Know your worth. There is tremendous value in knowing your worth, whether it’s your own, your team’s or your organization’s. This is especially true when it comes to negotiation. When I was first offered a C-level position, I allowed sheer flattery to cloud my actions. I accepted the salary and benefits that were offered. Since then, I’ve learned to take time and consider all my options, and then negotiate based on the value I bring to the table. It’s a lesson I’ve been able to transfer to all kinds of opportunities, from mergers and acquisitions to advocating for team members.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Shazia Manus, a tenured financial services executive who has led two organizations as CEO. She is currently serving as the chief strategy and business development officer for CUNA Mutual AdvantEdge Analytics, where she helps credit unions determine the critical next steps in their journey to data maturity and digital transformation.
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 am a native of Bangladesh. Although it’s among the poorest nations in the world, education is highly valued. When I was growing up, there was just one accredited university for any given field, so admission space was very limited. More than 40,000 students sat for the entrance exam course the same year I did. For an undergraduate degree in economics, my field of choice, there were only 80 seats available. Ultimately, I was successful at securing one of those seats in the economics department, but due to political instability in the country, however, I had to wait more than a year before I could begin college.
Instead of sitting at home and wasting time, I decided to do something constructive. So, I started a few businesses: a tutoring program, a clothing boutique and a café. Becoming an entrepreneur at age 17 teaches you a lot of lessons, not least of which is the power of financial freedom. After moving to the United States and earning a graduate degree in economics from Iowa State University, I discovered the credit union movement. Given its mission-based charge to help solidify financial wellness to create meaningful change in people’s lives, it was something of a full-circle moment for me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
About a year into joining CUNA Mutual AdvantEdge Analytics, I gave a TED-style talk on artificial intelligence for an audience of credit union leaders. The response to that session wasn’t one I anticipated. I expected to hear from attendees that the technology was too far outside the human-centric mission of credit unions.
Instead, the executives who came up to me after were fully engaged in the idea of machines and humans working together to create a better future.
They saw enormous potential for the technology to work to empower rather than overpower the people who make the credit union industry distinctive. I was really inspired and humbled to be a part of a community that has exhibited such openness to change and willingness to embrace a brighter future and better experiences for the people we serve.
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?
In 2005, I was serving as chief deposit officer for a credit union when the president and CEO unexpectedly resigned. Without a succession plan, the board was in need of an interim CEO. I clearly remember the moment (down to what I was wearing!) when the board chairman asked me to step into the interim CEO role. I also remember my legs shaking, because there was so much at stake. Here I was being asked to take the helm of a $190-million financial institution that was facing a number of challenges — profitability, regulatory scrutiny and cultural nuances resulting from a very aggressive growth strategy.
Six months later, on Valentine’s Day, the chair of the board’s HR committee called to say they had narrowed the field of 25 candidates for the permanent CEO position down to two, and that the board wanted me to apply. You asked about a funny mistake… I actually thought it was a prank.
Here I was, six months into doing a great job for the credit union, and I still lacked the confidence to believe this call was real. But, it certainly was. I ended up going through with the request and was ultimately selected as the credit union’s youngest and first-ever female CEO.
Here’s what I learned from that experience: Not believing in yourself is the surest way to derail your career. When opportunity knocks, you have to answer. You will not have all the answers on day one, but that’s no reason to avoid the challenge.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The field of data analytics is still evolving, so there is a lot of diversity simply by the nature of our discipline. However, AdvantEdge Analytics is distinctive because we are intentional about leading with the business problem our credit union clients want to solve. We don’t force one technology or one solution, which makes a lot of sense when you think about the exponential changes every technology solution is going through right now.
Instead, we work with the credit union to identify the areas where data can have the greatest impact on the experience they deliver to their members, the efficiency they offer their staff or the value they bring to the community they serve. Only then do we begin consultation around configuring the right solution(s) that align to their strategy.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have partnered with Microsoft to build an industry utility data platform that will help credit unions accelerate their digital transformation strategies. Like many incumbent organizations, credit unions operate within an intensely fragmented ecosystem. Each of today’s 5,800 credit unions is composed of 10 or more systems. Every one of those systems is offered to the industry by 10 to 15 different providers, each offering unique levels of customization to every credit union.
Aside from the obvious data challenges this fragmentation presents, it also makes it difficult for credit unions to plug new solutions into their systems. That kind of challenge cripples transformation and acts as a real hurdle to business agility.
