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From mailroom to MBA in the making

The steady trajectory of scholarship winner Adam Fraser

Adam Fraser
Adam Fraser, wife Candice and daughter Addison

It sounds like an old movie cliché, but Adam Fraser’s flourishing career really did start in the mailroom.

The setting wasn’t glitzy Hollywood, though. It was beautiful Nanaimo, British Columbia – the city he’s called home since the age of five. And the job was a summer one at Coastal Community Credit Union (42,000 members, $1.8 billion in assets).

“That was my first taste of [the credit union system],” recalls Adam, 28, recipient of the 2014 National Credit Union Young Leaders Award, a $10,000 annual scholarship issued by Credit Union Central of Canada (CUCC). “More than anything, my time in the mailroom was an opportunity to get to know a pretty large group of people – from our executive to those who work in central operations. The job itself was kind of monotonous, but it was a great way to connect.”

Back in the credit union fold

After getting his undergraduate degree, Adam flirted with chartered banks. He worked in one for a time and his career there was on the rise. But ultimately he found it was a poor fit for his personality – a personality that places solid values above all else. So he returned to the credit union fold.

“One of the things that drew me back to Coastal was that while I knew I’d be working with a tight, local and responsive community”

—Adam Fraser, recipient of the 2014 National Credit Union Young Leaders Award

“One of the things that drew me back to Coastal was that while I knew I’d be working with a tight, local and responsive community, I would also be part of this vast global network of cooperatives making a difference,” he says. “That was tremendously appealing.”

In his current role as a commercial lender at Coastal Community, Adam is one of several rising stars at the credit union. He says it’s an environment that supports young leadership – and that excites him. “We’re going to have a lot of people reaching retirement age in the next few years,” he points out. “That’s where my passion comes in. How do we connect the next generation of leaders with the current generation of leaders and create opportunities for knowledge transfer?”

‘An outstanding young leader’

Opportunity. Connection. The words help define Adam’s approach to life. They’re also the main concepts behind the essay and presentation that propelled him to the forefront of five finalists competing for CUCC’s 11th annual scholarship. Nominated in late 2013 by his CEO, Adrian Legin, Adam fulfilled his submission requirement by writing about opening doors for others using the success he’s had and the role he’s played at Coastal as an example.

“He’s an outstanding young leader,” says Bruno Dragani, chief people and administration officer at Coastal. “I’d been working with young leaders at Coastal and we created a young leaders’ network. We wanted to develop individuals for succession planning. He almost immediately hit my radar. He started to evolve very, very quickly.” As examples, Dragani cites videos that Adam produced as well as his involvement in a book club pairing executives with protégés.

The Leadership Award has opened some promising doors for Adam. “I was invited to join the National Young Leaders Committee – a great way to connect with people from across the system and to work on projects that give back to the system,” he says. “[I developed] great friendships with the other finalists. I got to know four amazing people who are committed to making the credit union system a better place.”

Focusing on education

A graduate in business administration from Vancouver Island University, Adam is using the $10,000 to take a combination online-on-site masters in the same subject, with a focus on leadership, at Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C. He’s pumped about pursuing his education – and grateful for the chance to bring new knowledge back to the credit union. Adam appreciates that the credit union helps young leaders pursue MBAs by offering flextime and financial assistance. “Every year we encourage at least one or two individuals to apply to the program,” says Dragani.

Coastal Community’s accommodating policies, along with winning the scholarship, made it easier for Adam, who has an 18-monthold daughter, to go for the graduate degree. “I wouldn’t be able to get involved the way I have been without the full support of my amazing and wonderful wife,” says Adam, adding that taking some online courses helps. “[The MBA program is] fairly structured but not necessarily scheduled,” he says. “It allows me to pick and choose where I can carve out a few hours to focus.”

Giving back

He has to measure his time carefully. Besides his day job, he sits on several boards in Nanaimo, including the Oceanside Development and Construction Association. As well, he’s an active member of the Young Professionals of Nanaimo and is on the executive team of Coastal’s young leaders network – a group that has its sights set on spearheading a B.C.-wide organization.

It’s the latter role that really drives Adam. “My day job is definitely a passion, but what really fires me up about working within the credit union system is the opportunities I have to get involved [with] young leaders and business development. Things like that are what make this a really attractive place to work. I get to develop my leadership skills outside of my day job – something that really engages me,” he says.

“My day job is definitely a passion, but what really fires me up about working within the credit union system is the opportunities I have to get involved [with] young leaders and business development”

—Adam Fraser

That passion is mirrored in the encouragement he’s gotten from the credit union community. “The support that I’ve had from our whole team at every level has been amazing,” he says. “Our young leaders’ group and the young leaders in this company get tremendous [backing]. You definitely see that across the system as well. CEOs are excited to sit down with young leaders and chat about how we can help. I’m not sure you’d see that at other companies – senior execs really wanting to learn from the young people. It’s one of the things that makes the system unique.”

Is becoming a CEO in his Adam’s future? That would be the ultimate goal, he says – but he loves Nanaimo, so that will have some bearing on his trip up the ladder. No matter where his career takes him, he says he will always be open to batting ideas back and forth about how to make the credit union system better.

“Adam likes to share his experiences,” says Dragani. “He’s a great storyteller – that’s one of his gifts. I can see him one day becoming a CEO and telling those stories. The path [is] taking him in that direction.” ◊