St. Canice’s CU CEO, Claire Lawton, set to retire next month.

Claire Lawton epitomises the many definitions of leadership, none more so than that of Jane Sparrow in ‘The Culture Builders’. Being prophet, storyteller, strategist, coach and most importantly pilot; her calm nature exuding an authoritative yet enabling environment in which people and business can thrive. St. Canice’s Credit Union’s success is attributable in large part to her leadership. Having spent 22 years as the CEO of the largest Community Credit Union in Ireland, she has chosen to retire next month on her 60th Birthday.

Claire’s strong relationship with the global credit union movement was nurtured in childhood by her Father; Nicholas Butler (RIP) who was a former director and manager of Carrick-on-Suir Credit Union. It is true to say the apple did not fall far from the tree; as Claire followed her Father’s ethos of cooperation amongst cooperatives in both her working life in Ireland and as far away, in guiding credit unions, as to Sierra Leone last year. Putting the member at the core of decision making is second nature not only to Claire but all credit union CEOs. This clear dictate permeates throughout St. Canice’s and runs through the blood of the board, volunteers and staff and has in no small part lead to the accolades of credit unions leading in Customer Experience Excellence (CXi) as well as No.1 for trust and reputation (RepTrak®). As Claire says it “putting the customer first is not just a catch-phrase; it’s a way of being”.

Having started her career with AIB and spending 20 years in banking, it was in March 1998 that she began as CEO of St. Canice’s Kilkenny Credit Union Ltd. At that time there was a staff of 19, assets of IR£40m with 1 branch offering a single share/loan offering. Since that time the demands of members and the changing world has seen St. Canice’s Credit Union grow with Claire to incorporate online service offerings, a current account & debit card, mortgages, member service centre, multi-rate loans, increased regulation, be part of mergers with 9 other local credit unions and lots more plans for the future in which Claire has played a central role. She now leads an organisation of a staff of more than 100, assets of €450M with a branch network spanning 3 counties.

In talking with Claire, she has been gracious when recalling the many high points of her career with St. Canice’s. Never one to blow her own trumpet, she is proud of the environment of trust, based on transparency and inclusiveness, that has been achieved during her time as CEO. In 2007 she was instrumental in the creation, launch and success of the small business support loan scheme in conjunction with the Local Enterprise Office in Kilkenny, which offered financial support to small businesses via start up & expansion loans at a time when businesses in this country were struggling to access finance of any type. More recently Claire has been involved and played a central role in the creation of Metamo, a joint venture between Fexco & 16 other credit unions; which will deliver a better, stronger and sustainable future for Credit Unions in Ireland.

As a strong businesswoman in finance, she never felt held back in her desire to move her career forward and was supported in this at home by her husband John. They have 4 amazing daughters and while family life has always been the primary focus for Claire, in retirement she will get the opportunity to relish not only her children but also her 3 grandchildren, who are without question, each one, the apple of her eye.

Over the last 22 years Claire has faced challenging times, none more so than the deep recession of ten years ago which led to loan write-offs and investment impairments all of which, with the help of her team and working with members, was overcome.

Claire believes that the last few months of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic puts past challenges in the shade but knows that St. Canice’s has the reserves, resources, people (on the board, with volunteers, management team and staff) and loan offerings to come through it and continue to support members as we have done for more than 50 years.

This long-planned time for Claire to retire comes with a touch of deflation; as we cannot have the big send-off and celebration that we had planned for her – due to Covid-19. We will postpone it like so many other gatherings, but it will happen. We hope you will join us in thanking her, wishing her well and saying farewell; doubtless she will soar to even higher heights in the next chapter of her successful career; whatever she chooses to do.

Thank- you Claire.

Best of Luck.

Au Revoir but not goodbye.

Photo credit: Tony Comerford @toecomerford

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