Here is my top three list of things that I wish I had acted on earlier in my career:
The importance of education: Complete your educational goals early in your career. I got distracted with military service, raising a family and advancing my career and always assumed that I would make the time to complete my education. I never did and have always regretted it.
The importance of relationships. Relationships drive business. Plain and simple. When you’re young, you don’t see that. You don’t understand that relationships can and will lead to jobs and to new opportunities. Networking, acts of kindness and meeting new people can all lead to furthering a relationship.
The importance of saving: When you are young, the idea of building a nest egg for retirement doesn’t seem very important especially when you are paying $4.00 for a gallon of gas. Still, I wish I had maximized my 401K contributions early in my career.
First Entertainment CU
I believe in learning from experiences, good or bad, but have never played woulda, shoulda, coulda! I always try to focus on the future and moving forward, making changes where needed and striving to improve. Looking back over the last three decades I can honestly say it has been a great ride and if I had to do it over again I would not change anything. No regrets, credit unions have been a great and rewarding career for me.
That being said there is maybe one thing I wish I would have started sooner. That is going outside the credit union movement for continuing education. Leagues and the trades have some great courses and are needed, but until I started taking courses at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management did I really start to get a fuller understanding of leadership and management. Working with and learning from leaders in all industries from the largest to the smallest really broadened my outlook and made we a more well rounded leader. I feel that my courses at Kellogg moved me from being a manager to being a leader of our credit union.
Main Street Financial FCU
I wish I had been more active in the Charities supported by credit unions. I volunteer and do fundraising events outside of credit union sponsored functions and have only recently become more involved with CU related fund raising. I think that we have some pretty amazing things going on and it will take all of us to make these charities work. I am especially interested in the RMJ Foundation in California and the Children’s Miracle Network.
As my career progressed I should have become more involved in our local chapter specifically to try to keep the Youth programs alive. My career has afforded me the opportunity to work with many young people who have become credit union professionals either on the vendor side or in a credit union. I could have better served our industry if I had taken some of these success stories to local high schools and or colleges to speak on the benefits of our industry as a solid career choice.
It is very important to pay close attention to the relationships you have made throughout your career. You will find people in every credit union with every vendor and at most trade shows that can and will play a very important part in your growth in this industry. Keep the relationships alive, they mean a whole lot as you move forward.
It would have been helpful to have recognized earlier that passion and succinct presentations are every bit as important as the more obvious needs of accuracy and balanced perspective.
The difference between a good presentation and a great presentation cannot be over emphasized. To gain buy in and make a great impression, you need to be able to make a great presentation, which conveys passion, as well as succinct comments, balanced perspective and 100% accuracy. This is especially true at the board level. If your presentation doesn’t come across well, is not balanced in perspective, or contains any errors or misstatements, your credibility is compromised. And, if it is not clear and succinct, you risk losing your audience’s attention. Typos in presentations are the worst and the most easily avoided faux pas that I commonly see at conferences and other industry meetings.
San Diego County CU
I started at SAFE Credit Union in 1979 at time when the credit union served the civilian employees of McClellan Air Force Base. We were a single sponsor credit union with four branches, two of which were on the base and not open to anyone but employees who worked on the base.
The three top things I wish I had acted on sooner:
When Ed Callahan became NCUA Chairman, it became possible to expand our field of membership through mergers. We did not seek mergers at that time because we did not want to dilute our civilian Air Force employee membership. That was a mistake. A broad field of membership is an important advantage for a credit union. I realize that putting all of our eggs in one basket--one sponsor is a mistake. A broader field of membership would also have supported our eventual conversion to a community credit union. I did not foresee the eventual change from sponsor support to community credit union--a change that has affected most credit unions.
The second thing I should have acted on sooner was to expand our branch network to serve the community. In the 90's, Wells Fargo Bank began closing branches in our area to focus on super market branches. We had the chance to pick up some of those branches. We only picked up one of them. They were all prime locations and we soon realized that the former bank customers did not want to move to the grocery store branches and were very willing to move their accounts to SAFE. This was a missed opportunity. We quickly found out that the key to being the primary financial institution was to have branches In the neighborhoods where our members lived. Branch access is the key to getting checking accounts and checking is the key to the entire member relationship. Checking also is a big source of non-interest income with courtesy pay and debit interchange.
The third thing we should have acted on sooner was community involvement by the Board and management. When we were a closed field of membership and only served the civilian employees at the air force base, we focused only on sponsor relationships. The credit union did not belong to the Chamber of Commerce, we did not attend community events, we did not sponsor local charities or other community groups. Our marketing budget was allocated to brochures, newsletter and workplace advertising at the sponsor locations. We have since discovered that we are a key part of our community and that our members value our participation in the community. We have directed a very large portion of our marketing budget to community events and community support. We promote SAFE as a community partner and we enhance the image of SAFE by being one of the biggest supporters of community activities and groups.
