Phyllis Cochran knows what it means to work her way to the top.
The president and CEO of Augusta VAH Federal Credit Union started her career as a teller and seven years later advanced to an executive position.
Today, after working at credit unions for 28 years, she presides over a $62 million financial institution that serves more than 10,000 members.
Augusta VAH has locations at 3830 Washington Road in Martinez and at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center on 15th Street and Wrightsboro Road. Currently, the credit union only serves workers at the VA hospital and federal employees, but Cochran hopes to soon get a community charter. This would allow the credit union to serve anyone, she said.
“It has been a pleasure to watch the growth, the numbers and the enhancements,” Cochran said. “I do what I love, and I love what I do.”
In 1984, at 18, Cochran started working as a teller at Gracewood Federal Credit Union, which later became Richmond Community Federal Credit Union.
“Anytime there was an opportunity to learn, I didn’t look for a pay increase or for a promotion,” Cochran said. “I just was very eager to learn, very thirsty for whatever I could learn to expand my own knowledge.”
Because she wore many hats, she became executive vice president and then president and CEO in 1991.
After 25 years of service at Richmond Community Federal Credit Union, she accepted a job as president and CEO of Augusta VAH Federal Credit Union in 2009. She landed the position after a national search, she said.
Cochran has had offers from outside the area, but she never felt like it was the right timing.
“My commitment is here locally,” Cochran said.
One of her biggest challenges was rebuilding after a fire destroyed the credit union’s building on Augusta West Parkway last year. Cochran said she is waiting for the results on the community charter before determining the credit union’s new permanent location.
The president and CEO is committed to her employees. This month, she held Employee Appreciation Day and purchased lunch from Sconyers Bar-B-Que for the entire staff with her own money. To add some cheer, she brought in yellow smiley-face stickers and yellow smiley-face cookies from a bakery for each person. Employees could also win gift cards and prizes.
“I like to see people happy,” Cochran said. “I’m only as good as the people around me. The passion starts at the top. I feel like I’m the one that sets the atmosphere.”
She is also a single mom. She loves entertaining her daughter’s friends in her home.
“My highest and most proud title I carry is mom,” Cochran said. “I’m very humbled that I’ve had the role and position I’ve had as long as I have, but nothing comes close to meeting that.”
It’s challenging to balance a demanding job, single motherhood and active involvement in the community and church, but it all works. Her work on various boards has given her the chance to meet many notable people, including George W. Bush, Colin Powell and Dick Cheney, she said.
Cochran, who loves politics, said that she might one day consider running for political office.