Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union took a chance on Mariann O’Brien when they hired her eight years ago, O’Brien likes to say, but it could just as easily work the other way around.
O’Brien had no banking or credit union experience when she replied to an advertisement posting a call center manager job at the Lowell-based credit union. She had worked for 10 years in the call center of a high-tech company and accepted a buyout when her company was acquired. She tried consulting for a year, but that just wasn’t for her.
So O’Brien took a chance. She went for the job.
Today, as assistant vice president of branch operations, she oversees more than just the call center.
“I’ve learned a lot along the way,” she said, noting that she “was one of the first employees in a management role they brought on with no banking experience.”
But some management styles work across all fields, and Barbara Viti, who nominated her, praised O’Brien’s cheerful style.
“If you’ve ever been in a call center environment, it can get very frustrating from time to time, so you have to keep the mood upbeat,” O’Brien explained. “I would do whatever it takes. I’m the manager who will go up there and do a dance or load up a cart with breakfast treats or stuff to make sundaes and wheel it through the center. You have to make people feel like they’re appreciated.”
O’Brien also said her position at Jeanne D’Arc allows her to exercise her creative problem-solving muscles, which doesn’t necessarily mean having all the answers yourself.
“Someone comes to you with an issue, and you try to help them the best you can. I like to ask them questions to help them arrive at the conclusion themselves,” she said.
Mentoring others has become a highlight of O’Brien’s work, too.
“I’m very happy to say that many of the folks who’ve worked in the call center have gone on to management roles,” she said. “In a small way, I’d like to think that I had something to do with that.”
Accordingly, O’Brien has embraced the spirit of volunteerism at Jeanne D’Arc, a hallmark at every credit union. She’s a director at Budget Buddies, a nonprofit that helps low-income women learn to manage their money, and she’s a member of the Acre Action Committee.
While O’Brien was humbled to be named a Credit Union Hero, she was also a little hesitant to fully embrace the moniker.
“When I think of a hero, I think of a bystander at the race that has become Boston Strong,” she said. “So many people do so much more than I do and have been doing it so much longer.”
Especially, she added, when working at the credit union has been such a benefit to her own life.
“I think it’s made me a better-rounded person,” O’Brien said of the experience. “I think getting more involved and giving back was one of the missing ingredients. It says a lot for the credit union philosophy and how it’s affected me.”