Marc Stefanski’s message of culture and values at Third Federal never grows old

Marc Stefanski is quite aware of his biggest challenge at Third Federal Savings & Loan. It’s not just hiring quality talent — it’s making sure that the nearly 1,000 employees absorb the corporate culture and values.

You see, Third Federal is so careful about the message it conveys to the public that it puts “not open today” instead of “closed” on its doors.

“Around here, we always say we’re not open on a certain day; we don’t use the word ‘closed,’” he says. “The word ‘closed’ has such a negative connotation. When banks closed in 1929, they closed for good. So we don’t use the word closed. If I walk around to other banks, they’ll say ‘We’re closed.’ I always shake my head.”

As Stefanski, chairman and CEO, puts it, Third Federal has earned customers’ trust through small gestures and mission-based culture and values. These values include love (for one another), trust, respect, commitment to excellence, fun and the mission is to help people achieve the dreams of homeownership and financial security.

Stefanski’s not shy about confirming that he feels Third Federal is a horse of a different color.

“I’m more of a relationship manager than anything else, which I think is a different concept out there,” he says. “I think you get a lot more out of people by treating them with respect and having all those values in place, and having it be a little more personal. I base my life and my commitment here on the character ethic as opposed to the personality ethic. Character ethic is deep-seated in all the values that I mentioned.

“Personality ethic is more what you might see from a politician, ‘I can do this for you.’ And they’re popular and get elected, but underneath, many folks might have dynamic personalities — and maybe they’re good people — but there isn’t a whole lot of substance.

“We’re a mission-based organization. That’s how I run my personal life and my business life, too.”

Here’s a look at how Stefanski drives Third Federal’s culture and values as the prime focus of its mission, which has built the institution to $11.7 billion in total assets as it marks its 75th year.

‘Lead by example’ still rings true

Business consultants stress over how important it is for a company leader to set the pace and to live the example. It’s the one position that has to own the vision and drive the values.

Stefanski sees great value for a CEO to be consistent in his or her personal life and business role. “I don’t want to act one way off campus and then another way here at the office,” he says.

“How many organizations do you see where they may have their values up on the wall or they may have the CEO talk about something, but then he goes and does something else? That’s counter to what the values to which everyone else is supposed to adhere.”

It’s being consistent with the message and then living the values, and the CEO is the keeper of the values.

“That’s part of the leader’s job. Maintain the culture; repeat, repeat, repeat; and be the keeper of the values,” Stefanski says. “Lead by example. Try to be physically fit; try to update yourself on all the things that are going on; and be a leader in all respects.”

This may be a difficult assignment for some since every person has faults. Stefanski admits he has his share, but says, “I think, conceptually, you try to be that person.” That means balancing and aligning your priorities and managing your resources.

“My personal strategy, whether it be at home or here, is people first, strategy second,” he says.

“‘People’ encompass the customer side of things. Treat your people well, with respect and love, give them all the tools to be excellent customer service representatives and make sure they’re loved on the job. And in turn, they’re going to treat the customers better.

“It’s really made a difference. If you look at it, our turnover rate is 4 percent, while the industry rate is 20 percent. We keep the process simple, we love our people and we work them hard. Everyone knows they’re here because they’re good, not because they’re lucky. Our expectations are high.”