How a new CEO watered the garden and watched her credit union bloom

After a decade of slow growth, Patelco hired a new CEO in 2013. Erin Mendez brought new ideas and jumpstarted a new culture at the California cooperative.

The drive from Santa Ana to Pleasanton, CA, takes just about seven hours.

Erin Mendez knows this because she made the drive nearly six years ago, when she left her post as chief operating officer at SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union ($15.9B, Santa Ana, CA) to take over the CEO role at Patelco Credit Union($6.9B, Pleasanton, CA).

“I left on a Friday and started the following Monday,” she says.

Before the opportunity arose, Mendez aspired to lead. Just not as CEO. Before joining credit unions, she worked in thrifts and savings banks where the head leader, to her, was not the CEO. It was the chief operating officer.

“My observation was that the COO really ran the bank, so that’s what I aspired to,” she says. “But when I got to credit unions, that’s when I changed my mind.” She came to realize that the CEO role was one in which she could affect the most change.


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