How a chance remark led PenFed to choose a Fairfax County headquarters

James Schenck, president and CEO of the PenFed Credit Union, said he cast a wide net when deciding where to locate the credit union’s headquarters. An off-handed comment made during a meeting altered his thinking.

“I was in Tysons for a business meeting and I was talking to a gentleman and he said something that was so profound: ‘young professionals want to be near other young professionals,’” Schenck recounted. “Tysons brings that together.”

In 2016, PenFed announced that it selected Tysons — the largest commercial district in Fairfax County — for its new headquarters after a regional search. Schenck said he could not be happier with the location decision for managing PenFed’s worldwide credit union operations and for engaging in charitable initiatives to help veterans through the PenFed Foundation.

“There are so many Fortune 50 companies, Fortune 100 companies, Fortune 1000 companies here. When employees go out to lunch, when they go out in the evening, they’re surrounded by other young professionals. That was really a driving point for locating ourselves here in Tysons,” he added. “In addition the school systems are phenomenal. The infrastructure is terrific. The housing is terrific. The amenities for our employees have really proven themselves time and time again.”

Operating in all 50 states and across the world, PenFed is the nation’s second-largest credit union, serving 2.4 million members and with assets of $28 billion.

Founded in 1935, its membership was historically limited to active duty military, veterans, Department of Defense employees, and their families. In 2019 the membership criteria was expanded to include all civilians as well.

“PenFed Credit Union serves America. We’re one of the three credit unions in America out of 5,200 that are open for everyone,” Schenck said.

And while the advertising slogan, “PenFed’s got great rates for everyone,” highlights that anyone is eligible to join the credit union, the military roots are strong at PenFed. Schenck and the majority of the credit union’s leadership have a military background.

“I’m so proud to serve as the CEO of PenFed because the men and women that I work with, our 3,000-plus professionals, truly care about our national defense infrastructure, the men and women who volunteer to fight and win our nation’s wars,” Schenck said. “So coming to work each and every day, I can’t do enough to say thank you to the men and women who serve.”

James Schenck, president and CEO of the PenFed Credit Union and CEO of the PenFed Foundation. (Photo courtesy of PenFed Credit Union)

A graduate of West Point, Schenck is a former Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot. During his military career, he trained other Army aviators as a night-vision-goggle instructor pilot. Schenck served on the Army Staff in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, and was later selected to serve as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Army. He was designated by HillVets as one of the 100 most influential and impactful veterans in the United States.

Schenck’s impact includes serving as CEO of the PenFed Foundation, which works to meet unmet needs of the military personnel and their families in financial literacy, housing and support for the wounded.

The PenFed Foundation was established in 2001 to give back to our core community, our core membership, which is our national defense community. It was designed to help our active-duty military, their family members and others who support our national warriors,” Schenck explained.

At the PenFed Credit Union and Foundation, PenFed’s marketing team, digital team, and the WHITE64 in-house advertising agency promote that mission.

Ace, PenFed Digital team member and future America’s VetDogs service dog, stands guard with Emmy Awards earned for a docuseries highlighting a promising treatment for PTSD. (Photo courtesy of PenFed Credit Union)

PenFed Digital received seven Emmys for its award-winning five-part series, “The Shot,” which follows three patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and their experience before and after receiving a promising medical treatment.

Collectively the team has earned more than 40 Emmy Awards for their work producing broadcast and digital content.

PenFed Credit Union president and CEO and PenFed Foundation CEO James Schenck with Wreaths Across America Founder and Worcester Wreath Company Owner Morrill Worcester. The TEACH Award is made from the same stone used to mark the grave sites at Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of PenFed Credit Union)

Both the credit union and foundation have received numerous other recognitions and honors over the years for their philanthropic impact. Among the PenFed’s most recent accolades was receiving the Wreaths Across America’s TEACH Award, given annually to a group or individual who has made a large contribution to teaching the next generation to remember and honor those who serve in our nation’s military. PenFed received the award for “The History of Wreaths Across America,” a film created by PenFed Digital.

And for all of these initiatives, Schenck emphasized that Fairfax County is the best location for PenFed.

PenFed’s Tysons headquarters (Photo courtesy of PenFed Credit Union)

“I could not be happier locating over 600 employees here in Fairfax County,” Schenck said. “Not only is PenFed Credit Union located in Fairfax County, we have the PenFed Foundation located here in Fairfax County. And we have hundreds of our professionals in Berkshire Hathaway Home Services PenFed Realty, which is our wholly owned subsidiary here in Fairfax County. It’s been a great home for all of these employees, their families, their kids. And so I’m very proud that we’re located here as a firm and we can continue to grow here.”

PenFed is hiring, by the way.

“We’re always hiring more talent. We hired over a thousand folks since January 1st of this year. We’re going to continue to hire. We do have an adjacent parcel of land adjacent to our Tysons headquarters. And over the next few years, we’ll build that out as well,” Schenck said.

“Tysons is our home,” Schenck added. “We’re very proud of this community and we’re very proud of the human capital that it attracts and retains.”

August 24, 2021