For McDonald, it’s how people handle failure that sets them apart and ultimately defines their character.
“From when I was a kid, it was instilled in me that if you want something bad enough and work hard for it, you’ll get it,” said the latest Trailblazer 40 Below. “I try to live by that and put my mind to accomplishing something by working as hard and passionately as I can. If it comes to fruition great, if not then it’s a learning experience, and at the end of the day I’m grateful.”
He came over from the dark side of big bankers when he joined Jersey City, N.J.-based Liberty Savings Credit Union to launch a business development department.
“It was the smartest move I’ve ever made,” said McDonald. “It was perfect timing. I’d been getting more and more disappointed in the banking industry not looking out for the little guy. Making the move sparked this passion in me for credit unions and fueled every opportunity since.”
Despite the fact that he has been working since the age of 14, McDonald being an entrepreneur was not anything he dreamed about. Armed with a degree in history and the knowledge that he didn’t want to be a teacher or a librarian, he joined a boutique investment firm on Wall Street. Now, McDonald finds it ironic that he has become a teacher more than anything else.
"It was a steep learning curve in the beginning of my career, but I made a point to learn as much as I could. I knew that I wasn't going to be a stockbroker for the rest of my life but what that experience and others earlier in my career provided was a great sense of how not to do business. In a sense, some of the mistakes I made early on helped to shape the success that I have found since," McDonald said. "You know I am just grateful for having the opportunity to impart the lessons I've learned, my viewpoints and advice with others. I consider myself to be a lifelong learner, so I try to learn something new from every speaking engagement and client interaction. That is what inspires and motivates me and keeps me so passionate about the credit union industry."
That belief of living up to his full potential being a lifelong journey of learning, sparked the company name and has served as the foundation of his brand.
“I’d been a corporate trainer early in my career and always loved the training discipline,” he said of his decision to branch out on his own to help others and do his part to further the credit union industry. “I’ve had some great mentors in my life and career, and this is a way to give back by sharing what I’ve learned.”
He added that employees are credit unions’ most valuable asset.
“Happy members start with employees who are happy and feel valued so invest in your employees,” said McDonald. “Get over that concern that if you invest in training your best people they might take that knowledge and leave for a better opportunity. That’s the business world we live in. Your best people may leave but that’s why you have succession planning. I guarantee if you hold your employees back on their professional development they will leave anyway.”
While his firm offers all kinds of training, strategic planning, and development services, it’s business development that will always hold a special place in McDonald’s heart.
“I’m thrilled to see so many recognizing that business development is an important function at the credit union,” McDonald said. “It used to be people thought if they didn’t offer business accounts they didn’t have to worry about it or business development was just about setting up tables at SEGs with balloons and brochures. Today as a function, it’s one of the fastest growing disciplines. Business development encompasses everything from building relationships and cross-selling to community development and those professionals have got to have a seat at the strategic planning table.”
To McDonald, the advice his father gave him long ago about never settling and doing more to do better applies to the credit union industry as well.
“The three biggest challenges facing the industry as whole continues to be awareness of who we are and why we matter, navigating the regulatory environment and being so risk adverse that we’re not as willing to try new things until the time is just right,” he said. “If you wait for some aha moment it may be too late or never happen. We tend to overcomplicate things like share draft instead of just saying checking account. We’ve got to get past the nonsense, stop being afraid of the word ‘bank’ and use more modern language and speak in terms that consumers can relate to and understand. When we answer the question of why should I do business with your credit union instead of Bank of America. the answer has got to be something besides service.”
He also believes that looking ahead community banks may pose a greater threat to credit unions than banking giants.
“Everyone knows what we should do to be more relevant; the better question to ask ourselves as an industry is how can we implement what we need to do,” said McDonald. “I wish credit unions would stop trying to be all things to all people. Ask what’s our value proposition? What should we stop doing or offering? When answering the question what is our target market it can’t just be all members and the entire community. It’s not that you can’t serve them, but I’m saying the scope of future strategic decisions should always come back to your well-defined target market. There’s never been a better time for credit unions, we just need to act now, not later.”