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Heritage South CEO Parham speaks to SWC

By DAWN HANKINS - dhankins@t-g.com
Posted 1/15/22

Laura Parham, Heritage South Community Credit Union Chief Executive Officer, graduated from college—for the first time—at age 52.  

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Heritage South CEO Parham speaks to SWC

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Laura Parham, Heritage South Community Credit Union Chief Executive Officer, graduated from college—for the first time—at age 52.  

Shelbyville Woman’s Club members were privileged Wednesday to hear about her professional career. She said she feels blessed and accomplished to have been named CEO three years ago.  

Early on, she thought her life plan was to be a stay-at-home mom to her two sons. Her husband, George, encouraged her to go to work at Bedford County Bank.  

“I was fortunate [that] I landed in a career and I became a mom, which has always been, and will always will be, my No. 1 job.”  

She said she always felt as she advanced in her career that she was “behind the 8 ball,” because of her lack of higher education. She commended her mentors of life, but one thing became clear, she said, “I knew if I ever achieved that top rung in my career . . . had to get a college degree.”  

In her late 40s, she entered the Adult College Express (ACE) program at Motlow State and then the management and human relations program at Trevecca Nazarene University. She finished both programs—attending at night and working full time—within four years. She graduated summa cum laude, with a 4.0 GPA in her early 50s.  

But one thing is for certain, Parham said. “I was absolutely terrified, to go back to school at 48 years old.”  

She was in the No. 2 spot of a “very successful career” at the time; she had numerous hours of professional training and experience.  

“The thought of going back to school, after all that time, and risking not being the best or worst yet, failing, was almost enough to paralyze me. When I tell you that I worked harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, mentally, believe it. That is no exaggeration.”  

Professional career  

Before discussing her career Wednesday at Shelbyville Woman’s Club, Parham said she was asked to share tips about women working their way to the top. She promptly replied “that could take days.”  

She asked her audience if they had ever watched the TV show, “Survivor.” While she said she isn’t a fan of the show’s “conniving” strategies, she used the theme, “Out Wit, Out Last and Out Play” as part of her program.  

“I’m a survivor. I would have to rearrange those words a little bit to: ‘Out Play, Out Wit, Out Last.’ Consequently, each of those words corresponds to approximately to a 10 to 15-year segment of my career.”  

She said these days, she talks with employees about the history and the present stability of Heritage South. Parham said Heritage South (a shameless plug she admitted) is the “second largest, locally owned and operated, community financial institution in the county.” She said Heritage can boast of over $300 million in assets, 30,000 members and around 80 employees.  

“I try to take a picture of what it was like when the credit union first started. It was EPCO Credit Union... credit union for Empire Pencil Co. We were in a small office, if you can call it that, in the corner of the office building there at Empire. We served about 500 members, when I started in 1984, and we were about $1 million in assets. There was myself and the manager . . . . nicotine so thick on those cream-colored concrete walls, that they had turned a very unattractive shade of yellow.”  

She said people who know her well, know that she has a very competitive nature. “I played basketball... I don’t like to lose.”  

Most important, she says in her work life, she’s always tried to do her very best and make herself “stand out.”  

This was the premise for her story about how she went in on a Saturday morning and scrubbed down those nicotine walls. What was the point?  

Parham explained, “I immediately took ownership of that office. And, I made myself stand out to my bosses [through] something that had absolutely nothing to do with my job. It was not in my job description to scrub down those walls with a bucket of Clorox, but I did it.”  

In hindsight, she’s glad she did it. “I wanted someone to notice that I was willing to do whatever it took, to be better than the ones that came before me and to be better than the ones that would come after me. I was willing to Out Play. That was the mentality that I took into those first years of my career.”  

But more important, she said, she absolutely loved her job. And she didn’t even know anything, at that time, about a manufacturing environment. If she hadn’t of “loved” her job so much, Parham said she might not have been as committed to the credit union.  

“For those of you who are still in the Out Play phase of your career . . . you have to absolutely either love what you’re doing and-or like and respect who you’re doing it for.”  

She says she was fortunate that she loved all of the above. “For those of you in that phase, don’t just learn everything there is to learn about your job, learn everything there is to learn about the business. Don’t wait for somebody else to show you, teach you . . . figure it out for yourself. Ask questions, read books, manuals. I know that’s old school. Google it! I still Google. I promise you, everyday.”  

She added, “You are responsible for your own career development and no one else, so Out Play. That Out Play phase of your career will last your entire career.”  

She said that phase never stops—even for those in management. As for the Out Play segment of one’s career, she admitted she pretty much made it through that phase with flying colors. “But, Out Wit, I had a little more trouble with.”  

Referring to her other baby in life, “the credit union,” she advised, “As we grew . . . had to add players to the roster, which meant I had to hand my baby over to other people. That was hard. The Out Wit phase is one of the most difficult phases that I endured. This is the part of your career where things become a bit dicey.”  

She went back to Google. She says outwit is actually defined as “defeating by greater ingenuity.” She had no problem there, but admitted she does struggle with “deception” which is often a part of that phase, given human nature.  

“So I had to learn real quick how to play that game. I really, really struggled. Until finally, I turned that part of my career over to The One who has control. And I realized, I didn’t. From that point forward, I realized I had to come up with my own personal value statement . . . Do the right thing and the right thing will happen.”  

Parham said she’s thankful women professionals in the South have “come a long way” and are no longer forced to work within the stereotypical “man’s world.” That takes “bravery,” she said. Her decision to go to college, that’s in her final career phase, “Outlast.” 

She said being a CEO was not necessarily her first professional goal. Then her boss retired and she moved up to the top. She shared from her heart what she told the credit union board when she applied for the CEO job. Naturally, they asked her why she wanted the position.  

Parham said she replied. “It isn’t necessarily ‘why do I want to do it?’ But more that I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. I had poured my life into this place. I wasn’t ready to turn my baby over to anyone else. I had to Out Play, I had to Out Wit . . . to be the survivor.”  

Addressing the women in the audience, she advised that aside of these phases to mirror, they have much more to offer.  

“You have the one thing that our young women and children need this day and time and that is [that] you have the power of influence.” 

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