BY Molly Congdon
LATHAM — Bruce Beaudette, who just retired from his post as CEO of Sunmark Federal Credit Union on Dec. 31, is still moving into his new corner office where he will continue to work as a consultant for the company one day per week.
On his desk, a handful of shiny new pennies from the 1950s float freely in a translucent cube of silicon, which reflects his love for coin collecting, and a silver Mercedes Coupe toy sports car — a scale model of the real one waiting patiently in his garage until warmer weather.
To the left of the desk is a framed sign that reads: “Don’t Tax My Credit Union.” It serves as a reminder of the ongoing battle between banking institutions and credit unions, over the fact that the latter are exempt from paying state and federal income tax, and his days lobbying in Albany for that issue. It represents the credit union spirit that’s still inside him.
The item most significant to him, is encased in a black frame on the wall directly across from the desk. It’s a photograph that was taken by someone in a helicopter of a man standing on the exterior base of a lighthouse in New Zealand just seconds before being completely engulfed by a massive tidal wave; so small in comparison to the structure and the curling upsurge that it takes a moment to notice his presence.
“It’s just so symbolic, that guy is just standing there and he has no idea his world is going to come crashing down; that’s how it is in business,” Beaudette said. “The stock market could crash, the dollar could go through wild gyrations and interest rates. You always have to be prepared for something that might sneak up on you. It’s always been a reminder to me to never get too comfortable or complacent and to always be on my toes.”
After almost 30 years, Beaudette felt that is was emotionally time to step down as CEO. “I’m a young 64; I could do this for probably another 10 years, but I just got to the point where I’d accomplished all of my goals personally and professionally and I felt like because of my age and my long history here, I was a bit set in my ways,” Beaudette said. “It was time for someone new to come along and really give this organization a new boost with new ideas and new energy. I felt like I was holding Sunmark back.”
Beaudette was born in Burlington, Vermont, but his family moved to Schenectady when he was 9 months old. He’s been living in the Capital Region ever since, and Clifton Park since 2002. His father, Richard, worked for the old Schenectady Gazette as a printer, but his job was replaced by new technologies such as the computer. His mother, Phyllis, now 87, worked at General Electric but was mostly a housewife raising three children, Beaudette being the oldest.
He attended Bishop Gibbons High School and then went on to Marist College initially to major in chemistry. At the time, he had no idea that he had an affinity for business. In 1974, when he discovered that chemistry wasn’t his calling, he came home and began to work for Schenectady County Community College in the mailroom, taking accounting classes at night. He aced them with ease and soon obtained an associate’s degree in accounting with a 4.0 GPA.
After working there for seven years, he was running the financial aid office at SCCC. The college is also where Beaudette was first introduced to credit unions. The school was affiliated with the Teachers Credit Union, which is now First New York. “I thought it was great that you would have money come out of your pay and you never have to see it,” he said. “It goes into a savings account or goes towards your car payment.”
His work in credit unions began in 1980. “I saw an ad for a controller at the very credit union I was a member of,” Beaudette said. “I applied and got the job.”
All the while, he was still going to school. After four years of night classes at Schenectady County Community College and then four more years at Siena College he graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration. Then he went on to obtain his MBA from Sage. “It was a total of 12 years in college,” Beaudette said. “And eight of those years were at night while working full time.”
Then in 1984, a CEO position opened at a small credit union in Albany County — at the Watervliet Arsenal. “I was there for two years and I made every mistake a person could make,” he said. “I had no management training whatsoever.”
It was 1986 when he got his big break. The longtime CEO of Sunmark, which was GE Turbine Credit Union at the time, retired. Beaudette started his reign as CEO on Sept. 10, 1986.
Back then it was a tiny office, consisting of only eight people. “It was a very small, very unsophisticated, plain-vanilla credit union with tremendous potential,” Beaudette said. “General Electric was our main sponsor; having them as a partner was an opportunity that we hadn’t really taken advantage of yet. When I came on board, we started signing up other companies to be our partners and we now have over 450 in addition to GE.”
His greatest influence was Carl Zipf, the dean of administration at Schenectady County Community College, who was also a retired Navy admiral. “I was like a raw recruit; I was a mess” Beaudette said. “He was my antithesis and he whipped me into shape and molded me. Everything surrounding running a business he taught me, whether it was directly or indirectly. He’s the person I credit for my success.”
Beaudette plans to live the rest of his life to the fullest. He wants to write books, spend time with his two daughters, Brittney and Bree — 28 and 22 respectively — head to his second home in Key Largo, Florida, to fish off a boat in the ocean and — as an avid coin collector — continue to acquire vintage coins from all over the world.
His connection to Sunmark remains strong. The board hired him to stay on as a consultant to work on special projects, oversee mergers and to provide guidance to management. “I am the longest-tenured employee here; all of the company history is right in my head,” Beaudette said. “So they can pick my brain.”
There are many aspects of being CEO that he will miss. “The people here are amazing; I’ve been so fortunate and proud to work with them,” he said. “I miss not leading them, and having direct impact on the goals of the organization.”
Leadership comes with a great deal of responsibility. “There is a lot of stress being the CEO.” Beaudette said. “As soon as I announced my retirement, I felt that pressure just wash away, I felt so free and relieved. I knew it was the right decision.”
BY Molly Congdon