Make friends, build relationships is Akins' model for success
Joe Akins is president/CEO of SunState Federal Credit Union
Published: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 22, 2013 at 2:08 p.m.
During the years he spent in debt collections, Joe Akins said he tried to be congenial no matter how bad the situation.
Occupation: President/CEO, SunState Federal Credit Union
Personal: Married, five children ("Two mine, two hers and one ours"), four grandchildren
Pets: Chester, a 7-year-old Pet Rescue dog
Dream partners for lunch: "My parents, both deceased."
Last book read: "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck
Favorite TV show: "Person of Interest"
Playing in his car: "I bounce around, but I like sports talk, especially Jeff Cardozo."
Hobbies: Fishing, gardening and family
Education: B.S., business administration, finance, University of Florida; A.S. Forestry, Lake City Community College (Gateway College)
"A lot of times you put yourself in their position and you think about how they're thinking," he said.
"If you've got the type of personality that people gravitate to, you're going to be able to accomplish a whole lot more."
Those are the lessons Akins said he tries to convey to his staff. Make friends. Build relationships.
Akins was promoted to president and CEO of SunState Federal Credit Union on March 1, replacing Jim Woodward, who retired after 15 years in the position.
He said his biggest job is to solve problems and remove barriers so the frontline staff who work directly with customers on a daily basis can be successful, "because if I can get them to be successful, I'll be successful."
From the headquarters in downtown Gainesville, Akins oversees an operation with nine branches in five counties, 115 employees, 28,000 members and $300 million in assets.
He said the credit union is growing with a strategy "that we'll take what the market will give us."
During the recession, SunState did not have to lay off employees, but became leaner through attrition. They also pared down product offerings that weren't working, such as adjustable rate mortgages, so frontline staff could be more focused on products that were working.
He said business is growing, building on a base of loyal customers that comes from trying to save them money.
During the recession, SunState grew its business and commercial lines by doing a lot of research on successful businesses and building relationships, in many cases helping them refinance existing debt. That kept the credit union on "firm ground," he said. Over the last couple of years, Akins said mortgage lending has grown.
Looking ahead, he said he foresees gradual economic growth.
"You're going to look back five years from now and say we're in pretty good shape, but when did we get here? It took us five years to get here."
He said confidence within the credit union ebbs and flows with economic indicators about the housing market and unemployment.
"When you see positives in those things, you want to make sure you've got yourself postured in a way that you can meet the demands," he said.
Akins entered the financial profession from forestry. From an early age growing up working on a family farm in Bell, in Gilchrist County, he went to work in wood procurement for Georgia-Pacific for several years.
He left to study finance at the University of Florida as part of a plan to manage GP's woodlands office, but when he graduated, the job wasn't there.
Akins was friends with Barnett Bank President Mark Walker and he stopped by the bank on his way through Gainesville. Within a week, he went to work in collections for Barnett.
He went to work for SunState as collections manager in 1993 and would hold several positions over the years, including branch manager, member services manager, vice president of branches and sales and vice president of lending.
He left to work for the Jacksonville Electric Authority over credit and collections from 2000 to 2006 before returning to SunState in 2007 to be closer to home.
Since then, he served as collections manager, director of lending and vice president of lending before his latest promotion.