Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 23

Jon Berlin, President and CEO at Chevron Federal Credit Union

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Show notes

Jon Berlin has a BA in Economics (magna cum laude) and an MBA from Stanford School of Business. Jon has 25+ years of financial services and management consulting experience, expertise in strategy, analytics, customer experience, marketing, sales and service delivery, organizational change, and system/process development. He is currently the President and CEO at Chevron Federal Credit Union. You can reach out to Jon at


Key points include:

  • 12:30: On being the CEO of a credit union
  • 24:15: How a credit union acquires new customers
  • 42:55: Recommended books

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92.Jon Berlin


John Berlin, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host, and I’m here with my good friend, John Berlin, who we knew each other from the Crimson days. John, welcome to the show.


John Berlin  00:18

Thanks very much. Well, yeah, it’s great to be here. And thank you. Thank you very much for for doing this whole series.


Will Bachman  00:24

Well, I appreciate your kind words. So John, tell me about your journey since graduation from Harvard.


John Berlin  00:32

Yeah, absolutely. Well, it’s an I can’t believe it’s, I can’t believe it’s in 30 years, over 30 years now. So I started after college, I went to work for an economic consulting firm in Boston for a few years. Which one I called Charles River associates. Oh, sure. Okay. So I had been an economics major in college. And, you know, I actually had my sights set on New York for whatever reason, I’d always just had this image of going to New York, and I must have interviewed with, you know, I don’t know 10 or 20, places inside of investment banks, who probably determined pretty quickly that I wasn’t the good fit for them. So ended up in Boston, which was, you know, it’s a little odd, because I had grown up in Boston, then obviously went to Harvard. So this is Oh, another other peers in Boston. But it was good. You know, I enjoyed being Boston. I ended up the firm was a very good one. But it ended up being a bit of a sweatshop. So probably investment, a lot of investment banking hours without the glory of investment banking. But that’s what I did learn a lot from, from the experience. I got, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. That was kind of a common theme for a lot, whether it’s college or a little bit later. So I applied to business school. And I always knew I wanted to go back to graduate school of some sort, ended up getting into Stanford, which I hadn’t really planned on or expected at all. But that kind of became my ticket out of, of 25 years in Boston, and to the west coast, which I had been kind of had my eye on for a long time. And I never really thought I would get out there. So that was kind of my, my my ticket out to the West Coast, had a couple of really good years there ended up going to afterwards, in business school, I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So I went into consulting again, this time, it was a firm called Mitchell Madison’s, which at the time was an interesting one because it was a spin off of a couple of different firms. And they a bit of an entrepreneurial bent to the consulting firm. So probably probably a bit of a sweatshop. There too, as well, I kind of kept taking places that you know, was literally pulling all nighters on a, you know, fairly, I would say routine basis, but more than more than my lighting. But at the same time, I learned a lot from there. I was there for about three and a half years. By the end of that I taken an assignment that was more of a sort of a Chief of Staff of were the head of our strategy practice and decided I really liked that more internal management and had always had my eye on going into, you know, a company and running things. So I went to Wells Fargo, that was back in 2001. And that was probably the second big phase in my career. And actually, I should say before this, I’m sort of getting into a lot of work stuff. Most important thing that happened when I was in California in 1999, was I met my wife. And that was just incredibly lucky and fortuitous. And we have a long way along the way had two kids. One who is a rising sophomore in college, one who’s a rising junior in high school. So want to make sure they don’t forget to have part. That’s the most important part. But then it’s back to the professionals who worked at Wells Fargo for 15 years. All in all in consulting like activities, so leading various things in strategy, analytics, customer experience, different sort of sales and marketing functions. And then about six years ago, I had an opportunity to come to my current organization which is called Chevron Federal Credit Union, which is a credit union that largely serves employees and affiliates of Chevron but also a lot of other types of members started in a role where I was running most of the business operations as a credit union back then. And then my boss was the CEO for 20 years retired and I ended up being a little bit take his role as CEO four years ago, which has been a really exciting opportunity and something that’s kept me challenged and learning a lot.


