Talk about an ominous start to a vacation.
John McKechnie began his first day on a Delaware beach in the summer of 2008 reading a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal about the serious financial problems facing some of the corporate credit unions.
It would be the start of an action-filled two and a half years that McKechnie said tested and stretched his lobbying and media relations skills.
"I like the excitement and exhilaration because it places a tangible premium on your skill, but sometimes there was too much of good thing," he said in a recent interview with Credit Union Times.
McKechnie will soon say goodbye to all that. On March 4, he will be leaving the agency after a five-year stint as director of the NCUA's Office of Public and Congressional Affairs to work for a lobbying and public relations firm, the name of which he hasn’t announced.
He said that in devising strategies for dealing with Congress and the media, he and his colleagues focused on what they needed to do to instill consumer confidence.
"Consumers didn’t lose a penny, and no corporate transaction was disrupted, and we needed to convey that at all times, even as we were asking for assistance from Congress. It was a difficult challenge on Capitol Hill because credit unions had been considered safe and conservative. Congress was helpful, but they weren’t happy to learn that credit unions needed help."
A particularly difficult period came during the first months of 2009. The NCUA had to inject liquidity into U.S. Central and WesCorp in January and then conserved the two corporates in March. By May, Congress approved legislation that provided for a line of credit with the Treasury and created a temporary stabilization fund for corporates.
When asked about how the agency devised its plans and how closely it wound up following them, McKechnie quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensible."
Though McKechnie is a Republican who worked for GOP members of Congress and on several presidential campaigns, he served under three NCUA chairmen, Republican appointees JoAnn Johnson and Michael Fryzel and one Democrat, current Chairman Debbie Matz.
Matz recently praised his service to the agency.
"Faced with difficult questions during the economic downturn, John always worked diligently to communicate the facts and preserve consumer confidence in federally insured credit unions. The entire NCUA board has benefitted from John’s counsel, insight and good humor," Matz said in a statement.
He joined the agency after working for CUNA for more than 18 years, including four years as the association’s top lobbyist. He said the regulator and the industry it regulates should "have an arm’s length relationship, but there doesn’t have to be a fist at the end of the arm."