Lara Stilin is a role model for women and young professionals.
At 33, the Sault Ste. Marie native is a chartered accountant and financial expert, the youngest person to be named Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Your Neighborhood Credit Union (YNCU), of which the city’s two Community First credit union branches are a part.
“I’m proud of the achievement,” Stilin said, speaking to SooToday Monday (International Women’s Day) by phone from the Community First branch office on Bay Street.
“I find I’ve been very lucky in my career, to have supportive mentors, both men and women, who have opened doors for me and encouraged me to walk through them and this is one of them. I’m happy to be sharing this story if it inspires other women to go after their goals.”
“As a young person, I’m excited to continue to contribute to my community. This opportunity to work in the credit union helps push the community forward. I think the credit union really, really supports ‘local,’ that’s something that’s near and dear to my heart,” Stilin said.
Stilin says her new post as CFO “feels natural.”
A graduate of St. Basil Secondary and Algoma University, Stilin worked previously for KPMG and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), perfecting her skills in financial management, strategy and company performance.
“I support a lot of community initiatives as a community member. I’m supportive of Sault Ste. Marie. I chose to go to school here, chose to have my career here, my family is here, it’s an enjoyment to me to be part of this community,” Stilin said.
“Our members (customers) here in Sault Ste. Marie and across all of our branches, they are our neighbours, they are our friends. We exist to serve them and this is a nice opportunity to do that.”
How does one maintain the balance between corporate profitability while keeping that human touch with customers?
“I think planning’s key. Strategically, our board of directors gives us direction where they want the credit union to go and we execute that. We plan to make sure we are financially responsible and have all of our risks covered, we are prudent in that sense, but at the same time we plan for charitable giving. We plan for all of those things. It isn’t a challenge in one sense because we do better when our membership does better. It’s a virtuous circle in that regard. We always make sure we’re coming up with products and services that meet our members’ needs, and success as a financial institution becomes natural after that,” Stilin said.
“My being a native and resident of Sault Ste. Marie helps me understand our membership here and makes sure we are offering the best services for them.”
What advice does Stilin have for women in business (or any type of industry, for that matter)?
“I think what’s helped me and has made me feel comfortable is to be authentic.”
“Be yourself and know that you have a lot to offer, that your contributions are valuable and don’t shy away from opportunities you feel you deserve, from opportunities where you can contribute. We need to see a diverse group of people leading our corporations, our organizations, and every step forward that you take can encourage somebody else to take that same step forward,” Stilin said.
When it comes to mentioning mentors who have helped her in her journey, Stilin praised her parents, teachers, professors and coaches.
“My biggest inspiration in my life has always been my parents, for their love and support, for me and my siblings. They’re my inspiration.”
“I’ve been very lucky and that’s all the more reason to turn around and be a mentor for somebody else. It brings us all a little bit closer to our goal of equality and diversity,” Stilin said.
The city’s two Community First credit union branches (on Bay Street, where Stilin will be working, along with a Trunk Road location), another northern Ontario Community First branch in Timmins and 15 other financial institution branches in southwestern Ontario currently form the Your Neighborhood Credit Union family.