2020 Awards of Excellence-David Johnson



Dave Johnson's Nomination Letter reads:

"Direct Federal Credit Union would not exist today if not for the leadership, wisdom, and tenacity of Dave Johnson. Dave’s steadfast guiding hand helped Direct survive the mortgage crisis of 2007 and emerge as one of the fastest-growing, forward-thinking organizations in the credit union movement. Dave helped show Direct that with the right leadership, the credit union would not be a statistic in the lost column, but rather a case study for the industry on how to turn it all around. 

In 2008 Direct was in trouble. The credit union’s home equity portfolio came under attack and the credit union needed to deliberately shrink in assets to repair its balance sheet. The NCUA was actively seeking to merge the troubled organization with another institution. This story is not unique as many organizations bubbled beneath the waves of the late 2000s mortgage crisis; the difference is that Direct had Dave Johnson as its Board Chair. Dave worked closely with the senior management team to ensure that the organization would not only continue to exist but thrive. Dave rallied the Board to look past NCUA overtures of 'excellent merger partners' in favor of an internal budget strategy that would position Direct to thrive.

Dave’s leadership during the troubled times enabled management to withstand the strategic downsizing and keep the credit union viable with a strong capital foundation and future options for growth. The credit union went from $750 million assets in 2006 to $409 million in assets in 2014, but closed 2014 with a capital ratio of nearly 17%.  After enduring the hardship of downsizing, Dave led Direct back to a growth strategy that brought the credit union’s assets to $767 million at the time of his retirement in March 2020.  This represented 88% growth in just five years and brought Direct to its largest asset size ever.

The Great Recession was not the first major challenge successfully navigated by Dave.  Dave was elected to Direct’s Board in the early 1980s when the credit union’s capital ratio was under 2%.  Dave was quickly named Chair, led the search for and hired a new CEO, and by 1986 had returned the credit union to profitability.  Over the next ten years, Dave guided Direct as the credit union added over 100 select employee groups (SEGs) to its membership.

In the late 1990s Direct faced its next existential threat when the ABA successfully sued multiple-SEG credit unions forcing them to limit business to their original sponsor company.  In Direct’s case, this was Polaroid Corporation, hardly a growing, thriving organization at the time.  Dave was instrumental in converting Direct to a community charter, ensuring future opportunities for growth.

Finally, in 2014 the CEO who Dave hired in 1985 announced his retirement.  After 29 successful years together, Dave had to lead another CEO search and transition.  Ultimately, along with the full Board of Directors, Dave placed his confidence in an internal candidate. Dave mentored the new CEO through the transition providing invaluable advice on Board relations, culture, team building, strategy, and community relations just to name a few.  That candidate, Joe Walsh, was honored as one of CCUA’s CEOs of the year in 2019.  Dave is not only a tremendous leader, but someone who believes in giving all employees a chance at achieving success.

Even when not leading from the position of Board Chair, Dave Johnson embodies the mantra of servant leadership as an active Board member. Dave has participated in many credit union 'Hike the Hill' events on both the state and federal levels. He tirelessly champions the credit union movement by participating on numerous Board Committees and acting as a liaison with senior management to ensure Direct’s voice and values are heard by lawmakers and governmental agencies.  Under Dave’s leadership Direct has become one of the premier philanthropic and volunteer partners in its community and has received numerous awards and recognitions.

Dave’s passion for the credit union movement is matched only by his support and love for the employees of Direct Federal. Dave Johnson always ensures that Direct’s members and employees are taken care of first. When discussing all issues of import, Dave always asks his two principled questions:

  1. How does this effect our members?
  2. How does this effect our employees?

It is rare that one man’s influence can be felt by so many in the industry, but Dave Johnson has that effect.

In 2020 Dave announced his official retirement from Direct’s Board of Directors. Direct is not quite ready to let go of his leadership and guidance and has therefore named Dave Chairman Emeritus. Dave’s wisdom and guiding force will still be felt at Direct for years to come in his new role in 'retirement'.  In order to honor Dave’s lifetime of leadership and service, Direct created the Dave Johnson Leadership Scholarship.  This four-year, $3,000 per year scholarship will recognize, reward, and provide financial assistance to a deserving student who has demonstrated one of Dave’s strongest qualities, leadership. In the scholarship’s first year there were 75 applicants.  Dave personally reviewed the five finalists’ applications and essays in order to select the winner, Arielle Galinsky of Canton who has just begun at Tufts University.  

Perhaps Direct’s CEO, Joe Walsh, summarizes Dave’s contributions best: 'I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dave for almost 30 years.  He is the embodiment of the credit union philosophy.  He has volunteered countless hours to Direct and the movement in general so that we may all benefit from his wisdom, leadership, and steady hand.  He is a genuinely selfless individual who lives Direct’s core values of Drive, Integrity, Resilience, Engagement, Competence, and Teamwork every day.  Personally, he has been the best mentor, role model, and friend I could have asked for.  It is an understatement to say that Direct would not be the organization it is without Dave’s leadership.  Quite simply, without Dave Direct would not exist.'"