It’s one of the most exclusive–and perhaps productive–credit union clubs in the country has been up and running for 15 years. Although many outside of central Florida have never heard of it, CEO participants said they feel bad when they miss a meeting.
Attendees of the monthly CEO breakfast, an informal give-and-take gathering in which top CU issues and challenge” of the day are discussed honestly and freely includes top managers from billion-dollar CUs on Florida’s west coast. The smallest CUs are included as well.
The hour-and-a-half sessions might seem like just another league chapter meeting, but followers insist the sessions allow free-wheeling discussions on an array of topics that can include everything from corporate mergers and interchange losses to NCUA assessments and charity fundraisers.
“I suppose we may be a little different from other areas of the country where you could not get CEOs from competitive institutions in the same room much less sit down for breakfast. But we seem to have built up a camaraderie that works well,” explained Tim McMurry, who serves as coordinator of the CEO breakfasts, arranging location and sending out the monthly notice.
Last month’s hot topic turned out to be the corporates with timing of the announcement of the planned merger of Southeast Corporate into Corporate One of Ohio turning out to be quite fitting. That’s because McMurry is the chairman of Southeast and also president/CEO of the $72 million PowerNet CU of Tampa.
“Yes, we did have a corporate discussion with those CEOs, explaining their reasons for staying with the corporates and Corporate One and those which decided on other providers,” explained McMurry.
Like other participants in the CEO breakfast, McMurry is protective of individual privacy and confidentiality, noting there are protocols on the meeting format.
“We do have strict rules that only CEOs in the market area are invited, and there are no salesmen,” said Tom Dorety, president/CEO of the $5 billion Suncoast Schools FCU of Tampa.
The sessions are considered apolitical and nonpartisan though an occasional lawmaker is invited to speak “and sometimes we hear from the president of CUNA, and we have had Pete Crear of the World Council speak to us when he was in town,” said Dorety, a former chairman of CUNA.
Anywhere from 10 to 14 CEOs attend the monthly Thursday gatherings rotated to CU headquarters from Lakeland to Sarasota. Years ago the breakfasts were held in an out of the way diner in Ybor City, “where we spent the whole day jacked up on Cuban coffee,” recalled Dorety.
Arthur Wood, president/CEO of the $260 million Railroad & Industrial FCU, agrees that the Tampa area CEO breakfasts are extraordinary since he contends CU cooperation and sharing have waned.
“Gatherings such as this once happened in Orlando, Miami, and Gainesville but ceased as CUs began cut-throat competition with each other,” observed Wood. At the Tampa meetings, “no one shares proprietary information, even if it would help others. But we do discuss issues in common such as NCUA, corporate CUs, foreclosures, and league business–stuff like that.”
The most recent example of cooperation that occurs and that brings results is a successful $1.5 million fundraising campaign to build an autism center at the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg next spring. The hospital is linked to the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins network.
Fourteen CUs are part of the campaign under auspices of Tampa Bay Area Credit Unions For Kids, which is not formally linked to the national Children’s Miracle Network though the hospital is.
“We’re pretty proud how we’ve banded together to demonstrate exactly how credit unions contribute on their own to help the community,” commented Robert Fisher, president/CEO of the $1.6 billion Grow Financial FCU of Tampa and a CEO breakfast regular.
To wind up the fundraising effort which actually started five years ago to support the hospital, the CEOs will be taking part in an Oct. 10 “Credit Union Kids Classic” golf tournament at Lake Jovita Country Club in Dade City.
“I suppose you could say we are very positive about our commitment in making sure the job gets done by following through on the hospital campaign,” said Dorety.
One breakfast alumni, Bucky Sebastian, executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation and former CEO of GTE FCU, said he thinks the CEO breakfast format worked well “because we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company and respected one another.”
“We could always exchange ideas on which were the terrific vendors and which were not so good and we could discuss what was going on in the leagues and the chapters,” recalls Sebastian adding “there have been wonderful friendships developed and great fellowship.”