To Stay or to Go? CEOs Push Ahead to Retirement Despite Recession
In October of last year, the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions announced that the board decided to invite CEO Cliff Rosenthal to postpone his plans to retire in 2010 to help deal with the fallout from the economy.
Vermont Federal Credit Union CEO Joseph Finnigan announced his plans to retire last May before the major events in the economic downturn began to unfold. Finnigan, who has headed the credit union for the past 30 years, said his decision to continue with his plans to retire came from the need for change coupled with the selection of a strong successor.
"Certainly the economic conditions create the question of postponing retirement, but we were too far along in the process and had transitioned in the need for change and found an excellent candidate."
Finnigan will officially retire in March and hand over the position to Bernard Isabelle, who previously served as senior vice president and chief financial officer at Greylock Federal Credit Union in Pittsfield, Mass.
Isabelle was selected for the position in December and since then has been working with Finnigan on the transition process.
The process has included breakfast meetings with the community and members, which Finnigan said is without question a very important part of the process given the uncertainty and fears consumers have right now.
The credit union has also published articles in its newsletters highlighting Isabelle's strengths and had articles published in local newspapers about him.
Heading up a credit union in the middle of a recession will not be a one-man job, Isabelle said, and the fact that the senior management has a wide array of experience in different economic downturns will play a very important role.
Fortunately, Isabelle said that economy hasn't had such a negative impact on Vermont as it has on other areas of the country but added right now everybody has to be concerned.
"Everybody's facing the same situation and how the economy is going to impact delinquencies. It's a real interesting situation to balance helping members with the stability and integrity of the financial organization," Isabelle said.
Other challenges Isabelle faces include looking at new noninterest income sources, how to decrease operating expenses, dealing with the issue of balancing increased service to members without having to increase staff, and the NCUA corporate bailout plan.
"The plan has the potential to negatively impact everybody, but we're going to support the corporates as best we can and continue to support the movement," Isabelle said.
As Isabelle gets situated at the credit union, Finnigan will maintain his role as treasurer on the board of directors.
"I will without a question continue to be involved in the industry in some way, it's a part of me and it gets in your blood," Finnigan said.
Ray Cromer Jr., CEO of Envision Credit Union, is another CEO who is moving forward with his plans to retire.
The credit union is actively looking for his successor to come into the credit union starting in July and transition into Cromer's spot by January 2010. "It's unfortunate that in my last year the economy has been tanking. I'd rather go out on a good note, but it's time for me to move on and get some new ideas and fresh blood in," Cromer said.
In Cromer's 42 years of CEO at Envision, he's dealt with a number of recessions and recoveries, but he said that this current recession stands out. "Its unique and challenging because you feel like you're not in control of anything. I'm an eternal optimist though, and I think we'll get through it and come out the other side stronger."
In his last year, Cromer said he has a strategic plan he's implementing that includes increasing marketing and being aggressive in home loans and credit cards.
Last year the credit union experienced record numbers in home loans and so far in January, Cromer said that the credit union has seen a 5% asset increase.
"I wish our bottom line would be better, but with the corporate bailout no one's bottom line is going to
look good. It's unfortunate to have to pay for some-thing we're not involved in, but that's the coop-
As far as the transition process goes, Cromer said that he wants to leave the credit union knowing it's in good hands. In looking for a successor, Cromer said that integrity, honesty and moral fabric are three very important factors to the board.
Envision has a complex mix of CUSO partners,
and Cromer said he will introduce his successor to
the CUSOs and to the community make sure they
feel comfortable in the position and then "get out
of the way."
"I'm fairly flexible, I want to be supportive but not be in the way. The new person will have their strategic initiative and plan. I'm supportive of whatever direction the board will want me to take."
After his retirement, Cromer said that he will only be involved in credit unions as a depositor and
that he has "left his mark on the industry in some positive way."