Too Good to Pass Up: Cheney Q&A
In an interview with CU Times, outgoing CUNA CEO Bill Cheney explained why he is leaving the trade organization after four years and discussed his accomplishments at CUNA as well as some areas in need of improvement.
Cheney officially starts his new position in June as the CEO of the $9.8 billion SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union in Santa Ana, Calif.
CU Times: Why are you leaving CUNA?
Cheney: It's all about the opportunity at SchoolsFirst and I think it's really important that people understand that. There are very few opportunities that would interest me, given the position I have now. I spent 19 years at credit unions. I spent eight years in the trade association world – four in California and Nevada and now four at CUNA. I certainly wasn't looking to leave. I think we’ve had great accomplishments at CUNA but this was an opportunity I just couldn't turn down. It's such a great credit union and a great board.
CU Times: What do you see at SchoolsFirst that you are not getting at CUNA?
Cheney: I loved the four years I spent at the league and I loved the four years I spent at CUNA but when it comes right down to it, I started my career at Security Service Credit Union in Texas and the opportunity to now hopefully end my career at a credit union of the quality of SchoolsFirst, serving their 600,000 and more members, working with that board and that team is just a great opportunity and it's different than the trade association. Obviously, I’ll still be involved in the California league. I’ll still be involved in CUNA as a large member credit union.
CU Times: Who should be the next leader of CUNA and what kind of qualities should they have?
Cheney: That has yet to be defined. It's something that we’re working on now and when they find the right search firm, that will be one of the first steps is, ‘OK, now for 14 or 15 years, we had Dan Mica, who was a former member of Congress. For the last four years we’ve had someone who has been in a credit union and has been at the league and we’ve made a lot of changes and we’ve set a course for the future but now what? What are the key skills and leadership attributes that we need to advance the movement forward?’ We don't have the answer to that yet and I don't they’re going to eliminate any possibility.
CU Times: How do you plan to still have an impact on the legislative process outside of Washington?
Cheney: I’ve made a lot of great contacts while I’ve been in Washington and relationships with key member of Congress so I would hope to continue to play a role. Obviously, I’ll be involved actively in the efforts of the California Credit Union League and particularly in markets where SchoolsFirst has a presence. SchoolsFirst is one of the leading credit unions in the Don't Tax My Credit Union fight.
CU Times: There's a perception among some in the credit union industry that you basically left Dan Mica's team in place and by not making big changes, it kind of guaranteed that you would not succeed. What would you say to that?
Cheney: Well, I think we have succeeded. I think there's a strong team at CUNA. We have made changes. We’ve restructured the management team to be a little bit more efficient. John Franklin retired and we promoted Jill Tomalin to be the executive vice president and COO in Madison and she's doing a fantastic job there. We’ve sort of flattened out management structure in D.C. a little bit but we’ve got strong leaders in place there. Pat's position is a great example. Paul Gentile left and we did an extensive search to find the right person to lead our communications efforts going forward and you know what? The most qualified person I talked to, and I talked to many, was Pat Keefe so you don't have to make changes to be successful. Sometimes you just need to have strong leadership and put the right people in the right seats and that doesn't mean you have to bring people in from the outside to do that.