Will Bachman  05:27

I wanted to ask you then about how did you meet your wife, Andy.


John Berlin  05:33

So we met at a hike in the East Bay hills. Back in July 1999. It was sort of a lot for different groups as sort of a Jewish young adults groups, and probably about 50 or 60 people that were there. Funny thing is that both of us almost didn’t make it. For me, it was an incredibly hot day. I mean, it was 90 degrees in San Francisco, which for those of you that know, San Francisco is very hot for the city. And I was going outside the city, which was even hotter. So I was I was, I remember being on the fence about whether I should leave San Francisco and go out there for this for this event. And then I had a lot of trouble finding it. And this was before we had, you know, we all had the GPS in our car. And so I didn’t have a map for it. And I just kind of by sheer luck found it. And, and then we met started, started talking and yeah, it was pretty, pretty quick, I think that we that we knew,


Will Bachman  06:40

that is awesome. Tell me about a credit union. So what is a credit union? How’s it different from a bank?


John Berlin  06:50

Yeah, yeah, that’s a great question. And one that not too long ago, I was asking myself, because I actually knew very little about credit unions, even though I’ve had been in banking for a long time. So credit union is, you know, largely very similar to banks in terms of what they actually do, you know, in terms of providing all the services like deposit accounts, you know, checking savings accounts making loans, the big difference is the ownership structure. So, whereas banks are owned by shareholders, credit unions are member owned. So, you know, the, essentially the customers and the owners are, are the same. So, that’s why we call them members. And, and that really makes a nice, it makes for a very nice dynamic, because member service is, is the goal, you know, when you think in other companies like banks, so I worked at a bank, customer service was really important, but it was kind of a means to an end, it was it was the means towards getting a really good financial return. Whereas for the credit union, it’s kind of the opposite that credit unions exist to provide provide that good member service. So and I think it attracts a little bit different type of people who, who just want to be in it just for the members. So it’s kind of a nice ethos, but the credit union industry, I’ll actually be a little cottage industry, they call it a movement is people helping people and so you get a lot of people across the credit union space that that go into it, because they really like that, that that vibe?


Will Bachman  08:27

And how does that work in terms of if you have, like a checking account or any product even just with maybe just $1 in the account, then you’re obviously you son, you get kind of voting rights or the the, like the profits are somehow distributed based on the how much profit you bring to the bank or the or the union. You tell me a little bit about how that works?


John Berlin  08:51

Sure, usually, credit unions have a sort of a minimum value it’s they call the par value where it’s $25 minimum in a regular savings account. And everyone equal every member you know, who is $25 or more is sort of a bona fide member and has the same same voting rights. So the the member credit union membership will come together once a year and elect a board who then the board is my is my boss. And the board is you know, over is ultimately oversees the management for that in terms of the earnings you know, day to day, it’s not that different from for for profit bank in the sense that, you know, our financials look pretty similar and, and we’re, you know, even though we’re technically a not for profit, you know, we need to we make decisions very much based on financials and because even though it’s not going in the form of profits to shareholders, we want to make sure that we’re being efficient and prudent about the members money, because ultimately, our choices are either to if we have retained earnings, we can either retain it and invest it back into the success of the credit union and build more capabilities serve members, or what credit unions do sometimes issue a special dividend, sort of excess earnings. And then it goes back to the members in the form of it’s kind of like the remember the Harvard group. Back in the day, we used to get a some kind of dividend. Every era, it’s a little bit like that, you can have a discretionary dividend back to members.


Will Bachman  10:42

Yeah, I actually am a I’m a USAA member, since I’m former military, and they have some kind of similar where it’s, you know, you get like a member account, something like that. And then actually got a loan from a agricultural credit union in Pennsylvania. And when we bought the farm, and they, they do a similar thing, where they give money back to you, depending on like, how much of a loan you have. So it’s pretty nice.


