Not Just for Sheep Anymore: Consulting Service Offers CEO Clone
Herman left her position as senior adviser and chief of staff for former NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson in late 2006 to form her own consulting business (www.hollyherman.biz). Prior to that Herman served as CEO of Kraft Foods Federal Credit Union, served on the CUNA Board and was previously CEO of University and State Employees Credit Union.
About a year ago, Herman received a call from a client asking not to act as a consultant but to actually be the client. The client needed a presentation put together to present to the credit union's board and just didn't have the time to put it together.
"I was able to put the presentation together fairly quickly because I've been a CEO and I know what works with boards," Herman said.
This was the birth of a new type of consulting service that Herman calls Secret CEO. Herman completes projects for CEOs that range from Power Point presentations, researching vendors, gathering information and studies on a specific topic and working with managers to implement new technology.
Most projects Herman said can be done remotely and delivered over the Internet to then discuss with the CEO. In some cases, Herman will come to the credit union to perform a duty that is usually done by the CEO.
One CEO asked Herman to come to the credit
union to meet with branch managers and oversee the training process for new technology that was being implemented.
"The CEO just didn't have the time to be there. She just wanted another 'her' to oversee the process and make sure the staff was engaged in the training."
Theresa Mann, CEO of FDIC Federal Credit
Union, used Herman's Secret CEO service for the
first time last year to complete a project she didn't
have time for.
"The thing about Holly is that it's like having a person in your back pocket. She completely and innately understood what I was trying to accomplish. She's just 'get it done and get out,'" Mann said.
Time constraint is the most common reason CEOs ask for her help, Herman said. Some CEOs also don't have the people or the access to the resources needed to develop a presentation. Some have the people, but they don't have the experience needed to create the presentation or experience working with a board.
"CEOs are busy with the major challenges going on now. Boards and management teams are asking for additional information and studies because it's a scary time. They just don't have the time anymore to complete these projects. There are some credit unions that have lost staff members, too, and are now reluctant to replace them," Herman said.
Mann said she's regularly had conversations with other CEOs about wishing they had more time to complete necessary projects and tasks.
"CEOs wish they could clone themselves daily. Right now, some may be hesitant about the cost of hiring a consultant in this economy. Some consultants can have requirements and minimums. With Holly, there was as much of a relationship as I needed and wanted."
Herman receives approximately 10 requests a month and projects can take a couple of hours to complete or a few days worth of work.
"I have the ability to leverage my time and can concentrate on just one issue without interruptions. From my experience at the NCUA, I understand where I can find resources and can maneuver the materials quickly. Things like the Federal Credit Union Act and the NCUA examiners guide can be daunting if you're not familiar with them."
Part of the appeal of Secret CEO is also that Herman has the ability to complete a project at anytime on short notice.
One time, Herman said she had a CEO call her at 6 p.m. on a Friday right before he got on a plane to go on a week-long business trip. He needed a study and information completed in a week's time.
"I did the research and put together the study and delivered it to him on time. He just realized that he didn't have the time or the resources necessary to complete it on his own."
Lately, Herman said that she has seen more requests for help with compliance issues and had requests for vendor reviews during Red Flag regulations deadlines.
When completing vendor reviews Herman said she will talk to the vendors and put the different options together for the CEO to then make a decision on who they want to go with.
"Since I'm not associated with a vendor I can give an objective overview of what's out there and the cost of implementation."
The key part of her experience that has helped the most when it comes to completing these projects, Herman said, is that she's sat in the CEOs seat before.
"I really try and understand what their needs are. My direct board experience has really helped, because I know what the boards are looking for."
Mann said that was one of the reasons she was so pleased with her Secret CEO experience and that she used Herman again for help with a regulatory compliance issue was Herman's experience as a CEO.
"There was a comfort knowing that she has been there, and that she understands everything as I would understand it."
Another service Herman offers that she said has been receiving increased interest in was planning
sessions. "I've been getting requests lately, especially this year, from credit unions that won't be going off-
site as much." Herman said she will visit a credit union and facilitate a discussion on a certain topic or a variety of topics.
"My experience with working on all different projects as Secret CEO has really helped with this. It all builds on itself."