Forty Under 40 Man of the Year | Harlan stayed in Champaign, advanced along way

Forty Under 40 Man of the Year | Harlan stayed in Champaign, advanced along way

University of Illinois Community Credit Union CEO E.J. Donaghey describes Chris Harlan as intentional, measured and responsive.

Donaghey nominated the credit union's executive vice president and COO for Central Illinois Business' Forty Under 40 Man of the Year award, which Harlan will be recognized for today.

Harlan, 38, learned those values growing up near Champaign's Centennial Park, living in the same house all through Robeson Elementary, Jefferson Middle School, Centennial High School and Parkland College.

Seated in his office with Chicago Blackhawks and Cubs paraphernalia behind him, Harlan said that aside from wanting to be a pro athlete growing up, "I always knew I wanted to be in business or some industry. That was in my head: I wanted to work at a desk and be a leader of some sort."

His first job was at K's Merchandise Mart, where he stayed about five years.

"I really learned sales and customer service there," he said.

After about a year, he was promoted to electronics department manager and learned about inventory and sales — and met his future wife, Katie, a coworker. Harlan decided to go back to school full-time to get his degree but continued working at the store.

After graduating, Harlan owned a lawn and landscaping company, working 90-hour weeks. Among his discoveries: He hated mowing lawns. So after three years, he decided to pursue a career in financial services.

Harlan has now been in the financial services industry about 15 years, spending five of those with Busey Bank.

A friend and colleague introduced him to the book "StrengthsFinder." At the time, Harlan was considering leaving middle-management for marketing or sales, but the book's emphasis on doing what you're good at resonated with him.

"I decided to stick it out and see where it takes me," he said. "I feel challenged and fulfilled in the role I'm in now."

Harlan oversees retail delivery channels, branches, marketing and lending. A majority of UICCU employees work for him or his team. He also manages the credit union's strategic plan and planning process, and is the co-founder and CEO of Campus Card Management Group, a credit union service organization.

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Donaghey encouraged Harlan to get his MBA at the UI.

"He showed me why that was a great opportunity to take advantage of," Harlan said. "I've been really fortunate to have great bosses, people who have been able to both challenge me and give me the opportunity to fail at times but also kind of correct myself along the way."

At the time, he and Katie had a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old and a newborn.

"It was one of the most challenging times because I wanted to give my best to all aspects of my life," he said. "Each was a tremendous opportunity, and I didn't want to miss any of it. Unfortunately, you realize you can only do so much, so I tried to just be present and give my best to whatever I was doing at the moment."

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Harlan serves on the Allerton Park and Recreation Center board, has been a Big Brothers/Big Sisters mentor, and ran several United Way corporate fundraising campaigns.

Among his proudest acts was the role he played in founding a GoFundMe account for the family of missing Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang. He and his team spent hours offering financial counsel and management in support of the family.

"The university reached out and said, 'What can you do to help?'" Harlan said.

Originally, there was simply going to be a UICCU account set up.

"My instant reaction was, 'This is a major event in our community,'" Harlan said. "It's really caught the attention of not only this community but all the way overseas."

By the end of the weekend it began, the GoFundMe account was up to $75,000.

He recalled meeting the family for the first time.

"That was just unimaginable," Harlan said. "Certainly, they were appreciative."

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