Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Upfront: Come together

Creating community is as important for Business North Carolina as it is for small-town weekly newspapers that publish items about how Uncle Bob is visiting from California or Susie won this week’s bingo game at the senior center. I’m hoping there are still a few Tar Heel papers that carry such fare. 

It can be harder, however, at a statewide publication that tries to keep readers in Manteo interested in what’s happening at some enterprise in Murphy, or vice versa. But we keep trying through the magazine, our Daily Digest newsletter, expert roundtables and other events. It’s also why we’re excited to continue a February tradition of spotlighting some outstanding diverse leaders from across the state, hoping to show that inclusion isn’t just a slogan in North Carolina. 

Everyone we’ve cited over the years is making an impact on their business or organization, while also playing key civic roles. Most are folks who rarely receive media attention despite their considerable influence.

The importance of community is reflected in our cover photo. Lawyers Gerald Walden and Justin Outling and Jet It CEO Glenn Gonzales work within a block of each other in downtown Greensboro. But they were barely acquainted before Creative Director Peggy Knaack organized a photo shoot of the trio.

By chance, the gathering occurred within a block of the segregated Woolworth’s drugstore where Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil staged a historic sit-in in 1960. It became a pivotal moment in American history, now memorialized by the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Walden, Outling and Gonzales may not become as famous as the Greensboro Four, but our stories describe contributions that many would have found unbelievable in 1960. They are three busy guys, but photographer Bert VanderVeen’s cover photo gives them the excuse to stay in touch as they climb corporate and civic heights in the years ahead.

Writing about a credit union ensures a snoozer for BNC readers, a wisecracker friend of mine insisted when I mentioned the story that starts on Page 42. But we failed if the story isn’t compelling, given how it touches on key issues affecting many businesses, not just the $53 billion State Employees’ Credit Union.

Those elements include debate over CEO and boardroom succession; fairness and equity in how to treat customers; the role of technology in corporate strategy; and access to credit in rural areas.

Sources for the story repeatedly emphasized SECU’s status as a “gem” of North Carolina. Its 2.7 million members represent about a quarter of the state’s population. There’s nothing comparable across the U.S. credit union industry. 

SECU’s success and growth over 85 years is made even more amazing by its strategies of zigging when the rest of the financial services industry was zagging.

SECU’s board and relatively new CEO are now pushing the institution to operate more like other large industry peers, while improving on its corporate culture. Some SECU traditionalists, who built the second-largest U.S. credit union into a powerhouse in an unconventional way, are asking, “Why break something that isn’t broken?” Let us know what you think. 

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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