All three things listed above have something in common. It is the realization that our credit union serves its members AND its community. A credit union is strongest and most effective if it serves a community. The orginal intent of having a field of membership was to bring together people with a common bond to work together to improve their financial well being and allow them to enjoy life. A common bond is a strength. A common bond makes marketing easier. A community has a common bond. I learned over the last 32 years that a credit union must be an active part of its community.
Community credit unions must be larger than sponsor based credit unions. They need branches to serve the members; they have higher operating costs; and they need scale to offset those operating costs and to be able to provide the entire community with a high level of service. Therefore credit unions need to consolidate; they need to provide convenient community access; and they need to be an active part of their community. I get that now and we are active in all three areas.
SAFE Credit Union
1. One of the things I would have done earlier in my career is to spend time learning the business. One way would be to immerse yourself into better understanding how the different departments functioned within the credit union. I started my career as a programming manager and having this knowledge would have enhanced my appreciation as well as enhanced my ability to better serve our members and my internal customer.
2. Earlier in my career I would have spent more time building my network of professional contacts. One of the great facets of our industry is our willingness to share information. Being new into the movement I wasn’t fully aware of this access and its immense benefit. The friends as well as professional acquaintances that I have developed over the years have helped my career in very measurable ways. I would strongly encourage any new professional to get involved in industry groups such as the CUNA councils and to volunteer serving on a voluntary industry committee.
3. Took me several years to learn this one, particularly since I started in information technology I would have done a much better job understanding what an income statement and balance sheet are and what some of the significant measures mean to the business, such as ROA, net worth, net interest income, etc. I would have also spent time with our leaders and understanding how our business strategy and objectives would impact those measures. Over the years, having that knowledge has helped me better explain decisions to the people I lead and some of the best non-finance leaders and managers I know have a solid working knowledge of finance.
Senior vice President Operations/Technology
Alliant Credit Union
1) I wish I would have gone through a training program or boot camp specifically designed for leadership at some point during my career path. I really believe that you lead by example. Great leadership skills are important for managing people, day to day task and strategic initiatives.
2) I wish I would have developed a network of peers in my earlier days. I have a great peer network today. Having a peer network is very supportive and provides me with a venue for discussing ideas, concepts, and challenges openly.
3) I wish I would have joined some of the organizations and Advisory Boards that I participate in, earlier in my career. I have always been involved in affiliated credit union associations, but on a limited basis. I feel very rewarded by being involved and helping give back to the credit union community.
Executive VP, Information Technology
San Diego County Credit Union
In the world of governmental affairs advocacy, one probably acts and reacts in equal parts, given how the external world influences and dictates what we do. Looking back to when I entered the credit union movement in 1987, fresh from Capitol Hill where I served as a legislative and press aide to a member of Congress, I would say that the first thing I wish I would have acted on sooner would have been to challenge the credit union movement to develop real grassroots power.
My experience then is that credit unions viewed political involvement as a episode: they were active when they had to be, when they needed something, when there was a crisis. When things were quiet, credit unions disappeared from the political landscape.
That may have worked at one time, but not anymore. The issues are too complex, and the bankers too aggressive, to make advocacy a part-time hobby.
Here's the lesson that all credit union people should remember: the best time to lobby is when you don't need anything. Stay involved and active at all levels of government, so that when credit unions have to step forward and protect some product or service for their members, your federal or state lawmaker won't be a stranger who you have to cultivate.
You don't just want acquaintances in the governmental affairs world: you want advocates. And as the saying goes, all politics is local. It doesn't get more local than starting with yourself, your credit union, your board, and your representatives.
Senior Vice President
Total Spectrum/Steve Gordon & Associates
I wish someone would have caused me to reflect on this when I became a CEO. This is what I would begin with:
a) One on ones with volunteers, starting with the Board Chair, to develop personal relations and determine attitudes and dreams.
b) One on ones with staff members, in no particular pecking order, to mutually share backgrounds and objectives.
c) Review of relevant material, including the strategic plan, progress reports, board minutes, regulators' exams, and financials.
Hawaii State FCU
I’ve spent most of my time in smaller shops. It’s been very rewarding, but we never had the capacity to do great and large programs. I wish I would have moved to a larger CU early on. Now, there is a “You’re from a small shop, what would you know about how we operate?” barrier. Somehow that never worked out.
I would say that you should set a plan early on what you want to accomplish… large CU CEO, more time for family, or the challenge of a smaller shop that allows for more hand’s on. Whatever that goal is, pursue it early. Time will pass very quickly and opportunities will not always be there.
