Amy Martel is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of People’s Credit Union, headquartered in Middletown. Martel is a certified chief executive through the Credit Union Executive Society’s CEO Institute. She sits as the chair of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce.
This spring, Martel, age 45, graduated with honors from the New England College of Business with a Bachelor of Science in business administration with a concentration in banking and finance.
PBN: It seems extraordinary that you achieved the posts of executive vice president and COO at the credit union without already having a bachelor’s degree. How did your career at People’s start and progress?
MARTEL: I attended college right out of high school, studying industrial engineering full-time, and completed many of the basic business courses during that time but ultimately decided a career in engineering was not right for me.
After leaving school in 1994, I started in banking as a teller at a small community bank, which gave me a lot of opportunity to learn on the job and advance through various management positions as the bank grew over time. When I joined People’s Credit Union in 2009, I already had experience leading numerous departments within a financial institution, including retail banking, marketing, [information technology], lending, training, facilities, human resources and operations, making the EVP and COO role at the credit union a perfect fit for me.
PBN: And what made you decide to enter New England College of Business when your career was already well underway?
MARTEL: Finishing my education was always something I thought about and hoped to someday accomplish. When an email came through from New England College of Business explaining their degree programs and the tuition discounts available to employees of partner financial institutions, such as the credit union, I was intrigued to learn more.
After further research, I determined the curriculum offered by NECB was specifically geared to my experience and my future career goals. I started taking courses to increase my knowledge, improve myself professionally and enhance my contributions as a leader for the credit union.
PBN: Did you find yourself surprised at times by academic or theoretical views of the corporate world, after having worked inside it?
MARTEL: The students at NECB have diverse backgrounds, and that made for some lively discussions and learning exchanges. It was interesting to be exposed to the different viewpoints younger professionals have about topics versus those of us that have been in the corporate world for years and may be jaded by our personal experiences.
For instance, in many classes, the younger students were being exposed to the impact of the Great Recession of 2007-2009 on banking and finance for the first time via the course materials, while those of us that have been working in the industry for longer amounts of time lived through the actual events and were able to help bring the class material to life with actual examples.
PBN: What are the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing an advanced degree later than the usual age 18-to-25 period, when a person is well into an ongoing career?
MARTEL: Personally, I only encountered advantages by studying later in my career. I appreciated each and every class more than I ever did as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school without any real-life corporate experience.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning new things and understood how different course topics could immediately be applied to my work environment. In fact, I brought some of that knowledge back to my team at the credit union and implemented a few new practices based on course study materials.
PBN: What advice would you give anyone who is already deep into a career and who is considering postgraduate schooling?
MARTEL: Just do it! Over the years, I found and made every excuse to not go back to school. I was too busy. It was too expensive. I did not have time. In the end, none of that mattered. I finally stopped procrastinating, committed to making myself better and signed up for a class. I loved it so much that I signed up for the next class, and before I knew it, I was done. I can finally say I am a college graduate. If anyone else is out there making those same excuses, my advice would be to just sign up for one class. You have to start somewhere, and you are worth it.
Mary Lhowe is a PBN contributing writer.