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Tampa execs make national list of powerful women in credit unions

Darlene Johnson and Julie Renderos cite work ethic and internal growth opportunities for success at Suncoast Credit Union.

  • By Jim Stinson
  • | 5:00 a.m. December 14, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
CFO Julie Renderos and Chief Growth Officer Darlene Johnson of Suncoast Credit Union are in American Banker's list of the top 15 female executives at U.S. credit unions
CFO Julie Renderos and Chief Growth Officer Darlene Johnson of Suncoast Credit Union are in American Banker's list of the top 15 female executives at U.S. credit unions
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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It's not often two executives from Tampa land in a respected Top 15 list of American businesspersons, but two did in November.

And they are both work at Suncoast Credit Union.

The pair of executives at Suncoast Credit Union were named among "The Most Powerful Women in Credit Unions" by American Banker for 2023.

Julie Renderos, Suncoast executive vice president and CFO, is ranked No. 5. Darlene Johnson, Suncoast Chief Growth Officer, is ranked No. 7.

"The Most Powerful Women in Credit Unions" was started in 2022 by American Banker to "celebrate the women leaders who are driving innovation, catering to underserved communities and guiding the future of financial services," the magazine says in a news release. "This initiative shines a spotlight on the brightest, most forward-thinking individuals in the credit union industry."

Both women are longtime Suncoast employees, with Johnson starting work at Suncoast in 1990, taking the advice of her mother, who was impressed with how friendly her teller was. Renderos has been at Suncoast since 1998, deciding to apply for a job while vacationing in Clearwater Beach.

No retreat

Renderos was 23 when she flew to Clearwater Beach — from Michigan — on vacation. The sights, sun and sounds of Florida were already beckoning her when she saw a job ad in a newspaper she was reading — while near the pier, on the beach itself.

It was a Suncoast ad for an accounting role. Renderos, from Flint, Michigan, had loved accounting ever since high school, when a teacher handed out checks, envelopes, registers and all sorts of accounting assignments. Some students would have retreated from that class. Renderos did not.

"I just fell in love," says Renderos, a 1998 graduate of the University of Michigan at Flint, with a major in accounting. "It's very exciting."

So there was Renderos in Clearwater Beach, a new grad accounting major working at a Michigan bank, with a choice to make. Does she just go home over the weekend? Or does she call and ask for a Friday interview? 

She called. And she got the Friday interview, Renderos says. She later flew home. On Monday, Suncoast said she would have the job if she could make it back to Tampa Bay in two weeks.

It was a gamble worth taking. Now she gets the Florida sun and the job, where she has been CFO since 2011.

Renderos, 48, lives in Tampa. She would later receive an MBA from the University of South Florida. She has one daughter, 16. Renderos just married, and spent her honeymoon on Longboat Key.

Climb the ladder

Johnson, meanwhile, and her family had moved from New York to Tampa when she was 4 years old.

Not long out of high school, Johnson had worked at a bank, but her dear Italian mother, whom she greatly respected, suggested Suncoast Credit Union because the mother thought well of the customer service.

Johnson got the job of member service representative, opening accounts for people. But as time passed, she wondered if she should go back to school to help advance her career. The CEO at the time assured her that Suncoast would help her get the training and certifications she needed to advance. 

Suncoast was not kidding. Johnson, now chief growth officer, is a certified lender, a certified financial counselor — and has professional certifications from Vanderbilt and Harvard universities. She works (often with Renderos) on mergers; memberships; and expanding the footprint of Suncoast, which can now offer membership to anyone in Florida, in any of the 67 counties.

Johnson, 55, is married with two sons.

Blaze a trail

Tampa-based Suncoast, founded in Hillsborough County as a credit union for teachers in 1934, is the largest credit union in Florida, and was the only credit union to have two executives make the American Bankers list.

Kevin Johnson, president and CEO of Suncoast Credit Union, calls both women "trailblazers" in a written statement. Johnson reportedly beamed with pride all day after American Bankers released their rankings. (Kevin Johnson and Darlene Johnson are not related.)

Johnson says she was greatly humbled by the award, adding Suncoast gave her opportunities others might not. And Renderos also would not claim individual credit for the ranking, saying she "stands on the shoulders of giants," including the ones who paved her way in 1934.

Still, no man or woman gets to such positions, with the industry recognition, without a little elbow grease, so each was asked about their work ethic — and who taught it to her.

Johnson, not surprisingly, credits her mother, who taught her "nothing was a handout."

Johnson's visibility grew over the years, and Suncoast executives often noticed she volunteered for tasks. While in lending for 23 years, that changed when the 2008-09 recession hit, targeting Tampa Bay and Lakeland with potential foreclosure epidemics.

Johnson was asked to select seven underwriters and to form a "foreclosure prevention" team, which worked for 18 months. "We saved 4,500 homes from foreclosure," says Johnson.

That only got Johnson picked for more tasks. She became vice president of learning and development, then SVP of client experience. Johnson has been chief growth officer for two years.

For Renderos, she credits her parents and the Midwest for her work ethic.

"(My parents) never took a day off," says Renderos. "And you gave 110% while you were there."

And when her Midwestern bank made Renderos a "floating teller" — meaning she would have to drive around her region and fill in for sick or vacationing tellers — she loved even that part, as it enabled her to meet different people.

It helped that Renderos saw in accounting a job that told stories: the story of a car with new owners, or the story of a new homeowner, or the story of a medical issue that was resolved. "I feel what I do is my purpose," says Renderos.



Jim Stinson

Jim Stinson is the Business Observer's Tampa Bay business reporter and editor, having previously written about business and policy in Washington, D.C.; Rochester, New York; Gary, Indiana; and Daytona Beach. He attended Boston University for business and Indiana University for journalism.

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