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MADISON, Wis. – In a little over a month’s time, one CUNA executive has logged thousands of miles crisscrossing the globe from Germany, down to Bermuda, then to Ireland, as the unofficial ambassador for credit unions. But it’s only one part of his job as CUNA’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. Pete Crear oversees the daily operations of CUNA’s offices in Madison, which has more than 200 employees. He is also responsible for credit union development through the Development Educators Program and the National Credit Union Foundation. Up until the time he came to CUNA, Pete traversed a small pocket of the Midwest and East Coast over a 25-year career span serving as presidents of leagues in Connecticut and Indiana and as a vice president in Michigan. Along the way, he developed an uncanny tenacity to bring people together despite the “political animal,” as one long-time friend puts it that can sometimes bog down the credit unions. “There are probably a handful of executives that eat, sleep and breathe credit unions, and Pete is certainly among that bunch,” said Rich McBride, CUNA’s executive vice president and chief of staff in Washington. “Our duties are in different cities but we always talk to each other across channels. In the five years I’ve been here, his friendship is the one I hold dearest.” Crear admits he came to the credit union industry “out of desperation” during at a time when professional employment for many African-Americans were scarce to nonexistent. He graduated from Wayne State University in the early 1960s with the intention of becoming an accountant when he got a call from his future father-in-law. Turns out he knew the manager of the General Motors Credit Union and relayed the message that the Michigan Credit Union League was looking for management trainees who would audit credit unions. “I remember thinking `close enough’ to accounting,” Crear said. Over six years, he, along with colleagues, would conduct audits on roughly 500 credit unions in Michigan before deciding to look for other opportunities outside of the league. Crear then became a field representative, moving up the ranks to senior vice president during his 20 years at the Michigan league. Some of his fondest memories include working with a “robust set of field reps” who worked at three offices around the states. “Our job was to grow credit unions and help organize them and those times when we worked every other night and every other weekend, well, the harder we worked, the less we complained,” Crear joked. After leaving Michigan, Crear became the president of the Connecticut Credit Union League in the mid 1980s during a time in his career he describes as a “learning phase.” For the first time, he was in charge of resources and was the principal communicator for credit unions here handling state and volunteer issues simultaneously. “He had the forthsight to understand the changing climate credit unions were operating in and how the association could meet those demands,” said Larry Holderman, president/CEO of Mutual Security Federal Credit Union in Wilton, Conn. Holderman served as the director of the search committee that hired Crear. “He provided direction that gave the association the needed boost to help it become a more valued entity here,” Holderman recalled. Crear would stay in Connecticut for two years before becoming the president of the Indiana Credit Union League. This mid-western state, home to a large Amish population, presented a balancing act Crear had never faced before in his career: “It’s a big state and at the time there were two different types of credit unions – those north of Indianapolis were fairly urban and progressive and the southern credit unions, just below Gary, were fairly rural.” Of the 300 credit unions there then, most of the influence came from the “pretty strong rural base,” Crear recalled. The challenge became meeting the needs of such diverse groups. In the end, the league managed to leverage and increase equity among all credit unions through such innovative efforts as credit card offerings. Judy James, president/CEO of Bar-Cons Federal Credit Union in Columbus, Ind., recalls the tightrope act Crear successfully walked as he brought the two segments of the state together. James served as chairman of the board during Crear’s tenure at the league. “We used to have districts, chapters didn’t belong to the league and elections were governed by the districts,” James said. “He had his hands full keeping the political animal in line, and I think by going out to the districts early on and meeting people, that had a lot to do with his success.” While he “took a lot of stands that were difficult for some,” those decisions “ultimately moved credit unions forward here,” James recalled. “I hated to see him go (to CUNA) because his excellent leadership skills and his uncanny ability to deal with the politics of an organization really propelled us,” James added. Rick Rice, president/CEO of Teachers Credit Union in South Bend, Ind., echoes James’ sentiment. “What I’ve noticed is any place Pete’s been, that place is much better off because of him,” he said. Rice worked with Crear on Indiana’s governmental affairs committee. “He was less interested in the bottom line