EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- What attributes would one use to describe Tom Glatt, the stalwart president/CEO of Continental Federal Credit Union--a man who never wavered during the nearly two-month, unwanted Wings Financial FCU merger campaign attempt last spring?
Jim Blaine, Glatt's ally, probably comes the closest to nailing his character.
"Part Cajun, part bulldog, part preacher, part activist, part street fighter, part dreamer," Blaine, president of $1.4 billion State Employees' Credit Union, said recently.
For all those roles and more, Glatt has been named the Credit Union Times Trailblazer CEO of the Year for 2008.
The Louisiana native, 57, has served at the helm of $190 million Continental FCU since Aug. 1, 2006 but has been a mainstay in the credit union industry for nearly 25 years. Along with his wife Diane, he founded Counter Intelligence Associates, a consulting firm that was acquired by The Rochdale Group, another consulting firm, in February 2006. Glatt served as president of Counter Intelligence before being hired as executive vice president/chief operating officer at $2.5 billion OnPoint Community CU in August 2004.
When Glatt received word that he was named CEO of the Year, he went from "pleasantly shocked" to wondering if this was some cruel joke.
"[Continental FCU chairman and now director] Al Cooper received the 'Volunteer of the Year' award and I was extremely happy for him," Glatt said. "I didn't think for a second that the news was for me."
After some more thought, Glatt, although extremely gracious for being recognized, is convinced that the honor is a shared achievement.
"You know, nobody deserves CEO of the Year," Glatt said as he ticked off the names of his senior staff, board volunteer, public relations gurus, and the credit union attorney who helped navigate through the Wings Financial debacle. "It's truly a team effort. Alistair Harper [the CU's executive vice president/COO] kept the day-to-day going as we went through this."
Above anyone else, Glatt credits Diane, his wife of nearly 19 years, for on-the-job CEO training.
"She taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do. She was a great CEO," Glatt said.
It would be predictable and quite frankly, exhausting, to go back and re-live the litany of events that followed after Continental FCU rejected $1.8 billion Wings Financial's offer to merge. Between the $200 promises to Continental FCU members should a merger go through, cease and desist orders, industry outcry, trade groups and leagues calling for regulatory intervention and, ultimately, NCUA putting a stop to it all, Glatt said he continues to look above and beyond Wings to more a important calling--ensuring that the members are being served in every way possible.
To that end, in the midst of very public and very contentious Continental/Wings t??te-? -t??te, Glatt managed to move forward the credit union's three-year strategic growth and member service plan--well in place before the "hostile takeover" attempt took place in March 2007, Glatt has said. One major move was a partnership with CU24 ATM Network to give members access to an additional 15,000 no-fee ATMs for a total of more than 40,000 ATMs.
A Financial Service Centers Cooperative alliance expanded access to 2,400 new branches in 46 states. Continental FCU also increased its presence in Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Tempe, Ariz., which are all key hubs for Continental Airlines and US Airways. A beefed-up investment lineup came through XCU Capital, a CU-owned broker-dealer, and included an array of mutual funds, annuities, equities, and insurance products.
In 2007, Continental FCU--which got its start in 1952 serving Continental Airlines, experienced growth in a number of areas. Loans increased by 68% to $120 million while the loan-to-share ratio jumped to nearly 80%, according to credit union data. The ratio was roughly 30% when Glatt came aboard in 2006. During the Wings Financial merger scenario and amid a period of sluggish membership growth across the industry, Continental FCU said more than 300 members joined. In February, 250 more members signed on.
Recent surveys clearly show that members have been loyal to Continental FCU. Ninety-five percent of members said they are "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with service and 84% believe the credit union indeed meets their financial needs.
Nowhere was that loyalty more apparent than when more than 2,000 e-mails flooded the CU's inbox during the Wings Financial merger attempt. Some threatened to leave should the two merge but many were ready to fight to the end. Long-time members with 18, 20, 37 and 40-plus years of service from Continental FCU begged to remain independent.
"Tell Wings Financial to leave my money alone," one member wrote. "If Wings is successful in their takeover, I will be moving the three accounts that I have at CFCU to a different financial company," another member vowed.
"Here in Texas, we have a saying, 'Don't mess with Texas.' Now we need to say 'Don't mess with C.F.C.U.,'" one more member warned.
Glatt said he was overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of support from members. At the same time, he was no shrinking violet up against Wings Financial, informing members along the way what he thought was really at stake. In a direct-mail letter to members, Glatt said Continental had turned down Wings Financial's merger offers several times in the past.
Although Continental FCU has a trade, industry and profession charter, which grants it latitude to serve the entire air transportation industry, Glatt said the global focus centers on building more relationships with US Airways and Continental airline employees. The credit union serves 19,000 Continental employees and through a separate brand, 7,000 US Airways employees.
"We have enough growth potential that our long-term growth strategy is to continue market growth with Continental and US Airways," Glatt said. "If we tried to market to other airlines, it would be 'onesy twosey.'"
Be it marketing, accounting or lending, Glatt said he is merely the "visionary." EVP/COO Harper's first day was March 26, 2007, a little over two weeks after Wings Financial sent its March 9 merger proposal. Saeid Raad, vice president of finance and chief financial officer, and Nathan Smith, vice president/chief lending officer, were also hired during that time. Gene Balestra joined the credit union as vice president of quality. Glatt cautioned that they were all walking into an unprecedented hornets' nest.
"I tried to scare them off. I told them we didn't know if we were going to be business in the next 120 days," Glatt recalled, adding the new hires didn't hesitate about coming aboard.
Harper held a conference call reassuring all of the frontline staff that they would not have to worry about Wings Financial--their focus would continue to be on serving the members, Glatt said.
"I'm very team-oriented. My job is to pull it all together," Glatt explained.
Rather than hearing if there is a problem or if a staffer has a question, Glatt would prefer to hear how that person rectified the situation. Still, he "has no problems making decisions" if something arises that needs his leadership touch. It also helps that he is grooming three of his top people [all from billion dollar credit unions, he points out] to succeed him one day. When Glatt interviewed for the CEO job, he came with a nine-year plan to grow Continental FCU.
"I have a vision for this credit union that I want to see through to fruition," Glatt said. "If that takes seven or nine years, the vision will dictate my departure. But I really love what I'm doing."
That vision includes a business plan with 75 different projects, nearly all with the members' needs in mind.
"When we help a member, we all celebrate that success. The same is true when we disappoint a member--we want to know what happened," Glatt said. "The thing that makes everyone excited is we're helping people. It's all about helping people."