Claire Lawton epitomises the many definitions of leadership, none more so than that of Jane Sparrow in ‘The Culture Builders’.
Being prophet, storyteller, strategist, coach and most importantly pilot; her calm nature exuding an authoritative yet enabling environment in which people and business can thrive. St Canice’s Credit Union’s success is attributable in large part to her leadership.
Having spent 22 years as the CEO of the largest Community Credit Union in Ireland, she has chosen to retire next month, on her 60th birthday.
Claire’s strong relationship with the global credit union movement was nurtured in childhood by her father Nicholas Butler (RIP) who was a former director and manager of Carrick-on-Suir Credit Union.
It is true to say the apple did not fall far from the tree; as Claire followed her father’s ethos of co-operation amongst co-operatives, in guiding credit unions, in both her working life in Ireland and as far away as to Sierra Leone, last year.
Putting the member at the core of decision making is second nature not only to Claire but all credit union CEOs.
This clear dictate permeates throughout St Canice’s and runs through the blood of the board, volunteers and staff and has in no small part lead to the accolades of credit unions leading in Customer Experience Excellence (CXi) as well as number one for trust and reputation (RepTrak).
As Claire says it “putting the customer first is not just a catch-phrase; it’s a way of being”.
Having started her career with AIB and spending 20 years in banking, in March 1998 that she took up the role as CEO of St Canice’s Kilkenny Credit Union.
At that time there was a staff of 19, assets of IR£40m with one branch with a single share/ loan offering.
Since that time the demands of members and the changing world has seen St Canice’s Credit Union grow with Claire to incorporate online services, a current account and debit card, mortgages, member service centre, multi-rate loans, increased regulation, mergers with nine other local credit unions and lots more plans for the future in which Claire has played a central role.
Claire is gracious when recalling the many high points of her career with St Canice’s. Never one to blow her own trumpet, she is proud of the environment of trust, based on transparency and inclusiveness, that has been achieved during her time as CEO.
In 2007 she was instrumental in the creation, launch and success of the small business support loan scheme in conjunction with the Local Enterprise Office in Kilkenny, which offered financial support to small businesses via start up and expansion loans at a time when businesses in this country were struggling to access finance of any type.
More recently Claire has been involved and played a central role in the creation of Metamo, a joint venture between Fexco and 16 other credit unions, which will deliver a better, stronger and sustainable future for Credit Unions in Ireland.
Devoted to family
As a strong business woman in finance, Claire never felt held back in her desire to move her career forward and was supported in this at home by her husband John.
They have four amazing daughters and while family life has always been the main focus for Claire, in retirement she will relish time with not only her children but also her three grandchildren, who are without question, each one, the apples of her eye.
No doubt over the last 22 years Claire has faced challenging times, none more so than the deep recession of 10 years ago which lead to loan write-offs and investment impairments all of which, with the help of her team and working with members, was overcome.
Claire believes that the last few months of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic puts past challenges in the shade but knows that St Canice’s has the reserves, resources, people (on the board, with volunteers, management team and staff) and loan offerings to come through it and continue to support members as have done for more than 50 years.
As Claire hands over the reins, this long-planned time for Claire to retire comes with a touch of deflation; as we cannot have the big send-off and celebration that we had planned for her - due to Covid-19.
We will postpone it like so many other gatherings, but it will happen.
We hope you will join us in thanking her, wishing her well and saying farewell; no doubt she will soar to even greater heights in the next chapter of her successful career; whatever she chooses to do.
Thank- you Claire. Best of Luck.
Au revoir but not goodbye.