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Rondel Cuyler of Sharonview Federal Credit Union: “I think you have to recognize the many forms diversity can take”

First, I think you have to recognize the many forms diversity can take. It’s not just about gender and race. It’s about diversity of thought, diversity of experiences, diversity of how you see things. Don’t have a narrow definition of diversity. Secondly, a team can make a better decision than any one individual — but only if […]

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First, I think you have to recognize the many forms diversity can take. It’s not just about gender and race. It’s about diversity of thought, diversity of experiences, diversity of how you see things. Don’t have a narrow definition of diversity.

Secondly, a team can make a better decision than any one individual — but only if the team isn’t made of all people who are the same age, gender and skin color. If everyone on a team looks and thinks exactly the same, you’re going to overlook something.

Third, customers need to be able to see themselves in the faces of those who serve them or do business with them. We do business with people. We build relationships and form connections with people. It shouldn’t be so rare that we see ourselves reflected back.


I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rondel Cuyler.

Rondel Cuyler is senior vice president for marketing, communications & member engagement at Sharonview Federal Credit Union, one of the country’s top 200 credit unions.

As chief storyteller at Sharonview, Rondel amplifies and strengthens the organization’s brand and corporate story in all external and internal communications, marketing and advertising.

As a member of Sharonview’s executive leadership team, Rondel develops programs to ensure the company meets and exceeds its business plan for service, growth and profitability. She and her team analyze market trends and build comprehensive marketing and member engagement plans for the achievement of the credit union’s business objectives.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always wanted to make it to the top of my profession. That’s been a dream since I began my career in marketing and communications 30 years ago. I was willing to work hard and take on big challenges to make it happen.

I didn’t start out in financial services; I started in the grocery business. I’m grateful I’ve been able to use my skills across industries. Grocery stores and financial services couldn’t be more different from each other, but both are essential to people’s lives.

Four years into my career at the first (and only) credit union I’ve ever worked for, I got my dream job. I was named senior vice president of marketing, communications & member engagement at Sharonview Federal Credit Union. I report directly to President and CEO Bill Partin and am a member of the executive leadership team. I’m one of two people of color and the only woman on that team.

Before I arrived, Sharonview relied mostly on word-of-mouth marketing — as many community-based, not-for-profit credit unions do. I created and implemented a marketing program that included everything from billboards and radio and Pandora ads to partnerships with University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s sports programs and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. I even oversaw production of our first (and only, so far) Super Bowl commercial.

I appreciate where I am now. But I’ll never forget the person I was at each step in my journey, when I was reaching and working for the next rung on the career ladder. I can relate to people in that position, because I’ve been there.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Being the only woman on Sharonview’s executive leadership team can make for some interesting moments. I sometimes think differently than the other leaders — because I am different. When we first started hearing about COVID-19 in early 2020, my male colleagues didn’t think it was going to be a big deal.

Even our CEO, Bill Partin, has acknowledged that I was first to raise concern and urge the company to start planning for doing business in a pandemic. A year later, he was asked by an employee what he could have done differently in 2020, and his answer was, “I wish we had listened to Rondel sooner.”

The important thing is my colleagues did listen, and we all got to work. I didn’t have a crystal ball. I didn’t know what was coming, but I knew it would alter our lives and the way we work. I think women are just naturally attuned to what’s going on. The first person to sound the alarm at the national level about the severity of COVID-19 was — not surprisingly — a woman. Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC warned Americans last February about how serious this virus was.

People sometimes say: Oh, you must be a mom and a nurturer. But I don’t have children. This isn’t about being maternal. It’s about doing right by people. I’m an ISTJ [on the Myers Briggs scale] so, for me, it’s all about thinking and analyzing. It’s not necessarily feeling. It’s just looking at enough facts, and saying: “That doesn’t make sense. This is what we should be doing.”

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Back in the day, I was a deli bakery buyer at Food Lion. And we had an ad for BOGO (buy one-get one) cupcakes. If you bought 24 cupcakes, you got 24 for free. It was right around the time of graduations — college and high school — and was timed to coincide with those celebrations. This seemed like such a straightforward assignment.

What I failed to do was order the icing that goes on the cupcakes. I don’t know how I missed it. We had plenty of cupcakes to accommodate every order. But we didn’t have enough frosting. The store had whatever was in inventory — but it wasn’t enough for all those cupcakes.

I kept trying to get caught up, but there was no way. People would call to order cupcakes with white frosting, and we’d have to say, “We only have blue.”

We started getting phone calls from people saying we had “ruined graduation.”

It’s funny — sort of — to think back on now. But it was a nightmare then. The lesson I learned and have never forgotten: Think beyond the obvious. Don’t just think about the literal assignment. Consider what you might be missing.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?

First, I think you have to recognize the many forms diversity can take. It’s not just about gender and race. It’s about diversity of thought, diversity of experiences, diversity of how you see things. Don’t have a narrow definition of diversity.

Secondly, a team can make a better decision than any one individual — but only if the team isn’t made of all people who are the same age, gender and skin color. If everyone on a team looks and thinks exactly the same, you’re going to overlook something.

Third, customers need to be able to see themselves in the faces of those who serve them or do business with them. We do business with people. We build relationships and form connections with people. It shouldn’t be so rare that we see ourselves reflected back.

