A Different Kind of Rock Star: 717 Dedicates New Center to Soukenik

WARREN, Ohio – Gary Soukenik always dreamed of seeing his name on the bright lights of a marquee.

He achieved that goal – sort of – on Thursday when 717 Credit Union dedicated the Gary Soukenik Financial Center at the site of its original branch on Larchmont Avenue. Soukenik’s name is on the sign that overhangs the main entrance.

“I tried to play guitar and I was going to be a rock star, but that didn’t work,” said Soukenik, the credit union’s president and CEO. “I guess it’s not a bad backup.”

The honor was a culmination of 40 years of work. Soukenik joined the credit union in 1977. 

The naming of the financial center came as a surprise for Soukenik; he expected to give a presentation about the financial center at Thursday’s dedication event. Even his own family kept the news from him. 

“We teach people to be very secretive about our member data, our members’ information,” he said. “So I’m glad they can keep a secret and keep it well.”

In his younger years, Soukenik had a rock band, but it wasn’t very good, he said. So instead he focused on his education, taking management courses with the goal to eventually own his own business.

He graduated from college and tried getting a job in retail to pay the bills, but the pay being offered was too low. Eventually he found his way to Dial Finance Co., where he became a credit manager.

After getting his foot in the door, he started to hear about the services at 717 Credit Union. Eventually, he was running the show at 717 – the age of 26 in 1980.

Soukenik forged his “hard skills” – business knowledge and other abilities necessary to run the business – through his education. But he said his “soft skills” – teamwork and collaboration – were enhanced by the people working at the credit union.

He originally developed those soft skills when he was running a rock band.  “You need that orchestration,” he said. “Everybody [needed to be] doing the right thing at the right time and you need that. But my band was never that good. It worked here because this institution got very good at what it does.”

The credit union had a history of embracing technology before Soukenik’s arrival. It was the first financial institution to have ATMs in the Mahoning Valley and installed its own in-house computer system the year he took over.

Since then, 717 has continued to push forward with technology. Last year, the credit union released the Personal Teller Machine, which blends the functionality of an ATM with video access to a teller.

Soukenik said the credit union looked at how to implement the system for years. And it just so happened to coincide with the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited  face-to-face interactions.

“It’s easy to run a business,” Soukenik said. “All you have to do is give people what they want. If you give it to them at a fair price and you’re reliable and you’re responsive to their needs, then it all works out.”

717 will continue to focus on technology. Soukenik said the company is in the process of evaluating whether its system will need an upgrade and is looking into different forms of digital finance.

He said diversity, equity and inclusion also has become a focus. The company started evaluating its hiring practices seven years ago.

“We established a hiring council – some members of our community who helped us take a look at hiring practices, advertising for employment,” Soukenik said. “We have moved the needle quite a bit on the diversification of our staff.”

Soukenik said he doesn’t plan to retire any time soon, adding he wouldn’t know what to do with so much time on his hands. He still plays guitar for his own enjoyment, but he won’t get the band back together when the time comes to hang up the suit and tie.

So for now, he’ll continue to build the credit union’s legacy.

“As long as we stay focused on what’s best for the members, we’ll be here for another 60 years,” he said. “We [will be] a significant financial force in this community.”

Pictured: 717 Credit Union honored its president and CEO, Gary Soukenik, by dedicating its new financial center to him.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.