and more interested in what the world would be like if members had the products and services they were asking for.” Throughout his career, Crear has been an active CUNA member, sitting on several committees. In 1990, there were concerns about the lack of minorities and women at the highest level at the association, he said. CUNA’s former president Ralph Swoboda started making more strides in diversity hiring which included hiring Crear as the senior vice president of association services. “This was another learning phase because of the influence we had forging certain policies and being an advocate for credit unions,” Crear said. When Swoboda left, Crear was named interim president of CUNA while a search committee looked for a new candidate. That eight months Crear served at CUNA’s president was “pretty action-packed,” he recalled, and included making some hard cost-cutting decisions. For instance, CUNA had a card operations service that employed 800 people. The division used Bank One Corp.’s software which after a number of attempts to “ramp up,” the software continued to cause glitches. CUNA would eventually sell the seven million account-operation to Equifax with many employees losing their jobs after the sale. “We took a fair amount of heat for that decision,” Crear said. At the same time, CUNA’s Washington office started to add more muscle, including hiring Dan Mica in 1995. Two years later, the association would become fully operational and today has more than 50 employees. His affiliation with the World Council of Credit Unions began when the organization was a department within CUNA. Crear’s job was to get to know movements in other countries, leverage resources and consistently work together. “It’s been so rewarding because we get to craft out relationships with countries who are advocating the same missions we are (here),” Crear said. Indeed, as H.R. 1151 fought off bankers for passage, representatives from Quebec and the Netherlands stepped forward with powerful arguments supporting the legislation. Today Crear is a global ambassador for CUNA, traveling to several countries each year to keep the communication ties strong and specifically to figure out ways financial cooperatives can develop new capital streams. “This is so important because we just can’t take risks on various products and services because of limited capital streams,” Crear said. In addition to working closely with WOCCU, Crear’s service also includes board member at U.S. Central Credit Union, chairman of the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) and vice-chairman of the Cooperative Development Foundation. Crear has been instrumental in NCBA’s efforts to beat out more than 8,000 applications to register new Internet domains. Last year, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers approved “.coop” as a domain name for new Web site addresses – a move that stands to impact 750,000 cooperatives including 38,000 credit unions worldwide. “He is an energetic and sincere proponent of the “.coop” effort we are trying to bring to cooperatives and credit unions” said Paul Hazen, NCBA president and CEO. “His campaigning and enthusiasm for the project plays a huge part in helping to connect the many cooperatives in this country alone.” Through NCBA, Crear is also looking to develop an urban initiative that would target housing concerns. “Co-ops have been very successful at farm credit and rural electric services but there’s a stronger need for more cooperative efforts and one good example is in housing,” Crear explained. He pointed out that New York has some of the best coop housing initiatives and NCBA will be looking at their models for pointers. As CUNA continues to be a pivotal advocate for pressing issues, Crear said two concerns will continue to have high priority – keeping up with technology and meeting the needs of community-chartered credit unions, which are among the fastest growing groups. “From a technological and online aspect, we can ill afford to fall behind,” he said. “It’s capital intensive and some credit unions may not understand how it fits into their operations and its impact.” Likewise, “the business limitations placed on community-chartered credit unions are really hurting them,” Crear said. “When you have good reserves, good CAMEL, good volunteers, the regulator’s going to stay out of your business.” If there is such a notion as spare time for Crear, he winds down on the golf course. “I’m not that great of a player,” he unabashedly admitted. In June he celebrated his 36th wedding anniversary. His daughter is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Penn State. Outside of the credit union movement, he’s a member of 100 Black Men of America, Inc. a national organization of professionals dedicated to improving their communities and has chaired the Children Diabetes fundraising program. Crear holds fast to the importance of keeping connections to credit unions beyond this nation’s borders. “Farmers, electric cooperatives, credit unions, we are on the brink of being able to reach each other with a few mouse clicks,” Crear predicted. “Just imagine the possibility of being able to connect to the 43,000 cooperatives on every level in this country alone.” [email protected]

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