To tackle this hurdle, we’re working on a single platform capable of seamlessly installing various data solutions from multiple providers. Our vision for this platform is to feed the financial services ecosystem of the future, where consumers have options for hand-crafting their own financial services solution set and can interact with it from a single entry point.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Too often, young (and even some tenured) female leaders pigeonhole themselves because of perceived expectations — of family, society, colleagues or another community to which they belong. That’s so limiting. Teams thrive when they see leaders take calculated risks. It’s even better if those risks end in failure. That’s right — “failure” is not an F word. It’s how we learn. Let your team see you believe in yourself, and in them, so much that you try new things. Fail fast, fail forward, and you will be setting a great example that will stick with your team no matter where they end up in their careers or lives.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Early on, identify the influencers. These are the people who may not have the organizational authority, but certainly have the respect and admiration of their peers. They will help you solidify strategy and generate the type of culture you need to reach your goals.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My grandfather was my first and foremost life coach and mentor, and I am beyond grateful to have had his support and encouragement.
From an early age, I was a bit of a rebel. I exercised my intellectual curiosity and intense yearning to defy the odds. It proved to be quite challenging to develop a sense of self in an area of the world that relegates women to second-class status. Fortunately for me, my grandfather recognized my talents. He played an influential role in my development, especially around confidence and self-esteem. He moved mountains to ensure I had the same opportunities as my brothers.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have a strong conviction around helping the credit union movement continue to grow and thrive. A healthy credit union industry is a healthy country, as credit unions create pockets of hope and financial success that spread throughout a community. The industry’s continued growth is evidence that “doing well by doing good” is a viable model — in business and in non-profit pursuits.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Advocate for others. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the executives, mentors and colleagues who believed in me. They encouraged me to be more and not settle for less. We each have the ability and responsibility to be a positive influence, creating a better world for others.
2) Be intentional about diversity. Diversity and inclusion strengthen debate and produce stronger outcomes. Take women, for example. The great asset women bring to positions of influence is not this idea of a nurturing, caring, maternal figure. Our strength is our perspective — the ability to think differently and to ask the questions others may not.
3) Know your worth. There is tremendous value in knowing your worth, whether it’s your own, your team’s or your organization’s. This is especially true when it comes to negotiation. When I was first offered a C-level position, I allowed sheer flattery to cloud my actions. I accepted the salary and benefits that were offered. Since then, I’ve learned to take time and consider all my options, and then negotiate based on the value I bring to the table. It’s a lesson I’ve been able to transfer to all kinds of opportunities, from mergers and acquisitions to advocating for team members.
4) Take risks. To achieve greater success sometimes requires us to embrace the unknown. I do a lot of talking about the exploit and explore philosophy as I travel the country. It’s the idea of building up corporate ambidexterity by continuing to do what you do best while looking around and ahead to what you may do even better tomorrow.
5) Build your network. And be bold about it. Don’t be afraid to ask for 10 minutes with the people you feel in your gut can help you become better. The worst that happens is they say no. At least they know you are a gutsy, tenacious person who saw something in them you admired.
You are a person of great 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.
It already exists! The credit union movement has brought about monumental change in the lives of millions and continues to do so as it grows. The generations of people just starting out in life (older Gen Z and younger Millennials) have been studied intensely, and all the research indicates they want to do business with institutions that are making a difference. They want to feel connected to something larger than themselves. Given their community affinity, their mission-orientated nature, and their structure in which every member is a shareholder in the larger cooperative,
That said, the members of these same generations have majorly high expectations of the organizations they choose to bring into their lives. Thanks to the experiences high-profile digital brands have introduced, they expect engagement to be highly personalized, fast and predictive. That is the experience we are working to help credit unions deliver, and we believe data is absolutely the key to getting there.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Princess Diana said, “I don’t go by the rule book. I lead from the heart, not the head.” I have never been a big fan of rules either, especially the unwritten kind.
My admiration for the second half of that quote may surprise some people, especially because I’m such a nerd about data and the science behind it. Data analytics has a tendency to sound more “head” than “heart.” However, data analytics starts with a hypothesis and works to either prove or disprove that hypothesis. In the credit union space, those hypotheses often come from the heart — or from the super keen sense of purpose the credit union’s leadership has. Data helps them get to the root of their members’ pain or shine a light on the opportunity within reach for their cooperative. That’s why I love what we do.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn is the best place to connect with me. linkedin.com/in/shazia-manus-88415b47/
Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!