The Credit Union Executives Society started in 1962 as a CUNA department known as the CUES (which at the time stood for Credit Union Executive Services) Managers Society. Now in its 50th year, the organization is the go-to resource for credit union leaders. CUES’ wealth of services includes educational programs, conferences, networking opportunities and access to products such as white papers, reports and its monthly magazine, Credit Union Management.
The year 2012 not only brings CUES’ 50th anniversary, it also marks the end of President/CEO Fred Johnson’s tenure. After more than two decades with CUES, Johnson will retire on Dec. 31.
Johnson, who came to CUES in 1989 after 27 years with the U.S. Army and six years as the director of West Point Federal Credit Union, said a major highlight of his CUES career was launching CEO Institute, the organization’s graduate level education program. Through the CEO Institute, credit union leaders can deepen their skills and earn a Certified Chief Executive designation by completing a three-year program at a participating business school. Since the program’s launch in 1995, 421 credit union professionals have received their CCE.
“Some people started working for credit unions when they were 19,” Johnson said. “They worked their way up in the credit union, but they never had a chance to go to college. I wanted to give credit union people a shot at the ‘elite’ institutions, and that’s why I started the university program. I wanted to give them a chance to compete.”
Another focus of Johnson’s has been helping strengthen CU boards through the Center for Credit Union Board Excellence, which CUES launched in 2010, and offering web-based training programs.
“Online training first became important because of the economy – people couldn’t afford to travel,” he said. “Now, it’s important because we all have busy lives.”
Before Johnson joined CUES, the organization was led by Executive Director Bob DeThorne from 1967 to 1971 and President/CEO Mike Welch from 1971 to 1989. Under Welch’s leadership, CUES released the first issue of Credit Union Management magazine in 1978, named the first CUES Executive of the Year in 1982 and inducted the first 25 honorees into the now 124-member CUES Hall of Fame in 1988.
Other milestones for CUES under Johnson’s leadership include updating its mission to focus on professional development in 1993, launching its website in 1996, building its first owned headquarters in 2001 and forming the CUES Volunteer Hall of Fame, which now has 33 inductees, in 2009.
Johnson said membership has grown from approximately 4,000 to 6,000 since he’s served as president/CEO, and that CUES initiated growth by opening membership to all credit union leaders, not just CEOs.
CUES offers membership packages to credit union executives, board members and suppliers. CU executives can choose from individual or group membership; the latter being a more cost-effective option that provides benefits to a group of executives from a single CU.
Carroll Beach, chairman of the board for the Boulder, Colo.-based, $1 billion Elevations Credit Union can attest to CUES’ value–he’s been acquainted with the organization since 1966 and has taken advantage of its services in his past CU industry positions, which include chairman of the American Association of Credit Union Leagues and president/COO of Co-Op Shared Branching.
“CUES has always been willing to provide opportunities to discuss controversial subjects and allow members to express different ideas,” Beach said. “They’re always looking to expand their educational opportunities, and it’s been good for me to expand my knowledge. When I’ve attended meetings as a director, I’ve had the opportunity to network and exchange ideas with other credit union board chairmen and CEOs.”
Gary Esterling, CEO for the $1.3 billion, Saint Joseph, Mich.-based United Federal Credit Union has been a CUES member for 10 years, attended various networking events and training sessions, and served as chairman of the Ohio CUES Council. He also earned his CCE through the CEO Institute and calls the certification a valuable tool.
“(The CEO Institute) was about being able to take existing credit union talent and expose it to thinking outside of the credit union industry,” Esterling said. “It allows CEO leaders to become more cross-pollinated with business knowledge.”
He also said he appreciates the knowledge he’s gained through CUES’ networking opportunities and activities that zero in on CU leadership strategies.
“I’ve consulted with CUES on a number of projects to find out what they thought and if other credit unions were doing the same thing,” Esterling said. “If you look at other networking groups in the industry, most revolve around political lobbying, but CUES is focused on leadership challenges. It’s really helped us with our personal and professional development.”
CUES’ newest project involves collaborating with credit union professionals overseas – the organization and the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions will co-host the CCCU and CUES International Convention in June in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where cooperative organization leaders from 25 different countries will have the opportunity to share ideas.
This year, CUES also faces the task of finding Johnson’s replacement. Johnson said CUES has hired an executive recruiting firm and hopes to hire its new president/CEO by November.
As he closes in on his retirement, Johnson reflected on why the job appealed to him so much in the first place.
“Credit unions were attractive to me because the business is so much like the military,” Johnson said. “You’re dealing with selfless people, and when you think about the objective of helping people become independently wealthy and take care of their money, it’s very personal.”