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Loretta Burd helped clear path for women

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IN the world of business today, the image of a woman serving on a corporate board or heading national and international conglomerates has become so common that little notice is paid to the distinction of gender.

When Loretta Burd began her career in business, such a possibility would have been considered highly unlikely, save for those instances when the woman might have been the daughter of the principal shareholder or the spouse of the owner.

The Columbus woman who announced last week that she was stepping down at the end of this year as the chief executive officer of Centra Credit Union certainly defied those stereotypes in a career that began 47 years ago, when she was 19 years old. In that span, she rose through the ranks of the company that was created in 1940 by employees of what then was Cummins Engine Co.

Her early years in business did follow patterns familiar to women of that era. Her first job was secretary to the credit union manager who oversaw an operation that consisted of fewer than 10 employees, approximately 7,000 members and assets of $4 million.

She took on a variety of duties in her early years, becoming a teller, assisting in the bookkeeping department and moving on to the delinquency and loan departments. In 1987, she was named CEO of the credit union.

In reaching that position, she joined an elite group of local businesswomen. One of the first to break the so-called corporate glass ceiling was Ruth Harrison, who became a vice president at Irwin Union Bank and Trust Co. in the early 1970s and later served as director of the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions.

Through her tenure at the helm of the credit union, Burd has seen the operation grow to one with almost 280 employees, more than 125,000 members and assets exceeding $1 billion.

Her ascension to the chief executive position at the credit union was not the only glass ceiling she broke through. She also became the first woman elected to the position of chairwoman of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. In that role, she was involved in a number of community initiatives, one of the most notable being the naming of Columbus as an All American City.

There still are a number of obstacles that stand in the path of career advancement for women, but when considering those that have been shoved to the side of the road by individuals like Loretta Burd, it is safe to say that we have come a long way. Her example and that of others have made the future paths a lot easier.

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