A Candid Post Describes Officer Cutbacks, `Turning Around a Battleship'
LAS VEGAS - As he has for months relishing his tell-like-it-is-role managing CUNA Mutual Group, Jeff Post, its president/CEO, provided credit union executives fresh insight on his 18-month stewardship detailing cost-cutting moves to hack officer ranks as well as eliminating a "country club" work ethic in the 5,500 employee firm.
In well-planned appearances in an "executive dialogue" and at a press briefing during CUNA Mutual's annual Discovery Conference, Post described the many changes he has made since taking over CUNA Mutual in January 2005 and at the same time appealed to the industry for "feedback" on what might be needed in the future.
Post said the first six months on the job were just surveying the organization and "listening and learning." But he quickly realized that overhauling and streamlining the company was not maneuvering "a PT boat but turning around a battleship" with a priority being to slash a top-heavy overlay of officers from 320 down to 85-90.
"We had three times more officers than we needed," declared Post maintaining it was unfair for CUs to be shouldering such salary expenses.
Without completely faulting past management, Post said CUNA Mutual had simply operated in a `60s environment where corporations like big banks had large contingents of vice presidents or above in management ranks
He told reporters he has long strived to reduce the "country club" mentality of slack work practices in Madison, which he described as "putting in a 32-and-a-half hour work week and taking off on Friday."
Recounting the changes for CU executives attending the special "executive dialogue," Post described CMG's dilemma of "selling into a shrinking market" with fewer CUs nationwide and a galloping merger trend all of which creates less need for the firm's products.
But Post said he realized CMG needed an overhaul in the way it deals with both big and small CUs and at the same time hearing from members who said, "they did not want to have weekly visits from their CUNA Mutual reps" when once a month would do. "Nor did they need that free lunch," offered by the CUNA Mutual rep, said Post.
Responding to audience questions, Post said he is eager now to find ways to leverage firm strengths to help the industry increase growth, membership and income suggesting CMG might use its "global reach" by offering products directly to the public. Those products would have a credit union label, he said. For example, he said "we have a high-quality 401(k) program, which year in and year out is ranked among the best in the country for small business participants by 401(k) Exchange." "One idea would be to use independent brokers to market the program to small businesses. We could also use agencies to sell our CUPOP (Credit Union Package of Protection) to small businesses," he went on. Under both of these scenarios, CUNA Mutual could "create awareness of credit unions and help drive membership to credit unions." Still another idea would be to sell crop insurance to farmers and then cross-sell them other CU products, he said. Asked by one questioner about market changes which might bring community banks and CUs closer together, Post said the idea is a nice thought but impractical and too risky even though there are common interests among the groups. Responding to a question along the same vein about the rise of community banks across the U.S, Post said he has noticed the trend even in suburban Madison where he resides, but in most cases the organizers charter the institutions to eventually sell them to a larger bank which would be antithetical for CUs "to get in bed with the enemy." As he did with reporters, Post provided attendees at the "executive dialogue" a chart showing the new "culture" of CMG facing an array of "marketplace realities" ranging from mutual bank conversions to a CU "identity crisis" plus bank taxation threats and large vs. small CU conflicts. Discussing the turnaround and "culture change" at CMG with reporters, he agreed that the community mood in Madison has been one of alarm and concern over the cutbacks and the financial health of CMG.
A CUNA newsletter reporter based in Madison said his man-on-the street experience has been that friends and workers often ask how conditions are at the firm in a city "where CUNA is the important employer." Post hears this kind of thing often. Without delineating the precise response to that question, Post pointed to the restructuring as necessary to restore the firm's position and reputation.
Post spent nearly an hour with reporters meeting in a Wynn Hotel conference room in which he gave an opening presentation and then fielded questions, following a similar format with the 150 at the executive dialogue on June 23.
In both scenarios, Post said he was eager to hear more from executives, asking several times, "tell me what you think?" with only a handful speaking from the floor.
And the same with reporters enjoying the exchange and even seeming disappointed there were not more questions. "Aren't you even going to ask me about the union?" he jibed.
But there were no takers to that issue, which apparently was not uppermost on the minds of the media who were more concerned with plastic card fraud and CMG restructuring. -email@example.com