John Berlin  11:14

Yeah. That’s great. That’s great. It’s interesting, because, you know, there’s there, there’s a lot of people who belong to credit unions. And I think the industry stats say, now it’s over 100 million people in the US belong to credit unions, but it tends to be, you know, based on your experience, I think a lot as a kid, you know, some people just always were part of credit unions, they remember, in then they as adults, they join credit unions, whereas other people have never heard of credit, like my parents didn’t want to credit unions. I had, I’m not sure I’d even heard of a credit union, probably until I was in the banking industry. And I would see, I would always see these surveys, which had roll ups of, you know, member experience and credit unions would always be at the top and it was kind of a curiosity, because, you know, they weren’t that, that big. And I didn’t know anything about them, but they seem to have good satisfaction scores. So I was intrigued, I didn’t really know anything about them. So


Will Bachman  12:09

tell us a little bit about what it’s like being the CEO of a credit union, what are some of the kind of big issues that credit unions are facing now and some of the big types of decisions or initiatives that would be on the fleet of either you or, you know, a CEO at at your typical credit union?


John Berlin  12:30

Sure, sure. I think one of the big things that all of us are facing at credit unions and same, you know, across our peers at banks is really the technology and investing in the right technologies. And just just being, if not on the cutting edge being close to it, because the industry is just like so many other industries is just being reshaped so quickly by technology. So, you know, if you think about not too long ago, it was, it was a nice thing to have digital banking, and, you know, sort of some capabilities to put on your site, if you’re a financial institution, but you know, your real bread and butter was your, your branches or your call center. And that’s flipped. Now, that’s just sort of table stakes. People expect that and, you know, the majority of people, typically at a financial institution, or just generally, you know, they think of their digital experience first. And so that’s changed the game a lot, because you don’t have to be a legacy credit union or a bank with all these branches to, you know, in history of banking to do that, you get a huge proliferation of financial technology providers, or fintechs. So, it’s a really interesting challenge in leading a financial institution, now to try to transition to that and try to be as nimble as possible, recognizing that, you know, we, there’s only so much we can do, investing ourselves, there’s a huge ecosystem of the technology providers to try to piece together your own thing. And fortunately, it works. It works pretty well, because a lot of these things are made to plug and play these different apps or technologies. At the same time, it’s a lot of times it’s not as easy as it looks, because there’s, you know, it’s it’s, there’s real people involved and real partnerships to be made. And it’s, it’s just so dynamic all the time. So, we’ve spent quite a bit of time and being partnering with some of the fintechs and try to upgrade our offerings. And overall it’s, I think we’re headed nicely in the right direction, but it definitely is. It’s probably the best biggest thing that I think about from a long term sustainability perspective? Because I think that’s, that’s the kind of thing that can lead to obsolescence if we’re not, you know, investing really heavily in that and really thinking, thinking really well about that. Like, what’s


Will Bachman  15:19

an example of, of a specific technology that you’ve evaluated or or partnered with?


John Berlin  15:28

Sure. Things, there’s a whole lot. I mean, it’s really in every part of the business, there’s a lot of a lot of these kinds of technology partners. One thing that we’ve done for about five or six years is on the lending side, we’ve so credit unions often do a lot of what we call indirect lending, which is lending not just to our existing members, but also sort of using other other sources, other partners as lending channels. So you know, if you’ve gone to an auto dealership, chances are you’ve been offered an ask for financing, chances are, you’ve been offered a credit union credit union financing failing because credit unions typically partner with auto dealers, we were one of the early ones to get into solar lending. And we’ve been partnering there’s, there’s a few big players, technology players in that space that haven’t been around for that long, we’ve, we partnered early on with one of those providers, and they work with a network of hundreds of solar installers. So you know, if you are going to, for example, put solar panels on your roof, and you’re dealing with an installer, that that’s part of this network, you might get offered financing by Chevron, Federal Credit Union, or we also go by spectrum credit union. So that’s actually been a pretty big business for us. And it’s, it’s, it’s been a great learning experience to and a little bit of a microcosm for how these partnerships work, because it starts off, you know, you that identify a set of issues, and then, you know, almost every month things change, and it’s it evolves very rapidly. And the key is, can you be good? Can you have a good partnership, and navigate those unforeseen issues together? Because it all seems these partnerships all seem so simple? At the beginning, it seems like just a really easy way to do business. And then, of course, you know, things change in a heartbeat, and, you know, kind of tests, can you can you work through stuff together as as the conditions change really rapidly.


