Hard work and volunteerism are the hallmarks of John Feitor’s life.
When he emigrated from Portugal in 1968, he didn’t speak English. “I started from the bottom of the barrel as a cleaner and window washer, and worked my way up,” he said. He joined a small janitorial cleaning company in Cambridge, putting in long hours. He learned English by watching Sesame Street. He was 25.
He married Maria Fatima, another Portugal native, in 1970 and they started a family. “I didn’t see my kids growing up. They used to see me once a week. That’s the price of [being] an immigrant,” he said. Maria Fatima stayed home to raise their two sons. “If it wasn’t for her, I could never have succeeded as I did,” Feitor said.
The little company grew. When he joined, it had $200,000 a year in sales. When he retired seven years ago, the company had become Unicco, with annual sales of $950 million, and he had become senior vice president of operations.
He joined the board of Naveo Credit Union 33 years ago. In addition to serving as vice chairman for eight years, he also chaired Naveo’s credit committee, its personnel committee, the ALCO committee and was board chairman for six years.
The credit union also grew, from $30 million to $120 million today. Mortgage lending was the bedrock; Portuguese immigrants who would not qualify for mortgages from banks bought their first homes and gained economic stability through the auspices of the credit union.
Naveo grew as it added credit cards and some commercial loans to its portfolio of services. Today, its membership, which used to be 80 percent of Portuguese origin, has diversified along with the community. Today, its small-business loans support many local businesses. “The credit union, to me, is an extension of my life,” Feitor said.
Earlier this year, he received a Portuguese de Valor award award from LusoPress in the Acores. The award honors the achievements of Portuguese individuals, based on their work and achievements in Portugal and the U.S., and for their contributions to the Portuguese community.
Feitor’s philosophy on management is simple: Do not micromanage. Even in hard times, directors must keep cognizant of theif fiduciary responsibilities. “We have a management team, we select them, we pay them. If something goes wrong, it’s not them, it’s us,” he said. “Our job is to make sure that everybody does what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Volunteering is an essential part of his life. He has contributed years of support to the Filarmonica de Santo Antonio marching band, and St. Anthony’s Parish in Cambridge. Commitment is important, he said: “The moment you say ‘yes,’ the word ‘volunteer’ doesn’t apply any more. Make sure you can do it.”