A Lesson Learned from My CU Mentors: Executive Editor's Column
Be careful when you complain about something at work, because it just might become your new job.
That advice given to me by my two credit union bosses is ringing in my ears as I take on the duties of executive editor at Credit Union Times. What I call constructive complaining – which requires not just criticism, but also a solution – earned my mentors additional responsibilities and boosted their careers.
And after years of listening to me insist that I know what credit unions want because I come from the industry, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Sarah Snell Cooke gave me the opportunity to prove it in this new position.
My two aforementioned bosses were Ralph Ruiz, chief operating officer at the $367 million SkyOne Federal Credit Union in Hawthorne, Calif., and Roy MacKinnon, vice president of marketing at the $1 billion First Entertainment Credit Union in Hollywood.
Yep, I did business development in air traffic control towers and on movie lots. Tough duty, eh?
But I digress. Either one of these guys could have settled for a great career in just marketing and business development. Instead, they not only offered solutions for other departments, they also backed it up with action.
For Ralph, it was the unusual pairing of information technology with marketing. Because SkyOne members primarily access the credit union remotely, he wanted to improve the effectiveness of his marketing campaigns, so for him, IT was a perfect match. Ralph was so successful running IT, which included a dreaded core processor conversion, he eventually added branches, the call center, central operations and other departments to his resume.
And it paid off. Later this month, he takes over as president/CEO at the Wilmington, Calif.-based, $138 million ILWU Credit Union. They’re lucky to have him.
Roy has also spread his wings at First Entertainment, for a time running the mailroom, and also filling in running the credit union’s robust lending department when there has been turnover in the lending VP position, learning about asset liability management and stepping up to serve as interim CEO when President/CEO Chuck Bruen travels out of town. Roy hasn’t moved on to a corner office (because really, is there a cooler job in credit unions than running First Entertainment’s marketing?) but if he chooses to do so, he’ll have the skill set needed to do the job.
I share this lesson with my fellow 40-somethings, who have been patiently waiting for their chance to move up and replace the highly successful Baby Boomer generation in those coveted executive positions. If there’s one defining quality of my generation (other than eye rolling and, like, overuse of the word like) it’s this: we’re not afraid to take on responsibility. Perhaps it comes from the latch-key days when we were tasked as elementary school children with making our own afterschool snack, getting our homework done on our own, feeding pets, helping our younger siblings and even getting dinner started, all before our parents arrived home from work.
We’re capable of running credit unions, too, and leading this industry into the future. But we need to prove ourselves first. That means offering to fill in as interim facilities manager, helping out with collections, or volunteering to organize the strategic planning session – especially if you’re confident that you could improve the process.
I’ve heard many times that small credit unions can’t find Gen Xers willing to replace retiring Boomers. After seeing the new CUES Executive Compensation Survey and learning that the average base salary for CEOs at credit unions with fewer than $100 million in assets is six figures, I have my doubts. There are plenty of us who would love to make that career move. Maybe they seem too young to retiree volunteers. Maybe they aren’t throwing their hats into the ring. Or maybe they lack that jack-of-all-trades experience needed to run a small credit union.
Running a shop in this low-rate, compliance-heavy, sluggish economic environment won’t be easy, but the industry also has a lot going for it. We kick community banker butt when it comes to the adoption of must-have technology like mobile banking. And those awful big banks continue to lob us bad headlines that we can slug out of the park with our cooperative, local, service-focused bats.
If you think you can improve your credit union, say so, but be prepared to back it up with ideas and a plan. Constructive complaining worked for my mentors, it worked for me, and it can work for you, too.