Numerica Credit Union CEO Carla Cicero decided when she was 22 years old that she was going to be a CEO before she was 35. Her drive and determination allowed her to achieve her goal at 32.
Cicero has been awarded the 2019 Women of Achievement award for business and industry by YWCA Spokane. She is one of 10 women selected to receive an award at the organization’s annual luncheon planned for Oct. 11 at the Spokane Convention Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.
Cicero said she always focused on pushing through her fears. “I have a tendency to just ignore negative comments, both from other people and in my head,” she said. “It’s about incremental steps while pushing through the fear.”
The goal she made as a young woman was bold. Only 14 percent of CEOs at large credit unions are women. At the time she set that goal she had little experience and no higher education. She got her first job at a credit union at age 17 and even then watched what the CEO did. “His job looked fun,” she said. “I wasn’t even a supervisor yet, and I had a lot to learn. I thought, ‘Why not?’ I was naive, but it ended up working out because of my determination and the strong support of mentors.”
Cicero was born and raised in Los Angeles. After she committed to her career goal she went back to school, earning a degree in business from the University of Phoenix while working.
“I commuted in the LA traffic,” she said. “I went back to school with two small children.”
She soon worked her way up to vice president of the Rockwood Credit Union in Downey, California. But she knew she would probably have to look elsewhere for her first CEO position and found it at Citizens First Credit Union in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
“I had to be willing to move,” she said. “That’s hard. That’s a hard thing for a family.”
She would serve as CEO there for 19 years, earning a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin along the way. She wanted to lead a larger credit union and took the top job at Numerica in 2011. Achieving her goals had everything to do with avoiding obstacles in her path.
“My story is full of hurdles,” she said. “I don’t believe I’m the smartest person in the room. I just have a lot of determination and surround myself with smart people.”
She’s taken leadership roles outside the credit union as well. She serves on the boards of directors of the Northwest Community Foundation, Second Harvest and Rosauers. She also serves on the Greater Spokane Incorporated executive committee and on the board of the World Council of Credit Unions.
As CEO she encourages her employees to put their families first. “You can’t be successful at work if you feel guilty about missing another soccer game,” she said.
Cicero practices what she preaches and said schedule flexibility is one of the reasons she wanted to be an executive. She also brings her 2-year-old Cockapoo Maltese dog, Riley, to work with her three or four days a week.
“He loves it here,” she said.
She got Riley at a pet adoption event Numerica hosted at its Spokane Valley headquarters when he was 3 months old, and it was love at first sight.
“I was looking out my window and saw this big fluffy white thing,” she said.
Riley has the run of the office and many people keep treats in their desks for him when he comes by in search of a pat on the head and a snack.
“He’s wonderful to have around,” she said. “You can just watch the blood pressure go down.”
Cicero said she wants to create a collaborative organization where employees lift each other up. She concentrates on helping employees be their best, providing training and job shadowing to develop skills and offering a generous tuition reimbursement program.
“I learned about human behavior and how important it is to invest in them,” she said. “I enjoy helping people be the best they can be.”
Cicero said she was humbled when she learned she is a Women of Achievement award honoree.
“It’s a prestigious award by a tremendously life-giving organization in terms of how it empowers women and fights against racism,” she said.
She said she was also humbled when she found out that her own employees had nominated her for the award, many of them signing letters of support.
“That really touched me,” she said. “It was pretty beautiful, really. I’m grateful. We’re all doing something right if we lift each other up like that.”