Among the goals Armando Cavazos set for himself was to earn a Master’s degree in business. Although he already had a distinguished career in financial services and was president and chief executive officer of Credit Union One, he believed in the importance of continual learning, knowledge and wisdom that the advanced degree represented. He chose Marygrove College and completed a Master’s degree in Human Resource Management in 1999. Despite several decades of experience in business, he found the courses more challenging and enlightening than he had expected and is developing a book based on a thesis he wrote for one of his classes. “It gave me a more intuitive perspective, made me a more patient, considerate person and one with a greater appreciation for diversity,” he says.
Armando retired from Credit Union One last year after 30 years of service. Recently, he established a new enterprise, Synergies Plus, LLC, to consult on clients’ key projects, community and government relations and to seek new business and acquisition opportunities.
With a newly earned finance degree from the University of Detroit, Armando was hired at Credit Union One in 1974 as an accounting supervisor and rose to president and CEO in 1986. Over the next 20 years, he expanded it into a regional powerhouse. According to Crain’s Detroit Business, the Ferndale-based credit union ranks second in assets in Southeast Michigan. From four branches and $100 million in assets and 60,000 members, Credit Union One grew to 25 branches, 117,000 members and assets of $1 billion including subsidiaries. Credit unions are a special kind of not-for-profit financial institution whose philosophy is “people helping people.” He is proud that extraordinary growth did not come at the expense of principle.
One principle that guides Armando’s decision making is: “Doing the right thing for the right reason the right way.” According to Professor Jane Hammang-Buhl, “His tenure as CEO has been marked with his commitment to serving people. He led the development of a strong credit union, open to all, during a period in the financial services industry when other financial institutions were focusing on ‘high value customers’ and attaching more and more fees to basic banking. Credit Union One ...offered comprehensive financial services at reasonable prices in accessible locations when other institutions were less interested in individual consumers.” Credit Union One’s presence in Southwest Detroit when the area was abandoned by mainstream banks during hard times speaks to his commitment to customers’ needs. The company also has branches in Grand Rapids and Traverse City. “He has worked diligently to help Credit Union One build the business case to choose an urban focus,” says Hammang-Buhl.
Armando has held leadership positions in a number of state and national organizations including vice chair of the Michigan Credit League board and is a founding member of the Credit Union Advisory Council of the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Services, a state agency working to combat predatory lending. He was invited to serve on the industry’s think tank, the Filene Research Institute, and was vice chairman of the Co-op Financial Services organization, the second largest electronic funds processor in the country.
He has been cited by Corp! Magazine as one of Michigan’s most influential Hispanic leaders and by Crain’s Detroit Business on several occasions including “Who’s Who in Banking and Finance (2005).”
Armando has found a way to help people of all religions to focus on “people helping people” by opening strategy sessions with the Prayer of St. Francis, which begins with “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” He believes in “servant leadership,” which seeks to lead by example and by helping others to realize their potential best selves, “our blessing from our Creator.”
He has contributed his talents far beyond the financial services industry. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Detroit Mercy, the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, the Utica Community Schools Foundation and the Board of Governors of Oakland University. He also serves as board chair of Leaps and Bounds Family Services, an agency dedicated to serving those in poverty, helping them find hope, develop skills and purpose and to move toward living an independent life.
With gratitude, Armando describes his family—his wife of 42 years, Kathy, and his three children and seven grandchildren—as a blessing. He has been a runner for 30 years, plays golf and loves to read, especially books on strategic thinking, leadership and spiritual well being.