Sbrega’s Latest Calculated Risk Taps GFA into a $1B Industry

Tina Sbrega, President/CEO, GFA Federal Credit Union, PHOTO | MATT WRIGHT

 

 

Originally published By Grant Welker, WBJournal.com

 

In the more than three decades Tina M. Sbrega has worked at GFA Federal Credit Union, the Gardner institution has grown by multitudes: from one location to nine, from a dozen employees to 100, and from $70 million in assets to $500 million.

Sbrega, GFA's CEO for the past decade, has overseen five mergers over the years, most recently in 2012. Last year, she led the credit union into what would seem to be by far the biggest endeavor in its 80-year history: It became the first financial institution in Massachusetts to serve the legal marijuana industry.

"We promised the board we'd approach this very methodically," Sbrega said of the long process of studying whether to enter the cannabis business, which included a trip to talk to bankers working with Colorado's more mature industry. "We've certainly learned a lot in a relatively short period of time."

The decision put little GFA on the map as a major player in an industry that – with only a few pot shops open statewide – has rung up more than $30 million in sales since the first stores opened late last November. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue expects the recreational part of the industry alone to generate more than $1-billion in sales in its first full fiscal year.

"Before she ventured into cannabis, whenever you move forward, there's always some risk involved," said Daniel Asquino, the former Mount Wachusett Community College president who has worked with Sbrega for 25 years. "She made certain that she connected with the right people and hired the right people."

That's not all going on with GFA these days. The credit union is building a 26,000-square-foot addition to its Gardner office and is considering adding a 10th branch this year or next.

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