Will Bachman  17:43

So, is that common for credit unions, that they have more deposits than they’re able to, you know, ship out as as loans, so they look for providers to help that can help, you know, source credit needs?


John Berlin  17:56

It is yeah, that is pretty common. And, you know, that is also true for us, I mean, our deposits and loans are are reasonably close today, which is generally the target that that you want. But yeah, that and that kind of explains why why a lot of them play in the the auto dealer space and try to essentially acquire more loans in their in their producing in house. It also the other reason why that that happens is a lot of credit unions will sell their mortgages, to government entities. So they were actually the opposite. We tend to keep most of our mortgages, but a lot of credit unions and banks for that matter will sell there, get them off their balance sheet, they want to take the they want to take the interest rate risk for a long time. So that frees up some capacity and looking for additional learning opportunities elsewhere.


Will Bachman  19:00

We talked about technology. So how do you think about organization and talent acquisition over time? And you know, that whole piece?


John Berlin  19:11

Yeah, I mean, that’s really, we think of people and technology. You know, I know you’re, you’re so well. A better consultant than that. I wasn’t sure. either. You have like nice visuals. So we’ve got a visual of our strategy where we’ve got at the foundation, we’ve got people and technology. So we think a ton about our people and sort of talent management pipeline and how we have a grow people. And I would say that’s, that’s a journey. I think we’re you know, in fact, in a couple of weeks, we’ve got a leadership team Summit, where we’re going to spend probably half a day talking about nothing but people you know, who are emerging talents and you What’s important to them? How do we keep them interested and developing their careers, it can be a little bit of a challenge. And it can be it can be a plus and a challenge. In a smaller organization, like, like I said, we’ve got about 350 people. So we can make things happen pretty if we see people who are really emerging and people we really want to groom. We can make things happen without much bureaucracy, but at the same time, there’s, there’s a little bit of a limit to, you know, who’s who’s leaving at any given time, there’s only so many senior positions. So we definitely, we haven’t cracked that nut. But we’re definitely working, you know, a lot and thinking about that. You know, another thing that and this has been a pandemic era thing that has, we’ve been probably like most companies been wrestling with about our hiring, you know, traditionally, we had been hiring, just within the Bay Area, which is a very difficult market to to hire in, you know, there’s only the commutes are really bad. So there’s only so much radius around our office that traditionally we could have hired in. So we did actually go to a pretty national hiring model for most positions. So while we still have a lot of people in the Bay Area, we’ve opened it up over the last couple of years. And it it has been amazing to, you know, the talent pool that you can get when it’s the country as opposed to one metropolitan area, the caps that and this, the thing that we’re wrestling with, is how do we continue to build the culture, when we vet people all over the place? So I think we’ve made some good strides toward that and being thoughtful, but probably like, like, like everyone else wrestling with that, and I don’t think anyone has really cracked that.


Will Bachman  21:59

What sort of steps? Are you taking around culture? You know, kind of some sort of annual or quarterly bring people together in person? Or how are you thinking about, you know, keeping the, the culture in the, in the firm, together,


