Gerry Agnes celebrates with staff after winning the credit union’s second Baldrige award. Courtesy Elevations Credit Union

Agnes leads Elevations Credit Union to 2 Baldrige Awards

BOULDER — Gerry Agnes and his staff at Elevations Credit Union worked hard for their two highly prestigious Baldrige Awards, but their efforts aren’t actually about the awards.

“Our goal is audacious excellence, plain and simple,” said Agnes, president and chief executive officer of Elevations, who offices in Boulder and Broomfield, and is a board member of Elevations Foundation Inc., founded in 2010. “It’s not about the award. It’s about making the organization better than yesterday and tomorrow. It’s that journey of excellence.”

A Boulder resident, Agnes joined Elevations in August 2008 during the Great Recession and chose the Baldrige framework to be able to deliver excellent service to the credit union’s membership and the larger community regardless of the economic environment.

The only non-CEO candidate for the position, Agnes was selected in part for his desire to pursue the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, a competitive U.S. presidential award that recognizes organizations for performance excellence. Elevations received the award in 2014 by outperforming credit unions nationwide and other in-market competitors, and in 2020 Agnes received the Baldrige Foundation Award for Leadership Excellence.

“Credit unions are designed to exist in perpetuity,” Agnes said, adding that other financial institutions might be traded on the stock market. “Our responsibility is to make sure the organization can thrive and prosper for years to come and to outlive our careers.”

The Baldrige Award, created in August 1987 and managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, recognizes organizations in all different industries that demonstrate excellence in strategy, leadership, workforce, customers (or members), organizational analysis, operations and results. Those organizations then can share their best practices with other organizations to lift the nation’s productivity and ability to compete globally.

“When Gerry started his career at Elevations, he told the team about his dream to win the Malcolm Baldrige Award,” said Kate Brown, a Boulder resident and chairwoman of the board of directors for Elevations. “Gerry planted the seed and enabled his team to become enamored with the standards of excellence that would result from the Baldrige journey. …  Every single employee of Elevations works toward those standards because they deeply believe in benefits they will bring to our work environment and our membership.”    

Agnes directs Elevation’s strategic objectives that focus on employee engagement, membership and financial performance with the aim to create a stable organization. He works with the board of directors on strategy, governance and policy and with the senior leadership team on vision and also on strategy. His objective is to improve member service and access and engage and empower his staff.

“Besides being an incredible strategic thinker and innovative in his approach to our strategic planning process, Gerry has the ability to surface considerations that others might not have thought of, even in their own particular business lines. He has a breadth of knowledge of our business that is admirable, and he uses it to help his team consider things from every angle,” said Janay Carlson of Westminster, corporate secretary and assistant to the CEO.

Carlson admires Agnes’s collaborative approach with his team and his encouragement of free and open dialog. Agnes wants to help the team and other leaders in the organization “grow in their roles and understanding of our business” through coaching, professional educational opportunities and access to tools outside of the organization, she said.

“Gerry has created a warm and genuine environment at Elevations, and he lives our core values every day,” Carlson said. “He truly cares about every employee. … We are fortunate beyond measure to be led by Gerry.”

Brown describes Agnes as being member-centric and credits him for making Elevations “the best place we ever worked,” she said.

“Member-centricity is the concept of making every decision, every action and every future plan with the primary consideration of the well-being of our members,” Brown said. “Over my five years of board service, it is heartening to see Gerry’s unwavering commitment to our membership — it is the epitome of ‘walking the talk.’”

Agnes wants to walk that talk with not only the members but the larger community.

“We help people in extraordinary ways, buying a home, retiring, acquiring capital to grow their business,” Agnes said. “I always enjoy helping a community prosper and do well. Knowing that what we do can advance the betterment of a community is inspiring.”

Agnes credits his team for earning the award that collectively can do more than he can do alone as a leader, he said. To do this, Elevations seeks out employees who are team focused and want to serve the membership, he said.

“We really operate in an integrated manner, and there is a lot of dependency in how we deliver our products and services, so team is everything,” Agnes said. “It takes the entire team to provide an amazing experience to our membership.”

Elevations consists of a network of 15 branches, five loan production offices and an administration center and has 600 employees, $2.7 billion in assets and $150 million in revenue. In 2003, Elevations changed its charter from serving the University of Colorado and a couple of labs to serving the community of Boulder and Broomfield. Now, the credit union serves the Front Range and the area from El Paso County north to the Wyoming border. To better fit that larger service area, the credit union changed its name in 2006 from U of C Federal Credit Union.

“What interested me most about Elevations is it has an amazing board of directors that is very progressive,” Agnes said, adding that the board is “able to operate in the wonderful region of Northern Colorado” with its diverse economy and community.

Agnes, a certified public accountant with 35 years of experience, came to Elevations from Altura Credit Union in Riverside, California, where he was the chief operating officer and had held other leadership positions from 2001 to 2008. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting from California Polytechnic State University in Pomona. His first position was as a CPA with Touche Ross & Co., a “big eight” accounting firm — that’s where he fell in love with banking, he said. He then held positions as president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer at various community financial institutions in California.

“My goal was to become a CPA. I wanted to learn the language of business, and accounting is the language of business,” Agnes said, adding that he also wanted to find an industry that appealed to him and to work his way into mid-level management.

Agnes volunteers in several industry and community organizations, including the Boulder Economic Council executive committee, the Boulder Chamber of Commerce board of directors, the Boulder County Business Hall of Fame board of directors and the Filene Research Institute advisory council.

Agnes’s wife is Cindy, and together they have three adult children. He loves to snow ski and is learning how to play the guitar.

“Gerry is a unique individual — his genuine humility, generosity and equanimity, combined with a good strategic mind and sharp instincts, make Gerry a person who people naturally want to follow,” Brown said. “Gerry holds himself to an incredibly high standard of integrity and professionalism. Through that modeling, he inspires others to do the same.”

BOULDER — Gerry Agnes and his staff at Elevations Credit Union worked hard for their two highly prestigious Baldrige Awards, but their efforts aren’t actually about the awards.

“Our goal is audacious excellence, plain and simple,” said Agnes, president and chief executive officer of Elevations, who offices in Boulder and Broomfield, and is a board member of Elevations Foundation Inc., founded in 2010. “It’s not about the award. It’s about making the organization better than yesterday and tomorrow. It’s that journey of excellence.”

A Boulder resident, Agnes joined Elevations in August 2008 during the Great Recession and chose the Baldrige framework to be able to deliver excellent service to the credit union’s membership and the larger community regardless of the economic environment.

The only non-CEO candidate for the position, Agnes was selected in part for his desire to pursue the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, a competitive U.S. presidential award that recognizes organizations for performance excellence. Elevations received the award in 2014 by outperforming credit unions nationwide and other in-market competitors, and in 2020 Agnes received the Baldrige Foundation Award for Leadership Excellence.

“Credit unions are designed to exist in perpetuity,” Agnes said, adding that other financial institutions might be traded on the stock market. “Our responsibility is to make sure the organization can thrive and prosper for years to come and to outlive our careers.”

The Baldrige Award, created in August 1987 and managed by the National Institute of Standards…