The biggest obstacle Jared Freeman had to overcome to be president and CEO of one of Alabama’s oldest credit unions was his age.
“Age discrimination is real, and I found that it works the other way – you’re too young, you don’t have any gray hair, you don’t have enough life experiences, you don’t know enough, there’s no way this 27-year-old guy can lead a multi-million-dollar organization,” said Freeman. “It’s made me work harder.”
The University of Mobile graduate is responsible for over $230 million in assets for 29,000 members of the Alabama State Employees Credit Union. He manages employees twice his age, and works with a Board of Directors who are contemporaries of his grandparents.
“I think my age is an advantage in some ways,” he said. When the new, young CEO questions why something is being done a certain way, it encourages employees to break away from the way things have always been and begin to think creatively about how things could be.
“It’s a new day, it’s a new age, it’s a new CEO,” Freeman said.
It has taken drive, determination and passion to reach his goal – qualities that Freeman is using to energize and lead the credit union to the next level.
“I knew I wanted to be in a position of influence and a position of authority, and I knew I wanted to be there before I was 30. I had that vision, and I worked toward it,” said Freeman, who stepped into the top spot at ASE Credit Union on Oct. 1, 2015.
He graduated from the Christian university in Alabama in 2011, earning both a Bachelor of Science in finance and a Master of Business Administration through the school’s 5-Year Integrated M.B.A. Program. A two-term Student Government Association president, cross country runner and Center for Performing Arts scholarship recipient, Freeman had a college experience that included meeting national leaders George W. Bush, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee during the school’s annual Leadership Banquet fundraiser.
The financial industry was also part of his college experience, as Freeman worked to put himself through school.
“I was literally working for it every single day. I’d get up at 6 a.m. and drive down Schillinger Road to work at Regions Bank as a teller, drive back to class, drive back to work, drive back for cross country practice, and then go to a night class,” he recalled.
When he started his career after college, it was his ability – and willingness – to make decisions set Freeman apart.
“We live in a world where nobody wants to be wrong, nobody wants to make a mistake. Therefore, they don’t like making decisions; they’re bringing it to somebody else to make a decision,” he explained. “Truthfully, I just took a leap of faith and started making decisions. Right or wrong, I was going to make a call. I think that’s what got people’s attention. It’s definitely the reason I got the role of Chief Operations Officer at my last job.
“Somebody’s got to make the decision. If you’re willing to take that leap of faith and be the one, you’re definitely going to gain some positive attention.”
It was a different leap of faith that brought Freeman to the University of Mobile, when many of his friends were deciding to attend large public universities.
“I wanted to do something different. I wanted to be someone different,” he said.
When he drove on campus for the first time, “I just felt instantly emotionally attached. It’s one of those things you can’t really put into words, that you just knew – this is it. This is where I want to go,” he said.
But his parents said “no.” There was no money for a private college education in a family whose income put them in the lower middle class.
After three months, “I literally pulled my mom aside one day and said, ‘I’m going, regardless. I’d really like it if you were on board.’ She just broke down in tears and said, ‘We’re going to do this.’”
Freeman remembers vividly when he paid for his first semester with the savings he had been earning from part-time jobs since he was 16 years old.
“I wrote a check for $9,386.84 which was every dime I had for my first semester of college, and sat on the floor in Weaver Hall and cried my eyes out, because I knew I didn’t have another dime, and I had only paid for one semester.”
Faculty and staff helped him get scholarships that, along with student loans, covered tuition each semester.
“I think it’s incredible that you know you’re where God wants you to be when, against all odds, you go somewhere you know that you can’t afford. It’s incredible the way God provided that and made a path,” Freeman said.
He brings that understanding of financial struggles to his career in the financial sector, where he helps people in “very realistic, tangible, practical ways.”
“Money tends to be a stress point in a lot of people’s lives and in a lot of people’s marriages,” he said. “To be able to sit across the desk from someone and counsel them in such a way that you know you’ve just given them freedom from that worry and anxiety; that’s the most rewarding thing ever.”
That ability to make a difference is important to recent college graduates, Freeman said, “especially our generation of workers. They have to feel an emotional connection of some sort. They have to believe in it, to have a purpose.”
His own purpose is clear.
“At the end of the day, not only as a believer but as a business person, success is the building up of others. If we as believers and business people invest in others, and that becomes our product – people and building them up – then the income will take care of itself, the growth will take care of itself. All those things will happen because you’re investing in people.”
Just one month into his new position, Freeman loves being a CEO.
“It’s intoxicating that I get to do what I do every day. It’s so rewarding; it’s so much fun, even though I’m working 60 or 70 hours a week. I hope that passion rubs off on people, that they become passionate about helping people and doing what they do,” Freeman said.