John Berlin  22:19

probably the biggest thing that we’ve done, and this was something that we started during the pandemic is We’ve got weekly, all hands meetings on Zoom, it originally started, you know, before, before the pandemic, I’d instituted, weekly, sorry, not weekly, monthly, all staff meetings, for you know, and a lot of people would be in person and some would be remote. As the pandemic was starting to happen, we just found there was a need to, we wanted to be really transparent about what we knew what we’re doing. So we had instituted weekly, all staff meeting really to communicate about the crisis and what what we were doing about COVID. And next, Scott, we just found that that was a really nice, unexpectedly, a really nice forum to talk about everything. So for a long time, we had hourly, we’d have it every Wednesday for an hour, we scaled it back to half an hour, because we just realized it was some value to being efficient with the time and not tying people’s time up for an hour a week. But we’ve sort of used that as a forum to just communicate about, you know, just things, things going on, have a lot of dialogue have a lot of q&a. We use that to spotlight, you know, team members, you know, kind of put them on stage and had them talk about some of the things that that were that they’re doing or get to know certain leaders better. We’ve tried to keep it pretty. It’s been pretty fun and informal, too. So So I think that, that that’s helped, but I would say that’s been probably the cornerstone of our efforts, you know, in addition to some other things that that we’ve that we’ve been doing.


Will Bachman  24:06

How does a credit union like yours? Do you know marketing or work on acquiring new customers?


John Berlin  24:15

So we were there are different types of credit unions, ours is what’s called a multi sag credit union looks so select employee groups, which means that we, we our membership is typically based through employer groups. So which is in contrast to some other credit unions or community credit unions where they can basically go after anyone in a certain in a certain geography usually it’s a big metro area. So we’re in contrast to to be a member of our credit union, you got to be either an affiliate of Chevron or we also have some hundreds of other employer groups that are part of our membership. So if you’re, if you’re part of that or if you’re part of some associations, you can also be part of our membership. So that that changes the dynamic of how we market our our marketing is typically more towards the, towards the employees or retirees or affiliate of those, those employer groups. So it’s a little bit of a two tier approach, we, we won, we have a business development team that tries to cultivate relationships from a business to business perspective with, with those employers. And then we also have other people who focus on data, we have those employers trying to cultivate and market to those to those employees. So some of it takes the form of in person events, like at the sponsor, some of it nowadays is, is remote, where we might have video events that we’re you know, people are gathering for from the other sponsor by the company, sometimes we’re doing a little bit more direct marketing, via social media targeted towards people of those of those employer groups, we can also we’ve experimented with just sort of broader based, you know, classic marketing to, you know, just to the public, because there are ways that people could sign up for some of these groups if they’re interested. And we found that, that hasn’t been that effective, because it’s so we’re just a small voice in this massive sea of financial institutions. So I think at the scale we’re doing, our targeted approach tends to work better. But it’s something that we continue to think about and continue to evolve, you know, what, what tends to work best.


Will Bachman  26:51

And you mentioned that this is not even termed an industry, but within the, quote unquote, industry, people think of it as a movement. Talk to me about that a little bit. What’s it, like going to events? Do you connect with other CEOs leading other credit unions? And, you know, is there a way to give me a little bit flavor of being in this movement?


John Berlin  27:16

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s really different than going to and I used to go to bank and conferences, you know, I will go early on, I would go to these conferences, and, you know, the night before the conference, would start, I would, I would go down in the hotel, and, you know, eat my dinner by myself, because I didn’t, I didn’t really know anyone in the in the movement, and then I would have these people, you know, like 20 people in, you know, nearby table getting together with the CEOs and their, their spouses, and it was like this, you know, just overhear the conversation a little bit and may have known each other, like, sometimes for like, 30 years, and it was just this, these very deep bonds as people across the industry, getting to know each other. And I’ve enjoyed that, you know, getting to know people as I go to some various conferences and get to know people better. There’s definitely, you know, in addition, I think, to those bonds and the people and family bonds, there’s definitely a practice of sharing a lot more information between credit unions and banks. I mean, I was actually shocked when I came to the credit union and found out that, you know, people would say, Oh, just call up, you know, your peer at this other credit union, they’ll tell you how they did this, this marketing campaign? Or they’ll tell you, how did you know, they work with this partner? And I just couldn’t imagine I mean, at Wells Fargo, I don’t think anyone had ever suggested to me that, you know, I call up somebody Bank of America and tell them like the secrets if they did something. So that’s it. And I think part of it is due to the fact that most credit unions are pretty small and don’t really compete directly with a lot of other credit unions. So, you know, usually the ones that I would talk to, are, we’re just not competitor direct competitors. That said, I think it’s a little more than that, because I think people just believe that there’s just a lot of belief in the, you know, what people call the movement, I think, and back to what we’re talking about a little while ago, is I think there’s just a lot of people who go into it and just feel that, you know, it’s, it’s doing something really good for people and that because it’s not for profit, and it’s about the members that they’re really given to making their their own organizations succeed. And also, also helping others in the space succeed.


