered a YP criteria, there’s been a lot of change in the last year and I do feel older or wiser perhaps.

It sounds cliché but it is true. We are in constant evolution of change. I have had 4 different roles at Dupaco and 3 of them didn’t even exist when I started and my growth has certainly not been linear. In fact, when I came to Dupaco I took a step back from a monetary and job position standpoint, but I knew if I invested in the process that I would be able to grow.

It was certainly scary and a risk, but it was a risk worth taking and I am certainly glad I did. If I can impress upon the readers anything- it would be to invest in the process not the results. Certainly it’s important to have goals as they are tangible results of our efforts. However, it is ultimately our investment in the journey and the process that allow the results to take care of themselves.

We first met at ICUL conference. I was CRASHing and you were presenting with ICUL and Filene as part of the Iowa Innovation Group. Not to age us more than what we already have but this was quite a few years ago and I still remember vividly you walking out and owning the stage. It was unlike anything I had seen. A YP coming out in a room filled with aged CU Executive’s and providing the spark in so many YPs in attendance. Where does the passion come from? What did this experience do for you?

WOW! Yes this was a long time ago. I was so fortunate to be nominated by my peers at Dupaco and selected by the ICUL to patriciate in this amazing program and joint venture with Filene. If anyone ever has an opportunity to be a part of the IIG I would highly recommend it. I learned so many incredibly valuable lessons that I still use today. Being able to add value to others and helping them succeed has always been something I have been passionate about. This goes back even in high school and college where I was voted most school spirit and most inspirational. Those were two of the most meaningful awards from my peers as a young adult growing up. It wasn’t an MVP award, All Conference, or other athletic feat. It was making others feel motivated, inspired, spirited.

I remember practicing and rehearsing that presentation a million times. One important thing I had learned from a Dale Carnegie course I had the opportunity to take years prior. I was still incredibly nervous, I leaned from one of my coaches in college that nerves are ok. Nerves tell us what we are about to embark on actually means something. To not let our nerves handcuff us but instead use that as fuel to bring energy to the engagement opportunity. So that’s what I tried to do.

As a presenter, we are responsible to our audience- something I learned after from my John Maxwell training. This has also bled into other areas of my personal and professional career. We are responsible TO others, NOT FOR others. We simply cannot or should not make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. We need to engage, educate and empower them to make the best decision for themselves with ethical influence.

“We are responsible to others, not for others.” Wow that is incredible.

What this experience and others have taught me is that as Cy Wakeman says: “Your ego is not your amigo”. It is our own ego, that typically gets in the way. We are always worrying about what others will think or say. It helped me understand that I need to care more about my values and what I believe in than my feelings at any given moment. While I take what I do seriously, I do not take myself so seriously.

Emily Kress was part of my amazing group and someone I really admired who had a huge impact and was the driver of our innovation group. We are so fortunate to have her on the Dupaco team today.

After that presentation, I got some really special feedback from Andrea Dose, Andrew Downin, and Danielle Gratton that has given me more encouragement than they will ever know. It sparked a confidence in me which has allowed me to take on other speaking engagements which I hope has in turn added value to others. This experience really fortified for me that its important who we surround ourselves with. Confucius said “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room”. I loved being in the room, and learning from this experience!

I know everyone says there CRASHer fam or Innovation Class was the best and there is such value in that because each year it really does open up so many doors and opportunities for people, here we are years later still thankful and talking about it. It really makes this industry and its people special. Coming from the corporate world what was it like to get involved in the CU industry? Anything today that still shocks you in this industry.

When I first came over to the credit union it was less about the credit union and more about leaving an environment that I knew did not align with my values. The notion of people helping people and people over profits aligned with my values. Within weeks I knew this was definitely different than any other job I’d had in the past. Given my pessimism at the time, I was waiting for the 6-month honeymoon to be over. Well it’s been almost 13 years since I came to Duapco and the movement and I’m still here. While every day is not rainbows and butterflies, Dupaco and the credit union movement is something I continued to be inspired by and passionate about.

Passion is derived from the Greek word “to suffer” says to me that if it means enough, we will be willing to endure. There are great days and challenging days, but we are always working towards something bigger than ourselves and that’s what keeps me going. The integrity of our organization inspires me to try and be the best version of myself every day. If I fail, I know I have the support to help me get back up and keep moving forward.

While every business has to care about profits in order to survive to keep the lights on. Credit unions are a cooperative, first and foremost it’s about caring for the people that allows us to thrive and add value to the communities we serve. We don’t have to sell anything; we just have to help people. Maybe it’s my ignorance and bias, but I still am shocked by some in the industry who continue to push back against the credit union model of a financial cooperative. As our Chief Marketing Officer so eloquently puts it: “If we have it so great, join us and change your charter”.

Tell me about your day to day in the Credit Union.

Each day I work to serve the members on our team so they can best serve our members. That’s why I exist. It could be working through conflict resolution, digging into data analytics, working on staffing and building teams, or working on various projects that help facilitate growth in order to serve more members. Coaching team members, collaborating with our branch leaders, developing our staff through awareness and intention. Showing sincere appreciation for the work our teams do on a daily basis. I work to add value to our organization through the autonomy I am afforded to best serve our teams. Each day I show up with the mindset of trading average for excellence. Our CEO Joe Hearn reminds us all the time that “we are not perfect, but we are trying”. It has helped me understand that Integrity not perfection is always the goal.

