Meet Tansley Stearns; to quote the great Alicia Keys, this girl is on fire! She serves as the chief people and strategy officer for Canvas Credit Union and was recently named a 2021 Credit Union Rock Star by the Credit Union National Association, making her the only leader from a Colorado-based credit union to earn the award this year. Tansley was nice enough to spend some time with North Forty to talk a little shop and share her secrets to success.
- You’re described as someone who “stays ahead of financial industry trends.” Is that why you religiously wake up every morning at 3:50 am?
I am absolutely a morning person. Two epic morning people raised me. One of the lessons my parents taught me was to get the hard work out of the way early so that you can enjoy fun later. I’ve been a runner since I was 11 and I’ve recently also started enjoying Peloton. Immediately when I get up in the morning, I zip downstairs and do my work-out for the day. It leaves me feeling energized, and often, an idea might start percolating.
- You joined Canvas in 2018, right before the pandemic hit, and I listened to an interview you did last February regarding HR strategies post COVID. Can you talk a little bit about how life now looks for “family members” at Canvas?
One of our pillars is to be known for our people, and this work has positioned us well for even stronger outcomes post-pandemic. The culture our family members built together sustained us through challenging times. Our President & CEO, Todd Marksberry, kept his commitment to people at the center of our decision-making, and we did not have any layoffs or pay reductions.
- It’s clear to see, in addition to your most recent award, you’ve accomplished quite a lot in the short amount of time you’ve been with Canvas. One of those accomplishments is without a doubt the credit union’s podcast, “In the Room with Todd Marksberry.” I realize you collaborated with your team, but can you talk about the inception of the podcast and what the ultimate hopes and/or goals are with it?
The podcast was born to help demystify leadership. Through Todd’s conversations, we highlight the exceptional journeys of CEOs and owners. I remember so vividly when I was first starting my career watching leaders in my credit union go into closed-door meetings, and I was so curious what was happening. I could not wait to “be in the room.” This podcast allows us to invite even more people into the room and inform their paths. We alternate between Colorado organizations and credit unions worldwide, and invite stories of leadership, lessons from failure, and ask each guest to share just a bit of advice. Ultimately, we hope to break down industry barriers and create connections that help us learn, grow and support one another.
- I saw you recently tweeted an episode of the podcast (from March) with guest Adrian Bota, founder and CEO of ORIGIN Milk, who shares his inspiring story of how he and his family were immigrants from communist Romania, and he was eventually able to pave a path of success for himself in America, to briefly summarize. Do you personally have a hand in selecting the guests and if so, what’s your process?
I do have the epic opportunity to support finding our guests. I’m a very curious human. I love to learn about people. My process includes inviting guests we know well who, are dear friends of Todd, Canvas, and myself. I’ve also researched some of the most successful leaders across Colorado and our great country that we didn’t know at all. Through my research, I look for human beings with unique perspectives and stories, and through the podcast we love to bring experiences and perspectives to life.
- Todd Marksberry was quoted as saying you’re, “a force to be reckoned with.” Where do you suppose your tremendous drive comes from? Should we all just start waking up at 3:50 am? What’s your secret?
I credit my parents for my drive. They both worked my entire life tirelessly. My mom taught school for 30 years, and my dad was a CPA. I remember spending many hours at their places of employment so that they could exceed expectations and serve others. They always put others before self, and they always live up to their commitments. They challenged themselves to be better. I never want to invite people to do what I do. While it works for me, I know my approach to life seems silly for many people. I’m a planner, and I love to know how my day will unfold and look forward to connections that will occur in the future. I keep myself organized by getting up early, setting time with those I work with and keeping agendas. I practice and prepare. I realize many people lead exceptionally well in different ways.
- I’ve heard you talk a lot about creating impact, what specifically does that look like to you?
Credit unions change people’s lives. At Canvas, this means helping our members afford life by making decisions that drive them toward their dreams and growing stronger financially. It means being a leader in our communities by dedicating funds, resources, and our time to schools, families, veterans, and first responders. And it means impacting positive change in the lives of the people who create and grow their careers with us.
- You once said, “we have to make working at a credit union sexy.” Care to elaborate on that at all?
We’re dedicated to helping our members Live Well(er) in all facets of well-being (physically, mentally, socially, and of course, financially), and I think that’s a pretty compelling career opportunity. Before I retire, it’s my dream to ensure that new graduates aim to start their journey with a credit union.
- Any marathons coming up?
I do not. My dream was to run the Boston Marathon, and I was able to qualify at the Hartford Marathon and run Boston in 2009, the year before my daughter Mackenzie was born. Since then, running has been a daily part of my investment in my well-being. I love the melody of my feet strikes. I love the ritual of getting up early and the feeling of accomplishment when my run or ride is behind me. I love the engagement and community of riding on my Peloton.
- If you could only choose to have one superpower, the power to fly or the power to listen to people, which would you choose and why?
Without a doubt, I would choose to listen! That’s something I think we do exceptionally well at Canvas and is a fundamental part of our philosophy and culture. Every one of our initiatives begins with listening – to our members, our Canvas family and our communities. We continually engage with others to hear what problems they face, what they dream of creating in their financial future, and what they look for in a community leader and employer. Armed with these inputs, we can use our innovation process to develop ideas, prototype and test, and bring new concepts to life.
- How does it feel to be recognized as a 2021 Credit Union Rock Star? Any potential faces you might like to rub this victory in?
It is truly an honor to be recognized among such esteemed industry leaders, and even more humbling to bring Colorado’s voice to the national movement. I certainly believe Canvas is the best credit union in Colorado history, and to see that the industry believes just as strongly in us is beyond rewarding and deeply humbling.
- Favorite Dave Matthews song or are they all garbage?
I am a major Dave Matthews fan! Seeing the band play this year at Fiddler’s Green was such a joy. The band smiles and exudes energy throughout each show. They love what they do, and that shines. It’s hard to pick just one song, and if I had to pick just one, I would say, “Why I Am.” It’s a tribute to a former bandmate, LeRoi Moore, who passed in 2008. The song celebrates an epic human. What I hear in the song is an invitation for all of us to embrace the complexity of each day as we feel the brilliance and vibrance of life while also experiencing the darkness and despair that loss can leave.
- Lastly, who do you have for Oct. 30? Wolverines or Spartans?
I’m a loyal Wolverine, and we’ve sure been rockin’ it this year. I’ll be cheering for our Victors to play well and win. My mom and one of my dearest friends who runs a credit union in Michigan, Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, are both Spartans and I love them dearly. It’s a fun rivalry, I know it’ll be a great game. On the 30th, you’ll find me watching and cheering all the way through! I’m definitely not a quiet fan.
So, that’s Tansley, you have now officially met her. The next step is to go open an account with Canvas Credit Union and give them all of your money! (Or not, totally your call.) If you’d like to check out the podcast, “In the Room with Todd Marksberry” please visit podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/in-the-room-w-todd-marksberry/id1481513677 or iheart.com/podcast/269-in-the-room-w-todd-marksbe-76168623/.