HERNDON, Va. -- Though it may come as a surprise to many in the industry that Juri Valdov, president/CEO of Northwest Federal Credit Union, will be stepping down after nearly 24 years at the helm, the longtime executive said the transition to a new internal role has been a fixture of the succession plan for some time.
Valdov announced on Oct. 25 that effective Jan. 1, 2008, he will move a few rungs down the ladder to become senior vice president for external affairs at the $1.5 billion financial institution. Gerrianne "Winky" Burks, who has been at Northwest for 25 years in several capacities including chief operating officer and has been Valdov's "number two" person, has been tapped the new president/CEO.
"At a certain time, I knew I would be stepping down," Valdov said. "As CEO, it is my responsibility to make sure there is a succession plan. Over the years, we've built people up and thought Ms. Burks was more than capable to take over."
In his new role, Valdov will concentrate on serving as chairman of CU Realty of VA, MD, DC LLC, a real estate brokerage services CUSO founded by Northwest and 11 other credit unions. The CUSO is in discussions to expand into West Virginia and Delaware. Valdov will also continue serving on the board of Ongoing Operations, LLC, a Hagerstown, Md.-based disaster recovery, operations and business continuity CUSO.
Valdov is widely known as a fixture at CUNA having served as chairman from 2005 to this year and will continue on as a board member until his term ends in 2009. His roles as chairman of CUNA's Financial Literacy Task Force and as a member of the trade group's Brokerage Activities Task Force, a troop of industry leaders that continue to work with the Securities and Exchange Commission to extend broker-dealer exemptions to credit unions, are still intact. Valdov said he plans to take the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run "to the next level" in a continuing role as chairman of the Credit Union Miracle Day Inc.
Valdov said he is "looking forward to the future challenges of continuing to grow the credit union movement while giving up his CEO responsibilities at NWFCU."
"I have full confidence in Ms. Burks who has worked as my number two throughout my tenure as CEO here," Valdov said. "I'm proud of everything we accomplished together and know that, as CEO, she will be instrumental in ensuring a prosperous future for our members."
Still, even though he knew leaving the top spot was inevitable, Valdov admits it's going to take some adjusting.
"It's always hard to leave something you've been doing for 25 years but since I have been going through the [transitional process], I feel good about the hands the credit union will be left in," Valdov said.
Northwest was one of many credit unions that expanded as a result of the landmark passage of the Credit Union Membership Access Act in 1998. Chartered in 1947 to serve agency employees in Washington, in March 1999, it began adding select employee groups to its membership and today serves more than 400. Under Valdov's watch, Northwest has grown from roughly $65 million in assets to $1.5
billion; 40 employees to 310; and now serves more than 90,000 members.
It's the membership growth that Valdov said he is most proud. Northwest made an all-out push to target SEG employees and their families between 1999 and 2004 through early signing and offering incentives. Of course, he pointed out, the products and services were among the draws.
"The major thing is to continue to not only grow membership and [exist] in a very competitive environment but to also stay relevant," Valdov said. "We have to identify people at their life cycles and those cycles are getting to be younger and younger."
On the flip side, Northwest has grown so fast that the biggest challenge has been providing staff to fill vacancies, Valdov said, adding Fairfax County's unemployment rate is less than 2% so job seekers essentially have their pick of the litter. Valdov ticks off other pressures common in the industry: keeping up with technology, competition from nontraditional sources and ongoing "attacks" from banking groups.
The Penn State graduate and former Marine, who admits he had never heard of a credit union prior to coming to Northwest more than two decades ago, has learned during his tenure as CUNA chairman how having a voice and a presence can spread the message about the movement's philosophy. For that reason, he believes getting involved in politics, trade associations and representing credit unions at the state and national level comes with the president/CEO package.
"There are times when we look at ourselves as existing in an environment that is insulated and isolated but in reality, that's just not true," Valdov said. "There are outside forces that have a big effect on the individual and the organization."
Valdov feels strongly about the role credit unions can play in building up what he feels is a stagnant regard for financial literacy.
The first step? Catch them early.
"By the time [children] get to high school, it's really too late," Valdov said. "It's so busy in other subjects that the basics in financials are missing. It's just not something you should learn in the streets--the first time you get a credit card or go bankrupt. I feel credit unions are ideally located to provide financial education."
And that's without any "preconceived gains," he emphasized.
"If they're not in our field of membership, that's fine. The [CUNA Financial] task force looks at the
bigger picture and what we can do and what difference we can make."
Meanwhile, as Valdov continues with a number of transitions over the next few months, he goes back to how some of his colleagues and peers may still be wondering how he managed to set up a succession plan that enables him to stay aboard.
"Some people have asked me if this [model] can be used as an example. I'm not saying it can't be done," Valdov shared. "When you leave as a CEO, if you can leave your ego at the door and make the transition smooth, really, it's about the organization."