Keith Sultemeier is an outlier.

Most of his peers, the chief executives of Los Angeles County’s largest credit unions, have either spent their entire careers in the industry or moved over from commercial banking.

Not so for Sultemeier, chief executive of Manhattan Beach’s massive Kinecta Federal Credit Union. His last gig before getting into the credit union business was a tech startup focused on online stock trading.

Even after that went bust in the dot-com crash, Sultemeier said he was skeptical when an acquaintance suggested he go to work for a local credit union.

“If you’d asked me 12 or 13 years ago about credit unions, I would have been oblivious,” he said. “I had never stepped into one. I could not imagine how a credit union could possibly have an interesting opportunity for me.”

Indeed, credit unions are often seen as stable, boring institutions. They don’t make profits, they can’t generate capital the same way banks can, and they serve their customers with such exciting offerings as interest-bearing checking accounts and low-interest auto loans.

What’s more, Sultemeier said his father, a longtime commercial banker, was not enthusiastic about his decision to work for a credit union.

“He said credit unions are run for the management, not the members,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, that’s clearly evident because I’m getting filthy rich off my stock options.’”

Despite all that, Sultemeier said he approaches Kinecta, which has nearly 240,000 members and more than $3 billion in assets, like any other business. It has to adapt to trends, offer services customers want and make enough money to keep operating.

“Yes, we’re a non-profit cooperative, but if there’s no margin, there’s no mission,” he said. “The exciting part is looking ahead and figuring out where the business is going to be. How can we attract new members and keep them, and how can we do that 10 years from now?”

For Kinecta, which for years was focused on home mortgages, that means expanding into other lending lines. Sultemeier said he wants the credit union to ramp up its offering of car loans to help diversify.

“There’s a risk when you do one thing really well: When there are problems, you’re exposed,” he said. “I know our members need things other than mortgages. The ability to penetrate in auto loans is one of the things we’ll be looking to first.”

– James Rufus Koren

KEITH SULTEMEIER, 45

Chief Executive

Kinecta Federal Credit Union, Manhattan Beach

YEARS IN POSITION: 1

RESIDENCE: Manhattan Beach

FAMILY: Married to Kelly; sons, Matthew, 9, and Michael, 7.

ACTIVITIES: Golf, hiking, fishing, hunting, volunteering.

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