By Terri Hughes-Lazzell
Michigan State University alumna April Clobes’ experience allowed her to seamlessly transition into her new leadership position at the MSU Federal Credit Union. Clobes became the new president and CEO of the credit union on March 18, replacing retired Pat McPharlin.
But the Michigan State University alumna had been preparing for the role for a while.
Even in her undergraduate college days, Clobes’ experiences led her in this direction. She applied only to three colleges and chose Michigan State after one visit.
“Once on campus, it felt right,” she said. She entered originally as a James Madison College student, considering a career in law. But after working with the University Activities Board (UAB), handling communications and marketing events, she realized that was where her interest lay.
Clobes earned her bachelor of science in marketing in 1994 from the Broad College of Business. She began her career with MSUFCU as a marketing specialist in 1996. She worked her way to a vice president position, then executive VP, COO, and now president and CEO.
She had been transitioning into the president and CEO role for about a year leading up to March 18, after she had been tapped from among a select group of executives at the credit union. That process began when McPharlin pulled her aside and told her she needed a MBA to be an executive.
“I was already vice president of marketing at the credit union and was working on my master’s degree, so I thought I was OK. But he said executives needed a MBA,” Clobes explained. Clobes also holds a master of art degree in advertising from MSU and did earn a master’s of business administration (MBA) from Western Michigan University.
She had no idea that conversation with McPharlin would be the beginning of her journey to become leader of the credit union.
McPharlin, who retired after serving 14 years as president and CEO of MSUFCU and nearly 42 years total with the credit union, had a plan. Also an MSU alumnus with a bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary social science, and a master’s degree in management from Aquinas College, he began working on his plan nearly five years before his retirement.
With an agreement that, if possible, a candidate would be prepared from within the organization, he used the model set up by retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch, and began working with four executives within MSUFCU whose job experiences were expanded. Clobes was among that group of four.
In the beginning of that process, Clobes said, there were days when she and the other executives didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. What they knew was that they were receiving challenging projects, new trials, and opportunities.
“As it unfolded, I figured it out,” she said.
The candidates were eventually narrowed to one.
“All four were growing in leaps and bounds,” McPharlin said. But Clobes stood out as the person who would replace him.
First, she was named executive vice president. Then she was made COO, so she was running most of the operations prior to McPharlin’s retirement.
McPharlin announced his retirement in May 2014, allowing others in the organization to become familiar with Clobes as the leader, helping in her success, he explained.
Prior to assuming the role of president and CEO, Clobes had gone through a calendar cycle of planning with the executive team and board of executives.
“The transition was unique, but you’re starting to see more organizations lay the groundwork for the CEO transition,” Clobes explained.
At first, the transition of duties was a little tricky—only because Clobes didn’t want to offend her mentor. “He had done the role so well,” she said.
Through communication and a strong relationship, everything settled quickly, and McPharlin was helpful in the adjustment.
“I became an adviser, which was meaningful in the process,” McPharlin said. “It worked because we hired intelligent and engaged executives.”
When March 18 came around, the final transition ran smoothly.
“Knowing how everything worked and being involved in the responsibility, I had no fear or anxiety,” Clobes said. “I knew how to be CEO and answer questions of the board—there were no unknowns. I knew how to prepare.”
Having the time during the transition made it easy, she said.
Preparing future leaders continues to be a focus of the credit union. Seventy percent of the nine vice presidents currently at MSUFCU have earned or are earning an MBA.
And McPharlin is also continuing to have an impact on the business community. He recently was named by Gov. Rick Snyder as Michigan’s new director of the state Department of Insurance and Financial Services, and will begin in the position May 18.