More broadly, can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?

Thinking about Sharonview’s culture, I know that if our leadership team is reflective of our employee population, there’s more potential that our decisions will account for everyone’s needs. If you have a room full of people who all look alike — in any way, that’s probably not reflective of your modern employee base. You’re going to miss what could be important because you don’t have enough perspectives and variety in that room.

At Sharonview, we have more women than men on our frontline. We need a woman (or women) at the leadership table to represent them.

We know we still have work to do to diversify our leadership team. It’s always a work in progress. And for the same reasons it matters at Sharonview, we need more women CEOs, more women in Congress and more women in the judiciary. More women in leadership roles. Period.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?

First, open up your searches. Don’t always look in traditional places for your talent. I came from the grocery industry. If Sharonview had not evaluated my transferable skills, somebody would have passed on me and found a candidate from financial services. Don’t always look in the same places and where you’re most comfortable.

Next, if you hire a search firm, look at how diverse they are. If they’re all white men, how effective are they going to be at finding diverse candidates? If you hire an ad agency, look at how multicultural they are. You’ll miss a perspective if you don’t ensure you have diversity at every step.

Lastly, find out where other groups live and work. If you want to reach Latinos, know where they gather, what’s important to them. Don’t stand inside, where you’ve always stood, expecting something different to come through the door.

How do you define “leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is good character, first of all. A leader wants something better for others. Leadership is about influence, but it’s not about control. It’s not about orders.

When I think about my team, I don’t think of myself as their leader. I’m more of a coach who’s trying to help them attain their personal best.

And I think beyond my marketing and communications team to every employee’s experience. At the executive leadership table, you should be thinking about everyone and not just your team.

If your company is making a profit but you’re treating your people poorly, you’re not doing it right. Leaders have to use their power for good. Be mindful of who’s following you and what you are asking people to do. And would you do it yourself?

Leadership is influencing others to go along on a journey with you — a journey in which everyone benefits.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

The first one is: Money doesn’t make you make you happy. I chased money for a long time, only to find that it leads to temporary satisfaction. If you’re just working for a paycheck and not for a passion, that’ll get old in a hurry.

Second: I wish someone told me that titles don’t make you powerful or a leader. I wish someone had told me that early because I think as much as I was chasing dollars, I was also chasing titles. You can be a leader without a title.

Once I realized that a title didn’t make you — that it was your actions that made you — it changed everything. If you have a good idea, speak up. Someone will listen to you regardless of what your title is.

The third thing is: Don’t spend so much time focusing on your weaknesses and trying to make them better. Working to make your strengths even stronger is a better use of your time and effort. Make your strengths better, but don’t let your weaknesses slip further. When you’re always focusing on something that you’re just going to be OK at, you’re neglecting what you’re good at and where you want to spend your energy.

Whatever your weakness is, there’s somebody else in your organization for whom that’s a strength — somebody who enjoys doing that which you don’t enjoy. That’s a win/win.

Four: I wish somebody had told me early on to have a mentor. Too often, we wait until we don’t get something we want to look for a mentor to help us get it. You should have a mentor because you’re going into uncharted territory, and you don’t know what you don’t know.

Last one: Don’t let your work define you. Don’t let the job define you. Sometimes, marketing people get a bad rap. People may think we’re the creatives and the dreamers and that we don’t have any business acumen. I let people know: You can ask me about numbers, too. I understand budgeting and finance.

As I’ve gotten older, I have found what I’m passionate about. I have focused, and I have made better decisions. I think when I first started, I wanted people to know me as a hard worker. That was enough. I’m still a proponent of hard work, but I now focus on how I can help other people achieve their goals.

We all start out our careers focused on ourselves. But if you continue down that path for the duration, your career is not going to mean much. You realize at some point it’s about other people.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There’s so much, so many things that pull at me.

Homelessness is a big one. In nature, we find ways to recreate environments for various species to thrive. We can capture a shark and give it the environment that’s it’s accustomed to.

But we can’t figure out how to create environments for humans to thrive and be successful? I don’t understand that.

For the homeless, it’s about more — or should be about more — than a temporary roof or one hot meal at a time. We need to examine the values that allow homelessness to continue. And then maybe we can create an environment in which everyone is valued and can thrive.

Racism is another issue I think about often. I don’t understand how, as a nation, America has accomplished so much. But we can’t get to the root cause of why racism is still so prevalent.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

What’s done is done, but the ending — that’s up to you. You can change the way your story will end. When you have a bad chapter in your life, don’t reread that chapter. You want to spend time getting to the part where you are more satisfied with how your life is built.

I’ll go back to the cupcakes. That was a big mistake I made early in my career. I’m not suggesting I haven’t made mistakes since. I just make different ones. I was not going to be known as the employee who forgot to order icing.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have a meal with Oprah Winfrey. I would ask about her focus and how she knows when it’s time to move on to her next project. She has had a multidimensional career and has not just welcomed — but looked for — new challenges. I would ask how she stays so poised and professional no matter what.

She’s someone who’s used her considerable influence for good, and I admire that.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on LinkedIn — and believe I’m the only Rondel Cuyler on the professional networking platform. Sharonview Federal Credit Union is also on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


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