Will Bachman  29:47

So fascinating, are they’re kind of cross industry or cross movement, various different initiatives or collaborations where people are, you know, different credit unions or you know, figuring out the best way to do XYZ or, you know, some formal way sharing information about here’s all the technology providers that we each have evaluated or doing some sorts of partnerships or collaborations like that.


John Berlin  30:14

Yeah, there definitely are, you know, a lot of it tends to be, you know, information sharing. So, you know, we belong to a couple of the, the big industry associations and a lot of sharing about things like that, like the, between the experiences that people have, and like the technology or you want to understand their their compensation approach, there’s, there’s there’s a blog for that is there’s sort of a lot around compliance and legislation and regulation and joint lobbying for those kinds of things. For example, I’ve been to an event for a number of years that called hike the hill, where we go, you know, I go with a lot of other credit union, from other CEOs and other leaders and other credit unions and go to different offices and members of Congress to talk and kind of unified the trade association helps us unify our, our message and talking points. There are also some some very formal things, one of the trade associations has had a something over the past couple of years, a big marketing campaign aimed at promoting just credit union adoption, kind of like the Got Milk campaigns. I don’t know if those are still around, but you know, sort of industry coming together to promote the industry as a whole. And I think that’s gained quite a bit of traction.


Will Bachman  31:49

Yeah. It feels to me just You’re my own one data point is that there’s, like, maybe not that super widespread familiarity with it. I mean, unless you like you said, like your parents had a credit union, or you’re just, we’re at a company where everybody else has it. When I was in the Navy, a lot of people had Navy Federal Credit Union. So that would be a common thing for people to do. But if you’re not in that, people don’t doesn’t necessarily know what that term means. So I can see how it makes sense to spread greater awareness of why you might want to think about banking with a credit union.


John Berlin  32:28

Exactly. Exactly.


Will Bachman  32:31

Let’s talk about college a little bit. Were there any, are there any courses or professors that have continued to resonate with you?


John Berlin  32:44

No, I think there’s a few. One course that, you know, I didn’t think it didn’t make a big impression at the time that I realized that probably the thought process has been pretty influential for me, particularly since I’ve been in economics and business, it was a class called topics and applied micro economics with a professor color Krishna. And it was really interesting, because there was just a lot of a lot of problems that we were just they were kind of different from the standard microeconomics classes I took were to take some problems, and I don’t even remember the specifics that well anymore. I remember, there was one thing about, like, export, you know, company countries that exported, you know, voluntary restraint, restraints. And one time, we did something about the housing, the Harvard housing lottery, which I know is a big deal at the time. And I think the thing that I learned was that you can, you can just kind of make assumptions and model the behavior of the different players that would be involved, whether it’s a government or, you know, individuals, like consumers or businesses. And, you know, you can make some reasonable assumptions and about how you know, what everyone’s motivations or behavior is, and then how they will interact. And, you know, and then you can use that as a, as a device to sort of solve, to try to predict what will happen, you know, what others might do? And then kind of what your best strategy is, so, I think I’ve used that a lot. And usually you don’t have the unlike in the class, you don’t, you don’t really know what the equation is about how everyone’s going to behave. But I think that thought process has stuck with me about just makes make some reasonable substance, even if it’s qualitative, and try to have things you know, try to see how things might play out. So that was, that was kind of a one that has stuck with me quite a bit. I know others, others have met and justice, I feel a little boring from entering justice. But that was that was pretty influential too. I mean, I think the idea of besides being a wildly entertaining class, the idea of being able to think about, you know, make some assumptions about, you know, what, you know, like, if we didn’t, if we didn’t know, who was gonna, you know, what our lives are gonna be like, what would we think it’s fair? And then and use that to determine what what we think is just or moral? I still think about some of those things today. And that also, I think, because I think those things underlie a lot of economics. I found that really helpful, both when I was studying economics, and just just even now. And then I’m going to say one, which I think even when you interview 1600 classmates, I don’t think anyone else will say this, but you actually actually actually got a lot out of exports. I wouldn’t say it was, it was like one of my favorite classes. But you know, it was, it definitely helped was the first time that I had been really coached to that every word matters. And I just remember the rewrites and editing and re editing and just being challenged as this guy named Doug Coulter was I thought was really good. And just just kind of keep editing and editing so that every word has a purpose. That was that was totally new to me. And, and I really, I really got a lot out of that.


