When Brian Hennessey was a boy growing up in Fairfield County, Conn., he never wavered much on the path that he wanted to take. He wanted to get into the financial sector, following in the footsteps of his father, an accountant. Hennessey, now 53, can easily recall his father’s advice: “If you’re going to get anywhere in this business, you need to get your letters,” he said, alluding to a CPA license. “I finally started taking him seriously as I moved into adulthood, and I realized he was right about those letters. It makes all the difference in the world.”
Hennessey eventually would add three more letters to the mix – he is now the CFO of People’s Credit Union.
Hennessey admitted to enjoying the accounting class that he took in high school at the urging of his father, something that many of his counterparts probably couldn’t concede. “It sounds kind of strange, but it’s true,” he said.
He wasn’t completely sold on the idea of being an accountant at that point, though as he and his friends started college and picked their majors, many were preparing to teach. Hennessey was drawn to teaching, but was worried about his prospects in the profession. So he settled into getting an undergraduate degree in accounting.
Despite some initial boredom with the bare bones of the profession, Hennessey knew that it would be a springboard to a long and fulfilling career. He went on from his first position at PriceWaterhouse to become the youngest vice president in the history of Gateway Financial in his 20s. He would follow that with a stint at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and major banks and health systems in southeastern Connecticut, where he raised his two children.
Hennessey said he was attracted to People’s Credit Union largely due to his experience working with community banks as opposed to regional or national enterprises.
“The way [CEO Ellen Ford] presented how the company was run, it was very much what I was used to with community banks,” he said. “Everything you do every day is geared toward the community you’re serving. [It’s] all about the member, and serving them is the No. 1 priority as opposed to in a public company, where it’s about the profit and shareholders and Wall Street.”
Now making his home in Newport, Hennessey has been at People’s for more than three years. Ford describes Hennessey as a community-oriented team player who brings “a totally different approach” to his position. “As a member of a leadership team, he’s very collaborative and always receptive to feedback,” said Ford.
Ford credits Hennessey’s collaborative approach to greatly enhanced financial reporting at People’s, which he looks at less as a “data dump” than an opportunity to provide analysis, strategy and education alongside the reports.
Although he did not go into teaching, Hennessey says that he never lost the desire to educate. “No matter what kind of job I had, one of the things I always wanted to do is try to develop people – to help them learn new things and undertake new challenges and feel good about what they do,” said Hennessey.
This attitude has earned Hennessey a reputation of being a man of the people, rather than just the numbers. Rather than staying behind his desk, he prefers to circulate throughout his team.
“Brian is erudite, personable and extremely capable of educating the board on the more complex financial issues,” said credit union board Chairman Dave Faucher. “His recommendations … have enabled the People’s Credit Union to remain a safe, secure and fiscally sound financial institution in these difficult economic times.”
Hennessey looks at the open line of communication that he’s fostered within the institution as one of the highlights of his career at People’s. This openness, he said, was crucial to two of the major projects he’s undertaken – revamping the entire budget system and making significant revisions to the Asset Liability Management reporting procedures.
Ford said that both projects benefited greatly from Hennessey’s philosophy, which encouraged managers to give and receive feedback, generate new ideas and contribute to significant expense reduction.
“I really feel strongly that the more folks that get involved in a decision, the better that decision is. … [We have] great people here,” he said.
People’s is involved in fundraising on behalf of various charities, chief among them the Rhode Island Special Olympics. Ford said Hennessey has been instrumental in fundraising for that cause.
Additionally, Hennessey bolstered the then-fledgling nonprofit Bike Newport. Hennessey joined as treasurer, helping the organization work through governance and finance issues. Now, he says, the group is getting its sea legs, and he’s proud to have been a part of it from the ground floor. Executive Director Bari George said that she’s “grateful every day for Brian, [and his] rare combination of talent and generosity.”
Hennessey, an avid cyclist, runner and triathlete, said that Bike Newport was a natural fit to join his passions for business, people and the outdoors. Once a marathon runner who tackled the New York and Boston marathons, Hennessey has pushed himself into new territory – triathlons. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment wrapped up in that hobby is not necessarily finishing the mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run that Hennessey has had to complete in half-marathon-length triathlons, but that he had the courage to start at all. Until his late 30s, Hennessey shared, he didn’t know how to swim.
“I was terrified,” he confided, “I really had an aversion to getting into water over my head.”
Not only has he pushed through that fear, but he’s conquered it with the characteristic aplomb that he brings to the complex challenges he faces from his desk chair. For Brian Hennessey, in life and business, sinking – or stopping – doesn’t enter into the equation. •