A lot of credit unions will be shopping for gold watches the next few years as large numbers of CEOs retire.
That retirement wave isn’t unexpected. It’s been predicted for some years, although the impact may have been slowed by a slumping economy. But executive recruiters say they saw their business grow in 2011 as economic conditions improved and CEOs felt more comfortable actually carrying out their retirement plans.
Mike Juratovac at O’Rourke and Associates noted the credit union industry has been talking about a retirement wave for 10 years.
“If you look across the industry, regardless of geographic location, you can point to large pockets of leadership nearing retirement,” he indicated. “That’s simply the reality right now. I think the industry has been preparing–some organizations a little more thoughtfully than others.”
In 2011, Juratovac saw probably the most significant uptick in CEO retirements in a decade. He believes many CEOs had delayed retirement, not wanting to subject their credit unions to a major transition in during the economic downturn. Now that conditions have stabilized, people are feeling better about stepping out.
“We saw significant CEO activity in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest last year, and this year we’ve been busy in the Southeast. But I don’t think we can point to a geographic trend. It’s more of a national, industry-wide trend,” he said.
Will this trend accelerate? Not necessarily, Juratovac predicted. But he does expect activity to remain consistent with current levels. While cautious about translating this into percentages, he said the firm conducted 25 searches in 2011 alone, many of them for $1 billion credit unions. That was an increase of 20% to 25% over the previous year.
The nature of the transitions was different, he added, moving from a lot of workout situations and regulatory-influenced leadership transitions to planned retirement.
Does this mean credit unions will have to boost salaries to attract talent?
“I don’t know that current market conditions are necessarily having an impact on CEO compensation,” Juratovac answered. “There have always been those credit unions that are competitive and progressive when it comes to executive compensation. Then there are those organizations that have not necessarily kept up. They experience sticker shock when going into the market for a new CEO.”
“I do think that while at one time a candidate may have been flexible on compensation in order to land a CEO opportunity, today a comprehensive, competitive compensation package is really critical to being able to recruit and retain top talent.”
What about the impact on other management level employees eagerly eyeing an opportunity to advance their careers? Perhaps the chief financial officer becomes the CEO, creating an opening for someone to snag the financial job. The talent pool has tightened up a bit, Juratovac indicated. So there is pressure on compensation for chief financial officers, chief information officers and others.
The good news for boards seeking to replace a CEO, he continued, is there are a lot of talented, highly qualified individuals who simply have not had the chance to step into a CEO position. There are also current CEOs ready to move into a larger organization.
“The larger the credit union, the more the candidate pool would weigh toward current CEOs,” Juratovac said. “But in general, we’re seeing a healthy mix of candidates. More often than not, boards are still going out and conducting a search even if there is strong support for an internal candidate.”
“Most boards will look at that transition as a fiduciary responsibility and want to be sure they look at the market and what the market will produce for the opportunity they have to offer. But many of our clients have a commitment to their corporate strategy and organizational culture. That positions a strong internal candidate quite well if the credit union isn’t looking for a change agent.”
Greg Fouks at TalentTracker recalled that five or seven years ago many people in the executive search business expected that 65% or 70% of credit union CEOs were about to retire.
That never materialized for what Fouks said are a couple reasons. First, the economy slumped so severely that CEOs didn’t take retirement “because their 401(k)s turned into 201(k)s.” Boards, faced with hefty NCUA assessments following corporate problems, wanted their experienced CEOs to stay.
Now those CEOs are ready to go. Fouks expects to see CEO retirements follow an upward curve. He noted his firm works with the Minnesota Credit Union Network, and he has identified about 20 CEOs in the state who will retire within the next two or three years.
“A difference is that in the past when a CEO moved on he or she moved to a new place, was let go or retired and offered a few months notice,” Fouks said. “Now, they are giving their boards two and three years advance notice that they will be leaving. That’s unheard of in the many years I’ve been in the industry.”
“One of the problems the industry has right now is that CEOs are giving such advance notice and becoming lame ducks. That situation has been occurring for the past four or five years where CEOs were of retirement age and didn’t leave for the reasons I mentioned.”
Fouks doesn’t expect these pressures to necessarily boost salaries significant. He said there are talented people who have been waiting in the wings longer than they might have before CEOs started putting off retirement. As CEO positions are finally filled, there will be a ripple effect. In his opinion, medium and small credit unions need to be very careful about promoting from within unless the talent is there. Larger credit unions are supposedly grooming CEO successors, but they need to be careful the new CEO can lead them into the future.
He believes credit union boards are going to be under greater scrutiny.
“Credit unions must either grow or die,” he stated. “As in any industry, if you don’t have growth, you’re going backward. It’s going to be increasingly important for boards to select top talent. That will make the difference in how they serve their members and how successful their credit unions are.”
His advises credit unions to seek help in finding a new CEO–and that doesn’t necessarily mean retaining a search firm. The credit union must identify exactly what they want in the person who is going to move into the CEO’s office. That calls for a close look at the credit union’s specific needs.