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Credit Union CEO retiring after 47 years: Columbus resident worked her way to top at Centra, starting as a clerk as a 19-year-old

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Loretta Burd took a clerical job with Centra Credit Union at age 19. That was 47 years ago, when the organization — founded in 1940 by Cummins Inc. employees — had fewer than 10 employees, roughly 7,000 members and assets of $4 million.

When this year comes to a close, Burd will retire after serving 25 years as Centra’s chief executive officer, making her the credit union’s longest-serving CEO. She will leave an organization with nearly 280 employees, more than 125,000 members and assets exceeding $1 billion.

In her early days, Burd worked as secretary to the credit union’s manager. But because the institution was so small, Burd trained in various capacities to help wherever she was needed.

During shift change at Cummins, large numbers of employees came in to deposit or withdraw money, so Burd trained to become a teller.

She was also needed in the bookkeeping department at the end of each month when financial reports came due, so she learned those functions. She also helped in the delinquency and loan departments.

Those early years, Burd said, helped her gain valuable experience in many aspects of the company’s business. The experience also allowed her to get to know a lot of credit union members.

“It didn’t take long to fall in love with the job,” she said from her office on the second floor of the credit union’s headquarters on National Road.

From very early on, she liked the credit union’s philosophy of focusing on members, of pooling people’s money to help others in the union.

“The organization still defines itself with that same identical philosophy of people helping people,” she said. “Helping people meet their financial goals ... that’s very rewarding.”

People who know Burd through work or community involvement describe her as “fabulous,” “sharp,” “organized” and “savvy.”

“I learned a lot from her,” said Steve Coomes, president and chief executive officer of United SA Federal Credit Union in San Antonio. Coomes served as chief financial officer at Centra in Columbus under Burd for eight years.

Coomes said Burd’s success can be traced to her competitive nature, which she displayed on the credit union softball team and in the board room. Whenever someone told her, “That can’t be done,” Burd almost took it as a personal challenge to prove that it could be done, he said.

And she was very deliberate in her actions, taking time to formulate a plan and avoiding snap judgments, Coomes said.

“She was firm but always fair,” he said.

And she made each decision with the best interest of credit union members in mind — even if her actions ruffled some feathers, Coomes said.

Burd also paid close attention to developing her staff, Coomes said, which is evident in the number of former Centra employees who have taken leadership positions at credit unions across the country.

Without Burd’s tutelage, Coomes said he would not have had the opportunity to take the helm of the San Antonio credit union.

“She was a wonderful mentor,” he said.

Burd said mentoring was important to her because it reflects the credit union’s overall philosophy of people helping people.

Burd generally has tried to stay out of the spotlight, said Sherry Stark, who knows Burd through her community involvement.

Stark said she recently spent some time with some Centra employees who were recognizing Burd for her accomplishments and dedication. Though Burd was touched by the gesture, Stark said Burd “murmured under her breath, ‘I don’t like this.’”

“She gets the job done (and) doesn’t like the limelight,” Stark said.

“She’s a fabulous woman,” Stark said.

And she broke a couple of glass ceilings on the way, serving as the chamber of commerce’s first female chair and as the credit union’s first female CEO.

“Loretta’s influence at Centra will be felt long after she leaves her office,” said Chairman Alan Degner.

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