I miss seeing Joe at every CU Event. He spoke at my CRASH class that year and I could not believe his passion. What does the younger generation of working professionals struggle with today?

Our young professionals have a ton coming at them. So much information that it’s hard to dissect it all. The struggle is real. I cannot speak for others, but as a young professional I certainly struggled with a number of challenges and obstacles and continue to do so today. The biggest obstacle we all face is our growth mindset. Everything around us saying it should be comfortable, easy, and should not feel like work. Just turn on the TV, open a social media app and you will be inundated with get rich quick, 5 easy steps to success, in a pill, a patch, or program. Unfortunately too many of us are comparing ourselves to others highlight reels.

The truth is most growth happens below the surface. For anything we want to do we may have to give up to go up, never take short cuts, and not comparing ourselves to others. Teddy Roosevelt was quoted saying “Comparison is the thief of real joy.” That is the beauty of having a growth mindset because the struggles are not an exception to the rule, they are the rule. The perseverance allows us to work through these challenges. Without them we would not have the opportunity to learn from our experiences.

John Wooden’s quote “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you did your BEST to become the best you are capable of becoming” speaks volumes to me. If we do everything, we can that is within our control with our BEST effort, then we have succeeded even if we fall short of a goal. We cannot let the lack of short-term success impact your long term significance.

Love that analogy, what else are you involved in?

I have been blessed to be a part of many other groups, teams, and opportunities to give back along my journey. I’ve realized the importance of giving back; whether that is through political advocacy, sitting on non-profit boards, or volunteering at a local event. It is so critical that we give more than we receive. While its does take finances to make our communities better, it is our time that is priceless and where we can add the most value. Tom Shinkle, our Pastor at Grandview United Methodist Church says “We must give our presence, not just our presents.”

It was not till a recent trip to DC in early 2020 (Prior to the pandemic in the US) for the GAC that I really understood the importance of political advocacy. Upon my return I attended a handful of town halls and other political events. Then COVID hit and the lock down happened. I look forward to ramping up those efforts again as we start to get back to in person events.

The most impactful group I have been a part of is our Church board. I served as Board Chair through the pandemic which was an invaluable learning experience. Our Church serves a 500+ congregation that also has childhood ministry which has been vital to serving the needs of our children and parents. It’s certainly an honor to serve others. Serving on nonprofit boards has been one of the best opportunities not only to serve others but to learn and grow as a leader.

Beyond that I am heavily involved with endurance racing. I have been blessed to be part of local groups such as the Dubuque Area Triathlon Club, as well as a coached team I am on in Madison Wisconsin, BBMC. I am also part of a National Elite team and I have been fortunate to be selected to be a part of Wattie Ink Elite team.

With all that you still make time for athletics and endurance training, talk about your athletic journey and how it has developed you as a person.

As a former collegiate athlete I had always had something to work towards physically. After graduating I spent the next 8 years with very little discipline and regard for my health and wellness. I was obese, had back problems, knee problems, high cholesterol, just to name a few. I put myself in that position, no one else. It was the accumulation of poor choices I made.

In October 2011 the collection of 3 defining moments helped change my life forever. My mothers passing, a completed a Health Risk Assessment offered from Dupaco and my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child.

It was those moments that I knew I wanted to be a positive role model and lead my children by example not just co-exist with them. The path I was on would not allow that to happen. I knew I would need help and couldn’t do it alone. I asked for the support of my wife and looked at the Galena Triathlon. A Triathlon is a swimming, biking, and running event of varied distances. I got involved with the Dubuque Area Triathlon Club which was so amazing and supportive. In May of 2012, I Finished my first Triathlon. When I crossed that finish line I knew my race was not over. It had taken me over 8 years to get where I was, I knew it was going to be a process and more importantly I knew this had to be a sustainable lifestyle change. Since then, I have lost over 80 pounds and currently maintain a healthy weight, gotten much healthier results on our Health Risk Assessment, have two beautiful daughters, and crossed many finish lines ranging from triathlons to world championships.

I had no idea when I first set out to improve my physical health the incredible and even more significant impact it would have on my mental and spiritual well-being. The pursuit to achieve my athletic abilities has taught me so many lessons and helps me work towards my human abilities. I know I am a better employee, brother, son, husband, and dad because of this journey I am on as I continue to grow. I share this story not because it separates me, or there is some victorious moment overcoming obstacles. I share it because it is human. We all have a story.

Wow that is truly inspiring, I lost my mother at a young age as well and it is extremely brave for you to share this and want to make yourself and others better as a result. I have always felt a bond with others who have lost parents at a young age. It either motivates you or ruins you.

Exactly. What lessons can we learn from those stories that will help us take ownership, lead ourselves and be better than we were yesterday so we can make an impact and help create more hope. We have to start with what makes everything possible. Our abilities, gifted to us by our creator, but what we do with those abilities is up to us.

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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