Will Bachman  36:29

I love that you gave x positive shout out. That’s awesome.


John Berlin  36:33

Can you imagine I I’ve never heard anyone, anyone say good things about x bars. And it probably wasn’t, it wasn’t that fun when they did it. But it it really, really helped. And then I do have to give one other one, which probably the most influential class I took for different reasons was math 25, which was the I think it was called honors, something intermediate calculus or something. And, you know, I had come to Harvard thinking I was going to be a math major and was, you know, was really good at math in high school, like, like a lot of people who went to Harvard, and just got absolutely crushed, and absolutely crushed. And I did form the study group, which was some people, which was really fun. But we were routinely up every, I think the problem sets are due Thursday, routinely, up all night, Wednesday night, and spent probably 25 hours a week in the problem set. So and I still don’t know why I decided to keep going and take 25 The second semester. Because it just it was so painful and 25 b I just remember at the taking the final exam, I took a break, I had to go to the restroom, and just thinking like, I have no idea what these next few questions are mean, or it was the most loss I’ve ever been. And, you know, fortunately, fortunately passed the class and, you know, in the scheme of things, probably not not terrible, but it was just it. I think the reason that class was so influential, was it was just profoundly profoundly humbling. And it was the first time I had just gotten just really rock like that. And I think that that humility stayed with me after that, because it was just, you know, just, I think until then, I just thought, you know, just smart and can kind of work hard and figure anything out. And that that totally changed me. And unfortunately, it kind of led me away from math, which I had always loved. And I, in retrospect, I wonder if I should have just been become an applied math major, because I think I could have handled that pretty well. And I you know, I still enjoy the I still feel very quantitative. But today, some I’m still not sure if that was if it was good that I took that 25 or not, but it was certainly very, very impactful


Will Bachman  39:00

in a kind of a negative way a via negativa is it’s often very powerful to learn how to close the other


John Berlin  39:09

phase Yeah, cuz it maybe if I had if I hadn’t taken it, and I kept going in math and then and then discovered that much later. So maybe it was a gift to to realize my limitations that and although I think there’s probably maybe a gentler way that that that could happen.


Will Bachman  39:25

I took because I was a physics major applied math 105 and A and B and actually, I did find it as classes but it’s it’s to probably have the most wasted classes because I looked recent I had somehow I came across the textbook, and I remember I don’t even remember ever knowing the content much less know how to do it today. Like I just like it was as if I had never seen the book before. You know, my name was on. I still


John Berlin  39:57

don’t I still don’t know what I learned in In 25, V, mass 25. B, I still occasionally I still have dreams about it because I remember one of the things that was was, I think it was Eigen values. I’m sure you know what that is. And I, I don’t really remember what that is. But I, I still have dreams, like probably every year, but something like that. And


Will Bachman  40:18

wow, it sounds like that class affected you. Are there switching gears? Are there any books that you recommend on the industries that you’ve worked in? So anything on banks or on credit unions in particular, not so much like the textbook type of book, but just more books that give some history or insight into the industry?


