Chandler CEO of credit union a family man at heart - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler CEO of credit union a family man at heart

September 24th, 2020 SanTan Sun News
Chandler CEO of credit union a family man at heart

By Coty Dolores Miranda

In 26 years at Desert Financial Credit Union, the last 3 1/2 as president and CEO, Jeff Meshey has never missed a day of work.

He credits his upbringing in the farmlands of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, for solidifying a work ethic that has served him well in his career, starting as a senior auditor at  Ernst and Young shortly after graduating from Ohio’s University of Mount Union.

Meshey is also a family man with six children from a blended family, ranging from grown adults to two daughters in fifth and sixth grade at Chandler Online Academy. This experience, he says, also contributes to his ability to manage a diverse group of 1,125 full-time and part-time employees.

Desert Financial, now Arizona’s largest credit union, was chartered in 1939 by 15 valley educators as Arizona Educational Association Federal Credit Union. 

In 1972, the name was changed to Desert Schools Federal Credit Union to better define its niche market, and remained so for more than four decades.

Meshey began his career at Desert Financial in 1994 as vice president of finance through 2000, when he was named executive vice president.

In 2017, following the retirement of his longtime boss and CEO Susan Frank, he took the helm.

In January 2018, Desert Financial Credit Union, a $4.5 billion full-service Arizona based institution with 330,000 members throughout Maricopa, Pinal and Gila Counties, received its new moniker under Meshey’s leadership.

The rebranding gained a wide audience when promoted during a Super Bowl LII commercial featuring Alice Cooper riffing on his 1972 hit, “School’s Out” to emphasize the name from Desert Schools to Desert Financial.

He has launched many programs for his community and his employees – among them InvestED, which rolled out in June.

“Desert Financial was founded by teachers so we understand the value of education,” said Meshey. “Our new InvestED makes it possible for full-time employees of Desert Financial and its subsidiaries to earn a graduate or undergraduate degree online at Arizona State University with fully-paid tuition.”

Meshey is a strong advocate of work-life balance and keeping physically fit.

At 62, he begins each day exercising in his work-out room at his Chandler home and when plans were being made to renovate the six-story Desert Financial Headquarters building at 148 N. 48th Street, an employee fitness center was high on his list of must-haves.

“I believe getting up early and exercise are keys to a long life,” he said, adding his 87-year-old parents still live in Lancaster County. “There were many things I told myself I wanted to do when I became CEO and I knew I wanted to put in a fitness center for our employees.”

With more than 80 other perks available to Desert Financial employees – including paid parental leave, sick leave for elderly parents, $250 per child to pay for needs related to school/remote learning – the company is often voted One of the Best Places to Work in Phoenix.

And Meshey as CEO is often mentioned alongside those.

He is well respected by his employees as well as others with whom he comes in contact professionally.

His thick snow-white hair spills over his forehead from a left-sided part and the cleft in the center of his jaw often brings comparison to Kirk Douglas’ famous chin feature.

Meshey’s friendly face is frequently wreathed in a smile, his blue eyes twinkling behind his reading glasses.

He said his two elementary school daughters with wife Debbie do much to keep him young while his two older adult daughters, two grown stepsons and with three grandchildren add to the mix, making it easy to relate to his employees of all ages.

“I attribute a lot of my success to my own family and the values they instilled at me at a young age. And now, with my family, I think it really guides a lot of my decisions running a company,” he said. “And since I have young adult children as well as school- aged ones, this helps me to relate better to what our team members at Desert Financial are experiencing, and it’s a big reason why I’ve worked tirelessly to improve our benefits for parents and their children.”

The pandemic has complicated life for the credit union and its 47 branches due to the changes in working conditions, including many employees working from home, but had a silver lining for families, said Meshey.

“One of the positive things coming out of the coronavirus is the additional time that we’ve been able to spend with our families, and hopefully we are all making those moments count,” he said.

For his Chandler family, the lockdown and a recently remodeled kitchen brought unexpected culinary talents to light.

“I discovered that in addition to being a great mother and executive coach, my wife makes a fabulous lasagna,” he said of Debbie, his wife of 14 years. “With both of us working, and then a busy life with the girls, we really hadn’t cooked much.

“And I have this dish I’ve been making – a shrimp boil with corn, audouille sausage, potatoes and onion seasoned with Old Bay. We miss the Maryland Shore where we’d go every summer. I used to take my older daughters there, too. So, this is our east coast dish, and a really good thing to do on weekends and we love it.”

If family togetherness was a boon, the loss of professional baseball is the family’s bane.

“When I moved here in 1994, the Diamondbacks didn’t even exist, but when they played their first game on March 31, 1998 I was there. I’ve had a season ticket ever since that first year, and I was also in attendance at all four winning home games against the Yankees in the 2001 World Series,” he recalled proudly.

“Our family enjoyed watching baseball together, and we would often go on Sundays after church; we really miss doing that.”

A long-time fan of former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr., “The Iron Man” who was recently honored on his 25th anniversary of shattering Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-game streak, Meshey said he still ‘laments’ missing the Sept. 6, 1995 record-setting game.

“I had to miss that game because I’d moved to Phoenix in 1994. He remains an iconic hero to me, and I kind of identify with him as I think I’m a bit of an ‘Iron Man’ too, as I haven’t taken a sick leave in over 26 years,” said Meshey.

He is a member of Ahwatukee’s Mountain View Lutheran Church, where his wife is active in the children’s ministry.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I was a Christian,” he said. “The principles guide me in all I try to do as a servant leader.”

Meshey said there are many things he’s proud of as CEO of Desert Financial Credit Union including the commitment to the communities they serve through a wealth of projects.

As a not-for-profit cooperative, in 2019 Desert Financial gave nearly $11 million to Valley nonprofits, the community and members.

And in the same year, Desert Financial employees, also referred to as team members, volunteered nearly 8,000 hours, donated more than $248,000 through their Random Acts of Kindness program, donated $719,000 for community grants, donations and program sponsorships and supplied $106,000 for 53 teacher appreciation events at Title 1 schools.

And though “school” is no longer a part of the credit union’s name, helping teachers remains a big focus of Desert Financial.

The credit union is the title sponsor for the Arizona Education Foundation’s Teacher of the Year Award.

The 2021 roster of 10 nominees from throughout the state include Sarah Wyffels, Chandler High School Spanish Teacher,and two Mesa Public School teachers: Sharisse Nunes, Falcon Hill Elementary, and Nicole Powell, Las Sendas Elementary.

“I feel we are a good corporate citizen,” said Meshey. “Our employees give of their time, their talents and their money, and we do so because we care about the communities we live in.”

In 2018, Desert Financial established the Desert Financial Foundation as their first nonprofit entity. Their first year, the credit union donated $6.27 million to the Foundation.