After serving at the helm of Ascend Federal Credit Union since 2004, Caren Gabriel’s last day was last Friday. Here’s a Q&A in honor of Gabriel’s 38-year credit union career.
How long did you work within the credit union industry? How long were you at Ascend Federal Credit Union? How long did you serve as president and CEO?
I’ve worked in the credit union industry for 38 years and have been an employee of Ascend Federal Credit Union for 38 years. I joined the organization in 1985 as a staff attorney and became CEO in 2004. It has been an honor and privilege to lead such a dedicated and talented team for the past 19 years.
Looking back on your credit union career, what has been your most rewarding accomplishment?
If I had to select one accomplishment that I am most proud of, it would be the name change we underwent in 2006 from AEDC Federal Credit Union to Ascend Federal Credit Union. The rebrand allowed us to expand our footprint and serve more members across Middle Tennessee. When I became CEO, we served 117,000 members from 12 branch locations. Today, Ascend proudly serves over 258,000 members from 27 branches.
What propelled you to stay within the credit union industry?
Working in the credit union industry, especially at Ascend, is rewarding because we prioritize our members’ well-being. For the past 18 years, we’ve returned over $100 million to our members in the form of bonus dividend payments and loan interest refunds. We also partner with local organizations to give back to the Middle Tennessee community. Credit unions are truly special because they make such a significant impact.
Who was instrumental in your career?
I have been asked many times lately about the importance of mentors during my career. When asked that, I always say that unbeknownst to him, Tom Gaines, the former president of the League, was an important mentor to me. I served on the board for two 6-year terms while he was president, and I observed his professionalism and how he worked with boards.
What advice do you have for young professionals?
My advice for young professionals, particularly women, is to work hard, seek out mentors, be a lifelong learner, and lean on “your village” for help with personal challenges. Your family and friends will always be there to walk with you during difficult times, especially during those moments of “Mom Guilt.”
What’s next for you? What are you most looking forward to in retirement?
As I step into retirement, I look forward to spending more time with my family and grandchildren. I am also excited to continue my work with various industry and community organizations where I might be of service. However, I will always have a passion for the credit union industry and will continue to support it in any way I can.