Ladysmith and District Credit Union CEO John de Leeuw is a Ladysmith institution. He has served the community through LDCU for 25 years and has overseen a period of unprecedented growth for the credit union.
After working at Columbia Valley credit union in Golden, B.C for three years, de Leeuw started at LDCU on July 18, 1995.
“I remember the credit union looking a lot different than it does today,” he said. “At the time we had $33 million in assets. As of the end of April 2021, we are in excess of $300 million in assets under administration.”
“I’m incredibly proud of the growth of the organization. When I came here we had 14 employees, now we have 40.”
Originally, de Leeuw figured he would be in Ladysmith for about five years but Ladysmith found a way to make him stay.
“I had a young family — the atmosphere and the feeling of the community made Ladysmith a great place to raise a family. We have this small-town feel, yet Nanaimo and Victoria are a short distance away from all the big city amenities you need. For me, it was the absolute best place to raise a family.”
De Leeuw and his wife Karen raised three daughters in Ladysmith. That prompted him to get more involved by volunteering his time to Ladysmith schools.
“The credit union had a school savings program for a time where kids would bring their savings and we would give them a stamp in a passbook. They could save up those stamps for prizes. In doing that, I got to know a lot of the teachers and principals.”
Another of de Leeuw’s contributions to Ladysmith schools came after a now-infamous basketball game at Ladysmith Primary School.
“When my kids were at the intermediate school they played basketball and asked me if I wanted to coach. We had a basketball game going on, it was loud. They had this little timer up on the stage and it had a buzzer. It was a close game, the lead was going back and forth. I was looking at the timer — I could see the time was almost out.”
“We go down and we score a basket — we’re up by one point — I hear the buzzer go and I’m yelling to the referee that the game’s over. But he didn’t hear the buzzer. So the other team went down and scored a basket before he called the game. We lost.”
In the midst of his stinging defeat, de Leeuw went to his then-boss at LDCU and made a passionate case for the credit union to buy a score clock for Ladysmith Intermediate. That score clock is still in use today.
A big point of pride for de Leeuw is the LDCU Kid’s Count Fun Zone at Ladysmith Days. The credit union provides an inflatable play structure for kids that is completely free as part of Ladysmith Days activities. He has also been instrumental in organizing and providing funds for the Ladysmith Days Fireworks Spectacular, as well as the Light Up fireworks display.
Now that de Leeuw’s daughters are grown, he says has remained in Ladysmith because it has become his home.
“I was born and raised in Calgary. I’m a staunch Calgarian — my family is still there and I love Calgary — but Ladysmith is my home. I look out my window and I have this unbelievable ocean view. We’ve got Transfer Beach, the Holland Creek Trail. Everything you could want as an empty-nesting adult is available. My wife and I bought a fifth wheel and we still haven’t taken it off the Island. It’s all right here.”
Being the CEO of a community-based credit union hasn’t always been easy. De Leeuw was promoted to CEO in 2005 and helped guide LDCU through the turmoil of 2008’s Great Recession.
“The world came within centimetres of the entire financial system in western society collapsing. People don’t understand how close it was,” de Leeuw said.
Prior to the Great Recession, the Bank of Canada’s interest rate was 4.50 percent in 2005 and fell to 1.75 percent by December 2008, and 0.50 percent by April 2009.
“Collectively as an organization, we shouldered through it and came out on the other side even stronger,” he said.
Now the COVID-19 pandemic has put LDCU in a similar circumstance. In 2018, the Bank of Canada’s key interest rate was set at 1.75 percent. Rates were slashed to 0.25 percent in March 2020.
“The resilience, the strength, and the leadership that every single staff member here has shown to our members, our clients, and our community is inspiring,” de Leeuw said.
De Leeuw has no plans to retire any time soon. He’s got his eye on continued growth at LDCU — he hopes to grow the credit union’s assets to over $500 million. He also wants to ensure that the next generation of LDCU leaders are ready to take the credit union to the next level and continue their legacy of being a community-based credit union that helps members reach their financial dreams.