Scholarship Winner Comes Home to Lead

‘Representation matters,’ says SECU’s Kelli Holloway


Kelli Holloway expected her college scholarship from State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) Foundation, Raleigh, N.C., to lead to a career as a lawyer. Instead, it led her to become vice president of member education and outreach at $46 billion asset SECU.

Holloway’s path curved toward her hometown after she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel

Hill. An only child, she returned to Raleigh to help care for her mom while saving money for law school.

She hoped being a scholarship recipient would give her an edge in getting a job at SECU—and she was quickly offered a position as a financial services officer helping members with loans and mortgages.

Holloway also gave presentations at elementary and middle schools. After an executive saw her presentation, she became a member education specialist.

“This matches my passion and my purpose,” Holloway says. “How awesome that I was able to make it my position.”

Today, Holloway leads a team of 10 employees who develop programs and presentations and support the branch staff who help deliver them to members, schools, youth groups, and community organizations in all 100 North Carolina counties.

Holloway describes herself as a “radical optimist” who is passionate about her faith and demonstrates “radical acceptance” that life is different during a pandemic.

As a manager, she compares her “radical enthusiasm” for her team to the crowd in “The Price is Right,” where everyone cheers for each contestant to succeed. She believes credit unions thrive through teamwork that gives everyone a seat at the table.

“There’s a freedom in being radical,” Holloway said. “When you feel comfortable with the uncomfortable it shows good leadership, so that’s the kind of radical optimist I aim to be.”

‘If we’re going to say we’re diverse, we have to walk it, we have to talk it, we have to show it.’
Kelli Holloway

Holloway is willing to speak up to help others understand diversity, equity, and inclusion opportunities, and is a member of the Southern Region Committee Board for the African American Credit Union Coalition. For example, she helped amplify an employee’s comment that messages from leadership should be diverse.

“Representation matters,” Holloway said. “So if we’re going to say we’re diverse, we have to walk it, we have to talk it, we have to show it.”

After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked protests, Holloway realized “employees were suffocated by the grief that this moment provided.”

She was tasked with spearheading a “Crucial Conversations” course to help managers become sensitive to racial injustices and respond with empathy. More than 100 SECU managers have taken the 90-minute course so far, with plans to deliver it to several hundred additional managers in coming months.

Holloway sometimes feels the combined stress of social tensions, of being a Black woman in a leadership role, and of juggling the challenges of career, motherhood, and caregiving for her own mother. She relies on faith to restore her spirit, along with spending time with husband Mike and daughters three-month-old Ava and three-year-old Zoie.

Holloway’s faith brings the perspective of “the willing heart and the servant leader” to her work.

“There’s no ceiling on your capacity to learn about others and care and put yourself in their shoes,” Holloway says. “That’s how you’re able to change not just policies and procedures but minds and hearts.”

Published article available here.