A drive to thrive
Growing leaders, growing business is what it’s all about for SVP Loree Gray
Loree Gray’s notion of downtime often includes exercising her green thumb. On any given sunny Sunday, you’re likely to find First West’s senior vice president of operations puttering around in her garden, watering, pruning, weeding. Growing a healthy garden can make for tough, sometimes tedious, work, but Loree loves the challenge. Frankly, it’s in her nature to nurture.
The sense of fulfillment she gets from seeing things thrive explains why Loree once planned to get her master’s degree in urban planning. She intended to take a short respite before grad studies, but being a quintessential go-getter, she was enticed by a major bank’s management training program and signed up.
“It was a bit of a risk, but it was the right risk,” says Loree. “Once I got a taste of financial services, I loved it. I didn’t look back.” After completing the program—and after only three years with the financial institution—she was promoted to branch manager at just 25 years old. Years later she had successfully worked her way up to the vice-presidency of a large international bank when she took another big leap—joining the team at First West.
Since she joined First West in 2011 as vice president of retail banking for the Envision Financial brand, Loree has made growth her misson. In the early days, her focus was credit union membership growth. The results speak for themselves—in her first year, her leadership supported a three per cent growth at a time when most credit unions struggled to attract new members.
In the last couple of years, her focus has been cultivating talent on her teams to match the growing needs of First West. Planting seeds across the organization is standard practice for Loree as she continually looks to build support for new ideas and ways of doing things.
That go-get-‘em attitude has continued to define her career. Her action-oriented approach has put her at the helm of some of the gamechanging initiatives at First West. Lean at First West, for example, has continued to flourish under Loree’s leadership since she took responsibility of continuous service improvement in 2012. She has led the successful rollout of First West’s Lean green belt certification program, growing employees into Lean-savvy, continuous improvement-minded problem solvers. That has translated into scores of wins generating nearly 30,000 hours in timesavings by streamlining processes over the last two years. Those man-hour savings are re-allocated to member service and finding new ways to create value for members.
“My attitude is: let’s try it. Instead of spending all of our time talking about why we can’t do something or focusing strictly on the risks associated , I’m an advocate of a test-and-learn approach, making continuous improvements as we work through new initiatives.”
She credits leaders throughout her career who gave her the freedom to do just that. “I’ve had leaders who have given me lots of rope,” she explains. “Now that I’m on the other end I realize just how critical that was, because operating a business requires constant re-evalution of how we get things done, whether it’s structure , people, or process. So trying new things and learning from mistakes is the approach we all should use.”
In her role today she is purposeful about trying to give her team the same sort of fertile soil she was allowed to flourish in.
“I’m passionate about people’s progress and I want to support them—whether by listening to their ideas and creating space, reallocating resources, or influencing my peers to be sponsors or champions.” By way of example, she points to an employee at First West who showed great potential as a leader, but was in a role with limited ability to lead people or new ideas.
“Enabling this person was a matter of listening to her ideas—she had such a compelling story to back it up. She recognized a need in an area that’s now become a critical focus for us. I was able to move some resources around and invited her to build a team—and she did. The new team is getting things done and advancing the credit union’s expertise and strength in this important practice.”
Emerging business opportunities and the dynamic marketplace fuel Loree’s drive to thrive. “Adding value for our members always starts with an idea or insight,” she says. “We’re constantly evaluating and working with ideas, to understand how they might shape member service in the future.” And, as always, she’s excited to help them grow.