First, there was the fact that the CUSO persevered and carried it forward at all, during a year when credit union conferences generally are struggling. Undoubtedly, CO-OP helped the conference by waiving registration fees for attendees, a move that several executives said allowed them to attend the meeting; the CUSO wound up with a healthy turn-out for the meeting. Overall, more than 350 executives from a record-setting 120 credit unions drove up the long and winding road to the Lost Pines Resort, where the meeting was held.
Second, the Lost Pines Resort itself provided a unique mixture of great natural beauty and a truly remote location. The gate of the resort was a good 30-minute ride from the Austin, Texas, airport and then, from the gate of the resort to the front door, was another 20 minutes. As one resort employee put it, Lost Pines is popular for meetings because organizers know that when their attendees arrived there aren't many other places to go.
Finally, the meeting's speakers from other disciplines learned almost as much about credit unions while preparing for their addresses as the credit union audiences learned about them.
"As I was doing the research for this talk I couldn't help but wonder why I didn't know all this before," said Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer for Proctor & Gamble, who drew good-natured boos from the audience when he identified himself as a bank customer. By the end of the talk, Stengel said he was actively considering joining a credit union, that a brother-in-law was a big credit union advocate and that he did not have any particularly strong ties to his bank.
But what the THINK '09 conference's most singular characteristic was the attitude on the part of all the speakers that both acknowledged the challenges facing credit unions and insisted that those challenges also brought opportunity with them-if only credit union leaders would seize them.