Leadership matters! It can make or break the success of a company and the overall effectiveness and morale of its employees. In today’s climate, especially amid the “Great Resignation” days everyone talks about, it is important that you have the right person in charge. That’s why when you come across a man like Isaac Johnson or hear the praises sung about him from his team, you know that whatever he’s doing, he’s getting it right.

The Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law graduate climbed military ranks to become Brigadier General for the US Army Reserves 351st Civil Affairs Command, later gaining the prestigious appointment in 2021 as the first Black president and CEO of TDECU, Houston’s largest credit union.

With Johnson leading a team of nearly 900 employees providing financial solutions and education to more than 370,000 member-owners, we felt he was the perfect person to share tips on financial literacy and stability with Bayou Beat News readers.

BBN: How has your law degree and military background shaped you for your role today?

Johnson: I remember when I was a banker early in my career, I looked at presidents and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies throughout the nation. I saw that many of those CEOs had law degrees in their backgrounds and that helped me solidify my decision to study law. I think those fundamentals of reasoning and logic that law school taught helped me with communication, written and oral, and learning how to influence.

Photo credit: TDECU

BBN: What is your leadership style?

Johnson: I have learned as much from bad leaders as I have from good leaders. My style is to clearly take charge. If you are a leader, you lead from the front. I welcome that responsibility, it is a privilege. I love to empower my teammates.

Even in the military, to where I am today, as a commanding general, I can use authority to make something happen but if I find myself having to use that authority, I sometimes think I have personally failed because that means I have to resort to “do what I say” versus influencing my teammates and leaders to rally to a ‘North Star’ or a common purpose.

BBN: What is your advice to someone fresh out of college and going into their first job?

Johnson: My advice is exactly what I shared with my son. Once you land your first job or opportunity, have confidence to know that you deserved to be there, but clearly still be humble to understand that learning comes with working with teammates and wanting to be a part of something. You can maintain your authentic self but go ahead and get into the culture of the team so you can grow.

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BBN: What advice can you give to others to help guide them on a healthy financial journey?

Johnson: I’d like to share a childhood memory. It was a hot summer day, and I went into a bank with my mother. It was big with marble floors, very fancy, and we went to get a loan but were turned down. It wasn’t until I was president of TDECU that I called to ask her about that day and learned she was turned down after asking for only $300. That hurt.  With that being said, I want to stress that everyone should have some sort of financial literacy or security.

Here are some tips:

1. Savings. Most financial advisors will tell you that you should have a minimum of six months to a year of emergency savings in your account, but for people in underserved communities who may be living paycheck to paycheck, I would say whatever money you put away for an emergency fund, even $50, have something that you can go to in your time of need.

2. Budget. We must have the discipline of having a budget and sticking to it. 

3.  Protect your credit. Good credit can open doors for you to finance major purchases, pay college tuition, etc. Don’t get overextended and make sure you pay your minimum payments on time every month.

Photo credit: TDECU

BBN: Under your leadership, how are you ensuring that is TDECU remains connected with the community?

Johnson: We are intentional with reaching out in initiatives. We are communicating with organizations in the community – like Texas Southern, Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, the Tejano Center, and others – partnering with them on how we can help their members, students, or constituents on financial literacy, and hopefully they can become members of TDECU.

BBN: What is the main principle you live by?

Johnson: Believe in something that is greater than yourself. For me, it is God, and when you put other people’s needs before yours, you will be fulfilled, and it will come back to you.