Hometown: Hemmingford, Quebec
Family: Husband, Ed
Education: A.A.S., Business Administration, Clinton Community College CUNA (Credit Union National Association) Management School through the Graduate School of Business at the University of Wisconsin at Madison
Occupation: President/CEO of UFirst Federal Credit Union
President, Plattsburgh College Foundation
Past Chairperson, North Country Chamber of Commerce
Past President, Adirondack Chapter of New York State Credit Unions
2017 Distinguished Alumni, Clinton Community College
Executive Committee Member, CVPH Foundation’s “Stepping Out for Your Heart” fundraiser, an event dedicated to the promotion of heart health for women
Loaned Executive, SUNY Plattsburgh Faculty & Staff Campaign
Annual volunteer at the Ride to Remember, which raises funds for the Third Age Adult Center for adults who have Alzheimer’s
Start Small, Dream Big
With one successful career behind her and a second in full swing, Linda Bourgeois knows what it takes to rise up within an organization. Locals know her as the current president and CEO of UFirst Federal Credit Union, where she began her career as a Member Services representative/collections officer in 1989. During her first 12 years there, Bourgeois worked her way up through management until she was named interim president and CEO in 2001. She was soon promoted to the position permanently.
UFirst Federal Credit Union is not the first place where Bourgeois was promoted from within. She began her first career in her home country of Canada as a young adult working in an entry level Canadian Customs position. Within two years she was promoted to a customs officer. A wise manager singled her out and asked her to move up to the role of acting supervisor at the young age of 23. Not knowing what to expect, and not confident in her abilities, Bourgeois took the risk and ended up meeting her first mentor. “My supervisor there taught me to always be willing to expand my horizons,” Bourgeois recalled, “I learned to not be afraid to stretch and grow.”
Recently Bourgeois sat down with Strictly Business to share her amazing work ethic, passion for her work, and some words of wisdom with our readers.
SB: What advice would you offer to someone starting his or her business career?
LB: Choose a career that you are passionate about, love what you do with dedication and pride, and share the same values as your employer. It is important to make sure you do not have tunnel vision on what you think is the perfect job for you. Keep an open mind to future possibilities of advancement within a company. Be forward thinking and always, always be willing to expand your horizons. If you’re sometimes outside of your comfort zone it’s not a bad thing. That is where you stretch and grow—outside of your comfort zone.
SB: How have the skills you learned as a customs officer helped you in your credit union career?
LB: When I was in collections and then a lending officer, I think it really helped my ability to read people. My training at Customs helped me to develop the skill, but I believe I also had it there to develop. It was a very interesting job.
SB: What qualities do you believe are necessary for success?
LB: I believe you need to be able to have empathy in order to connect effectively with people. How you act and react impacts those around you. Go to work with the willingness to be the best that you can be and dedicate yourself to it. Set realistic goals and begin the process of achieving success.
SB: If you were to start your professional career over again, what would you do differently?
LB: If I had the opportunity to do so, I would have gone to school and gotten a degree prior to beginning my work career. My mother died when I was 18, and then I was on my own. I had to work to support myself, so I started in a clerical position at Customs. I did well there and worked my way up. I was already working when I went to Clinton Community College, and I could only take one class at a time with my workload. It took me 10 years and a lot of persistence to finish.
SB: What is your style when managing your people?
LB: Manage the personalities on your team, and you manage to their skills. Years ago, the golden rule of management was, “Manage others as you would like to be managed.” But that’s changed now. My management style is very collaborative. I believe in the team approach. I seek input from all of the members of my management team. Once I have their input, I can make an informed decision and then I move forward with my decision. I’m also very mindful that as a leader, when you come in to work in the morning your attitude sets the tone of the office for the whole day. I really try to practice what I preach, which is to arrive at work with a positive attitude and check personal baggage at the door.
SB: Now that you are at the helm as CEO, do you find it hard to stay in touch with the work of helping individual people?
LB: I don’t have a hard time with that, and I think it is because of our size. I’m in the same building, and not at a corporate headquarters. I’m interacting with people here every day. I hear success stories every day. My door is always open, and my staff knows that I enjoy hearing these stories. So, they’ll stop and tell me what just happened. We have huddle meetings where we share our success stories so that everybody can hear the outcome of what’s happened.
SB: What inspires you?
LB: Nature inspires me. I am inspired by the beauty of the North Country. Every day when I leave home I see a beautiful panoramic view of the Adirondacks, and then on my drive to work I crest at a certain point on our road and I see Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains of Vermont. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t look at that and appreciate it.
SB: Do you have a favorite quotation?
LB: I once read this quote by an unknown author, “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” I saw it in a magazine years ago and I cut it out because it spoke to me. I think it summarizes my feelings perfectly.
SB: What do you do in your free time?
LB: My husband and I own quite a bit of land with beautiful trails that we like to walk or snowshoe depending on the weather. I play golf in a ladies’ league in the summer, and I enjoy tending to my perennial flower gardens. Ed and I enjoy entertaining with cocktails, good wine, delicious food and great friends!
SB: What is something no one would guess about you?
LB: As teenager, I had the opportunity to be the bilingual French/English announcer for the Dolphin Show at Parc Safari as my summer job. On many occasions in between the shows we would swim with the dolphins. It was a fantastic opportunity and experience.
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
LB: I am extremely proud to lead UFirst Federal Credit Union. I am passionate about the credit union movement, our staff, Board of Directors and the impact we have on our membership and the community at large. Our mission is to help people get to a better place financially. The credit union motto is ‘People Helping People,’ and this is what we try to live every day. It’s an honor and a privilege to do what we do. When you really have an impact and make a difference in somebody’s life that puts them in a better place, it means a lot. We get to do that daily. It’s very special.