We all have that one friend. The one we say lights up the room and brightens anything they touch. They’re the one who finds joy and gratitude in all things and spend their time lifting others, spreading words of encouragement, and laughter. If Webster’s had a dictionary of people Susan Tant would be among the names listed.
She defines herself as a social butterfly and says she “flutters a lot” with that large, warm smile of hers. Joy just seeps from every inch of her. You can’t help but instantly be drawn in. What’s the secret you wonder? To ask Susan she would say it’s pretty simple. She’s nice. We’ve all grown up being taught the “Golden Rule” yet some people in society find it challenging…but not Susan Tant. Her career with credit unions began in 1982. Everyone has a story and when Susan has a new employee she shares hers. “I think it can serve as a source of encouragement. I began as a teller at a bank. I was nice to everyone. I made it a point to be. Some of my coworkers were harder to get along with but I was nice. One of our regular customers was Sara Broxterman (former CEO of Kimberly Clark CU Memphis). Back then credit unions couldn’t go to the Federal Reserve Bank. They had to go to a bank to deposit the checks. It was the only means to get them into the system. She was friendly and we chatted a lot. To Sara, I was nice. One day Sara approached me and asked if I had ever thought about working at a credit union. I told her that I was very interested. She mentored me. She believed in me and better yet she showed me she believed in me. She invested in me and paid for me to get my CCUE and she would give me things to do. One time in particular she asked me to write an article for the sponsor newsletter. I had no clue how to do this but I studied and researched and got it published. The article was about an ant and a grasshopper. The ant had gone to visit the grasshopper in the hospital and told him he should’ve gotten credit disability on his loans. Looking back I don’t know how she put up with a 27-year-old office butterfly but she did and here I am. She believed in me especially during a time that was personally hard for me in my home life. You just never know what people are going through. Anything Sara threw at me I took it. I wanted so bad to learn. She gave me so many opportunities.”
We’ve all had positions that haven’t been our favorite. As we mature in our careers we look back and see the character building that was taking place. Susan reflected on her beginnings as a teller “Looking back it was a gift that was given to me to have that experience. Other people can get this opportunity if you just put in the work. As a leader just show me what you can do. You have to listen to the employees, even before you’re in a position of leadership. Some people come from a situation in life where they feel unwanted and unvalued. Even those are a gift even if at the time they don’t feel like they are. To think, at one point, I thought I didn’t matter. Then you meet people along the way and it shifts the perspective. Reflecting on a time when I helped a member straighten his finances he still reaches out from time to time and reinstates that he will never forget what I did for him.”
I have to completely agree with her here. I believe some people are lucky enough in life to work somewhere they enjoy with colleagues they get along with, etc. I firmly believe that working in the credit union industry and building lifelong relationships with people is an entirely different situation. Credit unions do that for people. I spent nearly 10 years of my life working for credit unions. My 7-year tenure with one of the credit unions awarded me with being surrounded by some tremendously caring people. Even though I left over 9 years ago I still keep in touch with many of the members and colleagues. It truly is a credit union difference. I further agree with Susan’s opinion when she said “I believe I was divinely placed by God exactly where I was then and where I am today.”
I’m always curious to know what people wanted to be when they grew up. I think it tells you more about that person in one sentence. Susan wanted to be a teacher. She laughingly joked “maybe even a dance teacher. Even though I never became a teacher there are similar aspects when you’re a CEO or serving as a leader.” It’s a juggling act of keeping the credit union moving forward, keeping the staff happy, teaching the employees, keeping the members happy, keeping the board happy.” So really she was a teacher after all. Outside of work Susan has been learning how to do flower arrangements and will be graduating from that class soon. She added, “I’m also very involved in my church. I do cross-stitch and embroidery. They are a lost art. If anyone knows me at all they know there is one thing I will be doing in retirement is dancing. I love to dance. You can say my name and people automatically know I love to dance. It is in my bones. My husband jokes that I can dance to elevator music.”
Anyone that has been around Susan for more than 5 minutes can immediately notice how engaged she is. I asked her what has defined success for her in her 40+ year career span. She says “I got to be CEO by being nice to people. Everyone has a story. No one gets to where they are in life by themselves. Just be nice. You have to step aside, check egos at the door so to speak. Success doesn’t come from the things you do it comes from the differences you make.” She added “you have to ask yourself what are the needs of others? Success isn’t marked by money and it isn’t marked by stuff. It’s marked by the things that take your breath away. ” Our conversation had me thinking hard about life. It made me look within and ask myself what kind of impact have I left on people? Have I done all I can as a person? Have I given the best version of myself? I think we can all serve those around us by taking a moment of self-reflection from time to time. It makes me think heavily about the word legacy. I believe there are different types of legacies. Of course, we have the one we leave when we leave our Earthly home but then there are legacies when our time sunsets somewhere. Whether that be somewhere you work or somewhere you’ve volunteered, extracurricular activity, etc. Ask yourself…what is the impact I made? What is the impression I leave when I am no longer in this room or part of this group? Susan shared “One thing I hope they say about me is that I cared about them. Because I did. I really did. I couldn’t do this job without them. I also hope that they grew and that they learned something they can take with them wherever life leads them. Ultimately success comes to you by giving.”
Susan retired on December 31, 2021. I asked her what her last thoughts were to pass on and she said, “I didn’t get where I am by myself. So many awesome people have been placed in my path along the way. I am very satisfied with my career and I am ready for my next lesson. I’m going to take the lessons and experiences from my credit union career and take them with me into my retirement. It has truly been a fantastic ride and I am here to tell you that you can go from being a teller at a drive-thru window to being the CEO. You can do this! It can be a career. If I stood before emerging leaders or those who are starting their careers I would share this…credit unions can be a great career. If you’re fortunate enough to work for a credit union know that you’re in a close-knit industry. Unlike banks, we associate and help each other. Knowledge is power. The more you learn the more valuable you become. Consider every opportunity offered. Chapter meetings are a great place to learn about credit unions. Those meetings provided intimate networking with like minds. It gave me the perspective to take time to step back and forget about myself. Think about your colleagues, the members, the things they may be facing. You have to decide if you want to be seen as a bright light or a broken bulb. What are you going to be? One year at Christmas, the only gift I received was from the girl who drew my name at work. While Christmas isn’t about gifts, this one, in particular, came at a time when I felt I didn’t matter. I remember when she gave me the gift and smiled at me I felt like she really saw me. I mattered. Something as simple as that can help someone else even when you don’t realize it.”