In February, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine escalated into all-out war, Bruce Foulke decided he had to do something. Since then, he has rallied credit union leaders across the U.S. and Poland to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase urgently needed supplies for refugees.
But that hasn’t been enough for Foulke, president and chief executive of American Heritage Credit Union in Philadelphia. He has also prioritized seeing the devastation in Ukraine firsthand, continually visiting battle-torn regions and meeting displaced families and local officials to understand what kinds of supplies are essential.
Because of Foulke’s extraordinary efforts to help those affected by the war in Ukraine, American Banker has named him as Credit Union Executive of the Year.
“Being a volunteer firefighter in addition to being a CEO, I just gotta help people and I can’t just sit down and not help out. … Ukraine is really hurting me and seeing those refugees really, really made me cry a lot publicly,” Foulke said.
To raise the funds to help Ukrainian refugees, Foulke teamed up with Brian Branch, former president and CEO of the World Council of Credit Unions, and launched the Polish American Credit Union Support Fund in March.
The fund was able to raise more than $400,000 in its first few months and acquire two ambulances — costing roughly $75,000 each — promptly putting them into service at Polish hospitals.
After returning from his most recent trip, he mentioned his success in providing Lviv City Children’s Clinical Hospital in Ukraine with an ambulance much like the ones gifted to hospitals in Poland. The fund has also donated a modified pickup truck designated as a “safe” car to the Ukrainian armed forces for extracting wounded soldiers from the conflict.
Foulke plans to continue operating the fund into 2023 and will tap into the credit union’s network of workplace partner companies for future funding. “People don’t want to get their hands dirty anymore … unless they get publicity, which I’m honored to have, but that’s not what I want,” Foulke said. “I’d rather be behind the scenes helping people out.”
Bruce K. Foulke (left), president and chief executive of American Heritage Credit Union, passing out gifts to young refugees. (Bruce K. Foulke)
The “safe” car donated by Foulke to the Ukrainian armed forces. (Bruce K. Foulke)
The “safe” car after sustaining damage while extracting injured soldiers from combat. (Bruce K. Foulke)
Brian Branch (left), former CEO of the World Council of Credit Unions and Bruce Foulke (right), president and CEO of American Heritage Credit Union, posing in front of the ambulance donated to the Ukrainian children’s hospital. (Bruce K. Foulke)
Standing in front of the donated ambulance from left: Foulke, Branch and Dr. Dmytro Kvit, head doctor at Lviv City Children’s Clinical Hospital in Ukraine. (Bruce K. Foulke)
Helping those most in need has been Foulke’s North Star during his 45 years in the credit union industry.
In 1977, while attending North Carolina State University in Raleigh for his second degree in business, Foulke worked during the day by mowing the lawns of state government officials who lived in the area. It was then — at the suggestion of his customers — that he apply for a loan officer position at the locally-headquartered State Employees’ Credit Union, which has $52 billion in assets today.
“That’s where I really found out about the credit union philosophy of people helping people and what that meant. … They had the temperament [and] they had the philosophy of helping these people out and making loans,” even with the prospect of a loss, Foulke said.
Foulke left SECU in 1979 when he learned about a job opening for general manager at Budd Workers Federal Credit Union in Philadelphia from his uncle who was a senior vice president of The Budd Company. Budd Workers would eventually become American Heritage, which now has $4.3 billion of assets.
Foulke accepted the job — which was meant to help revitalize the organization — and started the organization’s transformation by changing up the aesthetics of the office, replacing the ceiling tiles stained with years of cigarette smoke and repainting the walls.
But he knew that for any change to truly take hold at the credit union, the institution needed to update its practices and procedures as well.
“The credit union was previously run by union executives who would write loans based on who knew who, and I said, ‘It isn’t going to be that way with me and we’re going to be fair with everybody,'” Foulke said.
Since becoming president and CEO, he has led the credit union through field of membership expansions after the Budd Company closed its last domestic factory in 2002, as well as more than 50 mergers with other credit unions ranging from $10,000 of assets to $80 million of assets. Foulke has added roughly 12 hospitals and various groups of state government employees who reside in the area to its field of membership and now reaches more than 220,000 members.
He has continued his passion of helping others through leadership positions with the WOCCU and in 1996, launched the Kids-N-Hope Foundation in partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. As its chairman, Foulke has helped raise more than $2 million to back the hospital’s musical therapy program housed in its Children’s Seashore House campus and has further donated more than $25,000 worth of instruments.
“I’m probably one of the old farts of the whole crew that’s been in the credit union industry so I’ve seen the changes over the years, but it really comes down to what I can do to help our membership. … Fifty percent of our members are low-income members and that’s another thing I gotta do,” Foulke said. “I gotta help people that need help.”
Read More:Credit Union Executive of the Year: American Heritage’s Bruce Foulke | Credit Union Journal