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Profile — Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Marla Shepard Embodies Santel Federal’s Belief in People Helping People

Marla Shepard started work as a teller at Santel Federal Credit Union in August 1972 and within a couple of months on the job, she decided that she’d like to be president and CEO of the then-small credit union.

At the time, the credit union was called the Telephone Employees of San Diego Credit Union and had $9 million in assets and one Downtown office. It wasn’t long after she made the decision to seek more responsibility that she began to move up the ladder.

Since 1983, Shepard has been the president and CEO of the credit union, which has since grown to $352 million in assets.

It is now the seventh-largest credit union in San Diego County with 12 branch offices and 125 employees, according to Shepard and the San Diego Business Journal’s 2000 Book of Lists.

“I liked the credit union’s philosophy of people helping people and liked making loans to those who might not otherwise qualify for a loan,” Shepard says.

Along the way she learned certain management skills she says are crucial to her success.

It wasn’t a fast trip to the top, however, for the Dragerton, Utah, native. The daughter of a coal miner who was disabled on the job, she learned the value of persistence and hard work from her parents, who recovered from the trauma of her father’s injury to become successful farmers in Grand Junction, Colo.

“We raised milk cows, corn, pigs and chickens,” Shepard recalls. “It was a very small farm, but my folks always managed to make ends meet.”


While a student at Clifton High School in Grand Junction, she participated in the girls drill team, but her favorite pastime was hanging out at the school and public libraries, absorbing as much knowledge as she could.

While attending the University of Colorado at Boulder, she met her first husband, an active-duty U.S. Marine.

It was after a 1969 transfer to San Diego that she entered the credit union industry, starting out as a teller at the Naval Hospital Federal Credit Union, now called the San Diego Medical Federal Credit Union.

“I liked the way the credit union was able to help young hospital corpsmen get their first extension of credit,” she said. “A lot of the fellows wouldn’t have been able to get credit if it hadn’t been for their credit union membership.”

In 1972, she moved over to a teller job at the telephone employee’s credit union and decided her goal was the president’s office.

“I had learned in school that anyone who tried could be a president and CEO, so I made that my ambition,” Shepard says.

She moved to a collections job at the thrift in 1974, and it taught her a lot about persistence and follow-through, because frequent telephone contacts with delinquent debtors were necessary to ensure they would start paying their debts, she says.

“Almost everyone would like to pay their bills and by working with people to understand their situation, I found that I was more effective at collections,” Shepard says.

Expanding Responsibilities

After learning the ropes in the collections department, Shepard was appointed a branch manager of the credit union’s Downtown office in 1976. She held that job for two years before she was promoted to vice president.

“That was where I learned to work with employees,” she says of her tenure as a branch manager.

She also developed several maxims to guide her:

– You can handle any difficult situation and it will come out all right if you show respect for the other person.

– Follow up and follow through on anything that’s been assigned.

– When you make a new policy, be careful to ensure in the beginning that it is done correctly, and later on there will be fewer errors.

– Make your employees know that you are working as hard as they are.

– It’s always easier to deal with performance problems early.

She was later made vice president of the credit union and in that position, she oversaw the loan department and branch office operations.

Growth Plan

When she took over the top spot at Santel in 1983, it had $48 million in assets and three branches. She said the growth of the credit union is due to an early strategic plan to grow and giving good service to credit union members. Reliance on technology such as an online bill-paying service has also been important, she says.

Last year, Santel’s assets grew by more than 18 percent, compared to a national average growth rate of 8 percent for credit unions.

Shepard is active politically, serving on the policy advocacy committee for the Credit Union CEO Association of San Diego County. In 1998, she worked to help pass HR-1151, a congressional measure that extended credit union membership to more people. She has also served as chair of the California Credit Union League’s Government Relations Committee.

Shepard and her second husband, Randy Moore, an attorney who represents credit unions, were married in 1985. They have two children, James, 11, and Rebecca, 9. Shepard recently returned from a fishing trip to the Kenai River in Alaska, where they own a cabin.

Parenting activities occupy most of her spare time. She serves on a parents committee at Del Mar Pines Elementary School.

Shepard’s also interested in environmental and consumer issues as a member of the California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG).

Her favorite classical music composer is Wolfgang Mozart, but Shepard also enjoys listening to 1950s-era rock ‘n’ roll. Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged,” is her favorite book of fiction.

She no longer runs six to eight miles a day, but she still jogs and rides an exercise bicycle.

Nancy Chase, owner of the San Diego-based Chase Group, a public affairs consulting firm, met Shepard while their sons were attending preschool in 1994. The women became friends and later worked together on helping stop congressional legislation that would hurt the credit union industry.

“Marla is a tenacious, smart, totally dedicated professional who’s been in her industry all of her adult life and has risen from teller to president,” Chase says. “She knows where to focus her energies and you don’t have to connect the dots for her. When she says she’s going to do something, she does it.”

Deferring Credit

Chase calls her a quiet and unassuming leader who always gives the credit to her colleagues.

“I’d love to see her run for political office some day because I think she would make a very good elected official,” Chase says.

Robin Lentz, president of San Diego-based Cabrillo Federal Credit Union, echoed her comments about Shepard.

“Marla performs very well on committees,” Lenz says. “She’s very thorough, has good follow-up skills and is very pragmatic. She’s also very good at fund-raising.”

Shepard put on a fund-raising event for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer two years ago that was a tremendous success, Lentz says. Her efforts on the event earned her an award from the California Credit Union League.

“Marla is a very sincere and dedicated individual who has very good follow-through and organizational skills,” Lentz says.


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