Trailblazer Award: Volunteer Carroll Beach Asks Management the Tough Questions
If you ask Carroll Beach his age, he’ll likely request a little clarity.
“Is that chronologically or mentally? Chronologically, I’m 73. Mentally, I try to be aware of the new changes. I like to be aware and adapt. If you don’t do that, it will make your life miserable,” Beach suggested.
As board chairman of the $1.3 billion Boulder, Colo.-based Elevations Credit Union in 2008, the industry pioneer with nearly 50 years of service, embraces innovation and moving forward to meet the changing needs of members.
For his vision on helping to guide Elevations into new territories and his insights on the changing role of board members, Beach is Credit Union Times 2013 Trailblazer Volunteer of the Year.
Beach has served as chairman of Elevations since 2008. In 2012, he was instrumental in helping the credit union to reap the benefits of a merger with St. Vrain Valley Credit Union in Longmont, Colo., which doubled Elevations’ market share in Longmont. Because of this merger, Elevations has formed a partnership with the St. Vrain Valley School District and the Longmont United Hospital, both key select employee groups of St. Vrain Valley Credit Union.
“In his time serving the industry, Carroll helped modernize the credit union industry and took it from the dusty back-roads of the country to the national consciousness and into homes around the world. In the process, Carroll helped shape state and federal legislation, regulation and authorities, and inevitably, he has shaped them for the better,” said Gerry Agnes, president/CEO of Elevations.
Beach’s track record in the movement is long and illustrious. From his humble beginning as a small-town Kansas school teacher managing Lyon County Teachers Credit Union in 1964 with help from his wife, Ruth, to his term at the Kansas Credit Union League, the industry pioneer would go on to serve as CEO of the Colorado Credit Union System, where he was responsible for the executive leadership of the Colorado Credit Union League. Beach also served as president and chief operating officer of CO-OP Shared Branching Services and CEO of CUSC Shared Branching.
The past Herb Wegner Lifetime Achievement Award winner’s influence was also felt across a number of legislative and regulatory fronts having served on a number of pivotal trade committees.
So the year that Beach was set to retire from CUSC, he got a call from Elevations to serve as the board chairman. He pondered the move.
“When I was asked, it surprised me. I said ‘Gosh, I’m old,’” Carroll recalled. “I asked, ‘Do you want someone who’s been in the business for a long time.’ But they said they needed someone with expertise.”
He accepted the position with a few self-imposed conditions.
“I promised myself that that when I served on any board, I would try to be someone who I would want on a board. That meant supporting management but asking tough questions, not having a separate agenda and not playing gotcha with management,” Beach explained. “I think it’s important to members not to do that.”
Having a clear distinction between board and management is also important to Beach. Having a hands-on policy has helped Elevations grow its assets during his chairman’s tenure as well as its net worth by nearly 43%. That growth has come through an excellent team who take pride in delivering quality services and product, Beach said.
A high-performance culture combined with a board of directors that understands their roles increased Elevations’ bottom line substantially in a number of areas including an increase in delivery channels through the credit union’s 11 branches and keeping pace with the latest technology innovations.
In addition to his role as board chairman, Beach has been instrumental in carrying out outreach opportunities through the Elevations Foundation Board. In 2012, the foundation provided more than $240,000 for charitable causes and higher education efforts within the communities served by Elevations. More than $36,000 in relief funds was raised for temporary housing for victims displaced by the massive fires that scorched parts of Larimer County, Colo.
The foundation also raised over $135,000 in scholarships for higher education to area high school seniors based on financial need. Last year, a joint application was submitted through the National Credit Union Foundation for Intercambio Boulder. If successful, Elevations said it will fund $150,000 to provide financial literacy and credit union awareness to the immigrant community.
“He is raising a new generation of volunteers and credit union ambassadors. He has been an integral part of especially the state and national movement. Carroll is a true credit union leader and believer,” said Scott Earl, president/CEO of the Mountain West Credit Union Association, which represents credit unions in Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming.
Indeed, Elevation’s nine-member board is a reflection of that new generation; among them, a woman in her 30s who works in restaurant chain management, a small business owner, a former college dean and a librarian. The diversity has helped foster strong communication and input.
“Our philosophy is we want board members that represent the membership we have. I know there are some boards that become involved in some issues that they shouldn’t. I think the element of a good board is when to get involved and when to not get involved,” Beach said. We work hard to make sure everyone has the opportunity to express their opinions.”
When it comes to term limits, Beach has a few opinions about how they can be advantageous but also yield some unexpected outcomes. Elevation’s nine-year term limit works although he would be open to discussions on revising that time frame, he said. Still, Beach recognizes that there is no magic formula when it comes to the amount of service on the board.
“You can get rid of a lot of noncontributing members but also contributing members. For someone who’s 30 years old, not having term limits allows them to get in there and get involved,” Beach said. “It certainly encourages younger people to get involved. But if you get someone in at 28 and then they’re gone by 37, I’m not sure.”
Married to his wife, Ruth, for 50 years and the father of two children, Beach jumps at the chance to spend time with his five grandchildren. Beach’s son Craig Beach, is chief operating officer for CO-OP Shared Branching, and his daughter Sheila works in hotel management.
His service at Elevations goes beyond board meetings and financial spreadsheets.
“I believe in the credit union concept and philosophy. It’s a combination of volunteerism and doing a professional job. It’s an inspirational feeling to help people in the financial arena and that’s what keeps me involved. The country and the world need an alternative.”