Michael Ostrowski, CEO of Springfield-based Arrha Credit Union, found his way to the financial industry in the most unlikely of ways – by pumping gas on the Massachusetts Turnpike. He’d recently graduated from Springfield College and was working at a gas station while sending out resumes and deciding what to do next.
One man who pulled into the gas station thought he should try banking. That man turned out to be the president of United Co-operative Bank.
“We started talking and he seemed to like me, so he gave me his business card and said, ‘Call me tomorrow,’” Ostrowski said. “That was Monday. I called Tuesday, had an interview on Wednesday [and] on Friday he called and said, ‘We’ve created a position for you. You start on Monday.’”
Today, Ostrowski has more than 30 years of experience in the financial industry and has worked in nearly every position banks and credit unions have to offer. It was Ostrowski’s experience – particularly in commercial lending – that caught the attention of Arrha Credit Union, then called STCU, four and a half years ago. The credit union was losing money and needed a new CEO who could help turn the tide – and Ostrowski was the guy to do it.
Once hired, Ostrowski was able to get the credit union back in the black. He then began a rebranding effort, changing the name from STCU – which stood for Springfield Teacher’s Credit Union and created the incorrect impression that a person had to be a teacher or Springfield resident to be a member – to Arrha Credit Union. Though “arrha” might not be a word one hears in everyday conversation, the dictionary definition of the noun is “money or other valuable thing given to evidence a contract; a pledge or earnest.”
“It’s so simple, and it’s exactly what we do,” Ostrowski said. “We don’t want to divorce ourselves from our origin – we are still committed to the teachers of Springfield that started us – we want to build on that. … People hear ‘Arrha’ and they may think, ‘What the heck is it?’ We want that. We want to create that buzz. We want a name that tells our story.”
Todd Cieplinski, chairman of the board at Arrha Credit Union, said that it’s Ostrowski’s passion for his work and for others that makes him such an effective leader.
“Mike has a huge, huge heart,” Cieplinski said. “No matter what he takes on, he just takes it on with a smile and takes it in stride. He’s confident that no challenge is too big or too hard.”
For his next challenge, Ostrowski will travel to Cuba in October to share the credit union model with the island nation’s people. He was selected by the World Council of Credit Unions as one of a small group to represent the industry and hopefully further U.S. relations with Cuba.
Cieplinski believes Ostrowski will be the perfect representative.
“He works so well with people,” he said. “All of the board members as well as his entire management team and staff at the credit union would say the same. He’s a great guy.”