You need to make a “location” decision at some point. Are you willing to pick up and move to the job opportunity or are you going to look in your local area only? Realize the limitations and turmoil involved and address it early on.
Lastly, the level of participation within the industry you want to have is something best addressed early. Are you a chapter person, a League board person, PAC, whatever? If you have aspirations for that, start early volunteering. I got fed up with the “Check your brain at the door” league meetings long time ago and left that arena. Over time, it’s become vibrant and I missed the change. I’m in California so we tend to change first, for the good or bad.
1st Valley CU
I think the three things I would have acted on earlier in my career are:
1. Perfect your communication skills – don’t underestimate the importance of good business writing skills and effectively presenting your thoughts and ideas – communication is key to establishing your credibility.
2. Anticipate the decision maker’s objections to your ideas - have solutions and answers to overcome potential objections or concerns.
3. Build a network of trusted colleagues to share ideas and problems - your manager wants you to be resourceful.
First of all, Tough-talking Troy is going to lay it on the line with respect and candor. Please know that I will not pull any punches and intend to put it out there like I see it. Folks don’t have to agree with me, but understand if the question is asked, then the response will come from the person my wife fondly refers to as “Pure Troy.” The top 3 things that I wish I would have acted on earlier in my career are:
1. Remembering the Golden Rule – treating others how I want to be treated. When I figured out that what works for me is to put God first, then family, life, and work were able to co-exist in a harmonious state without conflicts as to whom gets top billing.
2. Humility – being the type of leader who has a servant’s heart. That meant sharing successes with others and taking responsibility for failure. Jim Collins in Good to Great defined the consistent characteristic of Level 5 leaders as those who possess humility. Even the great Jack Welch is referred to today as the “New Jack” because of how he has transformed his thinking and approach to leadership over the years.
3. Education – my impetuous youthful state of mind, more like being a know-it-all , snot-nosed kid, fueled my decision to delay my formal education after a couple of years in college. It was thirteen years after graduating high school before I completed by Bachelor’s in Business Management. Now 20 years later, I am finishing my MBA. Education is power. No one can take what you learn away from you, put you can surely give it away without a negative side effect. (Aside: Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.)
Chief Operations Officer
South Carolina FCU
While I haven’t spent my entire career in the credit union industry and don’t have any real regrets, there are a few things I wish I had done much earlier in my career that are important to success regardless of what industry or position you work in, including:
1) Embrace change and don’t let any potentially good opportunity go by. It’s fine to be cautious and to evaluate any situation and any alternatives to determine if an opportunity is a good one before taking any action, but second chances are so rare and passing up an opportunity is something you may regret later. That opportunity may never come again. Accepting change and taking chances is how we grow as individuals, and how we can grow our careers and the success of our organization. Have confidence in yourself and learn from any mistakes so you don’t repeat them, but don’t be afraid of taking a chance that you or your mentors or advisers have at least a good idea about being worthwhile. This can mean not just in performing your job, but also career opportunities as well. I have found the CUNA Councils to be an excellent source of ideas and support that I wish I had taken advantage of earlier in my career.
2) Perfect your communication and interpersonal skills as early as possible. Playing team sports in school and as an adult, and socializing with friends, can certainly help you in working with others on a team at work. But at work you have to succeed with people who aren’t your friends and who may have different values and ideas and don’t agree with and support yours. Learning to deal with different personalities can help you early in your career in getting things done with a minimum of drama and wasted time. Perfecting your abilities in conflict resolution and diplomacy can take you far in your career, especially in management. People have a preference to avoid conflict, but usually different people have different ideas and someone needs to get these people to work together towards completing something important despite their differences. The earlier you learn that, the faster you will succeed and the higher you will rise in your career. Perfecting not only your writing skills but speaking skills as early as possible will also have the same positive effect on your success, and continually improving will help to keep those raises and promotional opportunities coming. Always remember to think before you speak (or write), consider the audience and your tone, and choose your words carefully. Knowing when to listen instead of speaking and being a good listener are also lessons you can’t learn too early in your career.
3) Never, ever give up. Of course, be open minded and willing to accept that you might be wrong, that someone else’s idea might really be better than yours, or you made a mistake and “need to cut your losses” and really should go in a different direction, and not be stubborn about it or ever think perfection is actually attainable. But, if you truly believe in something, persevere and keep trying, be confident, and don’t let someone else easily talk you out of it. I’ve had situations, especially early in my career, in which others had their ideas followed rather than mine because they spoke louder than me or I was willing to give in so we could move forward, but the result being something less than we could have achieved.
Nassau Financial Federal CU