CEO, DOCO Regional Federal Credit Union
From his office at the main branch of DOCO Regional Credit Union Barry Heape, President and CEO, makes decisions that affect many in the community; people he considers more than customers, but friends.
Credit unions have been around a great deal longer than people realize. Initially as an alternative to the risky and often expensive financial services offered to the unserved and underserved populations, they have become the champion of a multitude of groups, communities, and associations that believe strongly in helping one another. The first successful credit union models began in Germany in the mid 1800s, and by the end of the century they had spread to the rest of Europe and news of their success was travelling fast across the ocean to Canada and the United States. They operated based on “cooperative” principles that promoted membership and control. This pursuit of a common goal not only strengthens the financial institutions themselves, but the communities they serve as well. Today, nearly 85 million Americans are credit union members.
Barry has a long history of serving the community through working in the credit union system. He has held virtually every technological, operational and administrative position, and that uniquely extensive experience has given him a keen understanding of how to successfully support and implement the mission of the credit union he serves.
Beginning his career in 1985 at AGE Credit Union in data processing, he then moved into networking and communications. “In 1998 I had the opportunity to come to DOCO as VP of Operations because of my technology skills, and in 2003 I became the CEO.”
He truly loves the work and speaks about the daily responsibilities of running a $350 million company with passion that is difficult not to envy. “I am a die-hard credit union advocate. We’re here to offer financial services just to people who are members. I believe in people helping people, and that’s basically the credit union philosophy. So it’s more about what the credit union stands for than the financial history as a whole that attracts me. I bought into the credit union philosophy early on in my career, but the older I get and with more people coming into the branch and saying that banks just won’t do anything to help them, I realize that people do need our help.”
Not surprising is his commitment to his family, which is just as important as his commitment to the credit union philosophy. Married for twenty-four years, his wife Teresa, and his sons, Justin and Christopher, attended Darton as well. That kind of legacy underlies his belief in Darton College as a quality educator in southwest Georgia. “Darton is convenient, it’s in a good location, and I’m impressed with Dr. Sireno and what he has done for the college. The Dental Hygiene program has served my wife well. We always tell kids, especially young girls who are unsure about what they want to do, that they should consider the dental hygiene program at Darton.”
Of course, Barry has become a big fan recently of Darton’s Continuing Education classes as well. “My wife and I took dancing classes. She was after me to do it for about two years, and finally I just said let’s do it.” Attending classes every Tuesday night, he quickly learned that it was a great way to spend time with his wife and learn something new that he probably would not have considered before.
Looking to the future, Barry sees nothing but positives on the horizon. He has big dreams for expanding the credit union base as well. Currently serving members in Georgia and North Carolina, he wants to do even more. “I have all kinds of plans. I would like to see DOCO become a statewide organization, bringing credit union services to as many people in Georgia as we can. People deserve low-cost financial services provided by people who care for them. So to continue to grow and to expand is a process I enjoy and will continue to do.”
He also continues to encourage kids, parents, and anyone who will listen that they should go to school at Darton for the first two years. “Kids today are not as prepared to go away to school, they lack the maturity. Darton can help them prepare for the challenges ahead.”
His vision for Darton continues to expand as well, and along with the Citizens for Economic Development, continues to gain strength in the region. “Darton really needs to become a 4-year school. It would be good for the community, and bring more people into the community.”
Insights From Barry:
What is one of the most important lessons you learned in college?
“That it’s worth the time and effort of putting off your life another 2 to 4 years to get your degree. DOCO reimburses tuition based on grades. We encourage our employees to get their degree. Every class you take will give you some sort of life skill that you will not learn on your own, and it proves to employers that you’ll go the extra step.”
What advice would you give to freshmen students?
“Your first two years should be a time to learn and experience. Who really knows what they want to do with their life just out of high school? Not many people. Take the time to figure it out. It’s important to get your degree while you’re young with no responsibilities, because as you get older it becomes harder. A degree will carry you a long way.”
What advice would you give to those interested in a career in financial services, banking, or a credit union?
“To go to school and get your degree. Get your education for yourself, if for no other reason. Having a degree is becoming more and more important. If I had to choose between two job candidates with equal abilities and experience but only one had a degree, I’d choose that one.”
What advice would you give someone just starting their first job? What are some of the characteristics you look for in an employee?
“It might surprise you, but I look for character, honesty, and loyalty. A degree is also important. If you don’t have a degree you’ll have to stand out some other way, but if you have a degree it demonstrates a desire to achieve.”