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2014 BEST Business Community Leader: Brett Martinez

Author: Judith M. Wilson
May, 2014 Issue

“Being involved in the community is who we are and what we do.” —Brett Martinez

 
Lessons in leadership came early for Brett Martinez, president/CEO of Redwood Credit Union. Although he had several leadership roles as a youth—including Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, student council and on many sports teams—he relates that he was also inspired by his relationship with his maternal grandparents, who were deaf. “I was the only hearing person in the room, sometimes with 60 or 70 people,” says Martinez. He began interpreting for his grandparents when he was 5 or 6 years old, essentially being their ears, and, as time went on, he negotiated on their behalf as well. And so, as a young child, he became comfortable dealing with adults. “It definitely had a big impact on my life,” he says, observing that it helped him develop a keen sense of communication.
 
He also credits his mother, who was CEO of a credit union in Southern California, for demonstrating what leadership means, as well as giving him the opportunity to learn about credit unions and serving people. It’s something he loves. He’s been in the business for 29 years, 12 of them at Redwood Credit Union, and this is the second time NorthBay biz readers have chosen him as BEST Business Community Leader. The first was in 2009.
 
As CEO of a full-service financial institution, Martinez is ready to face challenges, and the biggest one recently was providing services for a wide range of members as they weathered the recession. Taking a rather unusual approach, Redwood Credit Union didn’t lay off employees, reduce community service or cut back on anything. Rather, the plan was to continue business as usual. “Nobody knew how long it was going to last,” says Martinez. “We just worked harder than ever and rolled up our sleeves to help [our members] get through it.”
 
The result? Although seemingly risky, given the downturn in the economy, it was a calculated strategy that delivered rewards. “We came out stronger than we’ve ever been,” he says. With 18 branches and 410 employees serving the North Bay and San Francisco, Redwood Credit Union now has 232,000 members and $2.3 billion in assets, Martinez reports.
 
Redwood Credit Union’s mission statement is to “Passionately serve the best interests of our members, employees and communities,” says Martinez. “It’s something I’m passionately aligned with. Being involved in the community is who we are and what we do.” He takes pride in RCU’s employees, who live and work in the community, and says they really connect with people. They participate in KZST’s Secret Santa program, raising funds and donating toys to needy children during the holidays, and the business supports many nonprofit and community organizations, including the Sonoma, Marin and Mendocino Human Race events and United Way, which Martinez describes as “big-pillar things.” He especially likes the choices the two organizations offer, such as raising money or providing sponsorships and giving donors the option of designating where they want their money to go.
 
Personally, Martinez has served on several boards, including the Red Cross, United Way, Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and the North Bay Leadership Council. “I do quite a bit with Children’s Miracle Network and Oakland Children’s Hospital. Those are the things that mean the most to me,” he says, explaining that being able to see children positively impacted is rewarding. “It definitely feels good at the end of the day,” he says.
 
He's also coached Little League and served as a mentor. “It feels good to help someone,” he says. “Nobody teaches leadership in school,” he observes, so he advises young people to find out what their personal values are, look for people they respect and learn from them. “Recognize that you don’t know everything and be willing to learn,” he says. “I’m always still working on it. Everyone needs guidance.”
 
Martinez came to Sonoma County in 2002, and it has truly become his home. When he travels, he finds coming back amazing. “I definitely am in love with this area. I love the people,” he says, and adds that he makes those closest to him a priority. He considers himself fortunate to have two families, his wife and children—“my immediate family who I go home to at the end of the day”—and his Redwood Credit Union family. “They're amazing people. We’re a big family here,” he says.
 
Martinez’s first reaction on learning he'd received the BEST Business Community Leader award was that he had won previously, so this time it should go to someone else. The voters, however, have the last word. “Getting the award twice is a huge honor. I was so surprised,” he says. He adds that he sees it as recognition for Redwood Credit Union. “It’s an amazing company.”

 

 

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