John Berlin  40:46

You know, that’s a good question. I. I don’t? I’m not sure I’d have to think about that. Because I actually don’t read a lot of I shouldn’t say, I shouldn’t say this, but I don’t read a lot of business books. And in that about our industry, I may try to keep pace with the industry in different ways. Sometimes the last thing I want to do when I’m after a day’s work is, is this sort of read a book about the industry. So my, I will recommend, though, a strategy book, which is broader, that I think it’s been very influential for me over the years. And it’s, you know, you’ve probably heard of the balanced scorecard.


Will Bachman  41:30

Sure. Yeah.


John Berlin  41:33

And so it’s that one, but then they those guys, these guys, Kaplan and Norton also had another book called The strategy focused organization. And what I really liked about their work is that they, they framed strategy is sort of a very interconnected organization, and just sort of that everything in the organization has to be reinforcing each others and that there’s a lot of different a lot of different ways that you know, that a lot of the classic ways that people think about strategies overlooks a lot of the organizational stuff. So I really liked that, you know, the maps that they do, they draw and how everything needs to reinforce each other that’s been very influential for for my work. Even today, in just sort of like a lot of the visuals and thinking about how to frame to the organization is all reinforcing each other in the strategy. So I would give that as a recommendation just for people interested in strategy.


Will Bachman  42:39

Outside of professional reading, are there any just sort of our Department of Culture here? Any books or other cultural artifacts that you often find yourself recommending movies plays, sculpture, art books?


John Berlin  42:55

Yeah, you know, I do read a lot. I read pretty much nonfiction for whatever reason, I’ve just started for years, mostly a nonfiction person, I tend to read a ton of memoirs and, and also sort of very journalistic accounts of different things. I could probably give examples of the recommendations of a couple. And a lot of the memoirs, I get


Will Bachman  43:18

it, what are some memories?


John Berlin  43:20

Yeah, yeah. Let’s see, well, going good backlog. I hadn’t read this until, you know, last couple of years. Prozac nation by Booz word, sell a old crimson editor. And I had no idea that that apparently was, you know, people say started a lot of the new memoir, generates, I had no idea I thought it was a book about like, how to use Prozac. I had no idea I missed that whole age. But that one is really good. There’s a couple that I’ve read over the past couple years by a woman named Deborah copake and also Harvard grad, I think a few years ahead of us called Lady Parts and shutter babe. I know you as an old photo editor might appreciate Chatterbait because she was a overseas photographer. There’s another one that I read over the past year called Sloane and woods nine by this guy named Daniel Levin. Who I don’t know if do you remember the Sarah Lawrence stuff where there was some woman’s dad students dad with kind of created this little cult around? A lot of the students. It’s about that and then just incredibly well. incredibly well written a little bit. harrowing.


Will Bachman  44:42

Fantastic. Yep.


John Berlin  44:44

One other wonderful memoir I recommend is one called When Breath Becomes Air by I think it’s called Konishi. I think that first pronounced by a doctor who is diagnosed with cancer and eventually dies but just it credibly powerful book about His coming to terms with that? Yeah, such


Will Bachman  45:04

a poignant, such a poignant book. So John, if listeners wanted to, you know, find you online or check in what you’re working on, where would you point them if people wanted to connect with you or find out more?


John Berlin  45:22

Yeah, well, I would say, first, very much, very much welcome. Anyone reaching out, oh, it’s love to connect with people either. Either they knew or didn’t know. It’s always it’s always a treat to get to know, the people from our class. So probably the best way to just reach out on email, which is Berlin, J. will embarrass I still have Yahoo. But that we’re among friends here and veneration. But, yeah, that’s probably probably the best way. And yeah, we’d love to love to hear from people.


Will Bachman  46:01

Fantastic. John, thanks so much for being on the show. It’s great to catch up and hear what you’ve been working on. And listeners. If you haven’t already, you can go to 92 It’s 90 Sign up for the email where we’ll let you know about each new episode. Thanks for listening