From Teller to CEO

Southern Security Federal Credit Union’s Dawn Graeter Addresses Women’s Leadership Network

Dawn Graeter, President and CEO of Southern Security Federal Credit Union, offered a motivational talk to Chamber members and guests at the November Women’s Leadership Network luncheon, held at the Ridgeway Country Club on Thursday, November 16.

Graeter presented her professional journey casually and humorously through a personal style that both informed and entertained those in attendance.

Her talk was titled “From Teller to CEO” and was based on a presentation created by her son for a school project. As she proudly recalled, her son had been asked to create a presentation based on his personal hero.  

Graeter spoke of the foundation of hard work and personal integrity that was instilled in her by her parents, noting that she was taught “nobody owes you anything.” Graeter suggested that her mother’s being a schoolteacher helped create high expectations on the academic front. She outlined her gradual rise from high school employment at the local print shop to her foray into the banking industry as a part-time teller at Millington’s Tennessee Bank and Trust while still in college.

After graduating from the University of Memphis, Graeter moved progressively higher and higher through the ranks as she worked for a series of local banking institutions. As she noted, her path taught her both the good and bad sides of management styles.

Graeter recalled taking a brief interlude from the financial industry to help her father at his furniture store in Millington, preparing herself for the potential control of the family business. But, as she recalled, after several years she knew that her true path was in banking. Her father agreed. Her next step was the Bank of Bartlett.

Within a few short years, Graeter took the reins of the FAA Federal Credit Union and faced an enormous challenge to rebuild a failing institution. “We had to rebuild the organization and create a new culture.” It took 18 months to turn the company around. A series of financial mergers and re-organizations took Graeter to Southern Security in 2011.

While Southern Security had a good reputation through the years, Graeter discovered the need to develop a new sales culture with new goals and the demand to improve technology and add a strategic plan. Graeter has grown the credit union by 100 percent, increased her full-time work force by 37% and increased average annual net income by 127%. Graeter used AV to represent the physical growth of Southern Security from a small building on Summer Avenue to the construction of a beautiful new corporate headquarters, to be opened in 2025. Southern Security boasts six branches throughout the community.

Graeter completed her talk by recounting a horror she faced as a young woman.  After an evening out with a friend, their car was struck in the rear by another car, and Graeter was kidnapped and raped. As she noted to those in attendance, as horrible as that night was, she refused to let that experience define her life.

Hard work, savvy, perseverance, skill, intelligence and human-centered management have defined her life. She’s a visionary, and visionaries look ahead.