<p>Almost every staff job in today’s credit unions is getting more difficult, but none more so than the CEO’s. For starters, credit union CEOs of today must have hands-on experience, be well-educated, be master delegators, be risk takers, be capable of setting and sticking to priorities, be technologically savvy, people orientated, full of energy, and fiercely competitive. One thing that hasn’t changed is the necessity of a credit union CEO being able to work for and with their volunteer board of directors. No matter how successful a CEO may be in all other areas, if he or she does not constantly maintain this good relationship, ultimately none of the rest of their achievements will matter. There are all too many recent examples. More than one credit union CEO has told me that they never stop marketing themselves to their own board of directors. The reverse of this is a CEO who made sure that the board got credit for all of the credit union’s successes. Eventually, they became convinced that they really were the primary reason that the credit union was doing so well, not the CEO. The eventual results were inevitable. There are many such examples. There are also examples where the CU CEO has apparently forgotten that it is the credit union’s volunteer board of directors that has the power to hire and fire the CEO. In fact, it has been said that the single most important decision a credit union board of directors will ever be called on to make is to hire (or fire) the credit union CEO. If the wrong CEO is hired, not only will the credit union’s members suffer, but the staff, and the board itself will be directly impacted. There are countless examples where the only thing that changed when a credit union went from a ho hum operation that provided minimal service to members to a pace-setting, much admired, fast growing credit union, was the hiring of a new CEO. One of many examples: Years ago, a board chairman told me that their current, long time, CEO was nearing retirement. During his final years on the job, his performance had slipped badly (the Peter Principle). The board saw the old CEO’s departure as an opportunity to hire a dynamic replacement who could put the credit union on the map. In fact, the board had set a goal to catapult the credit union into the number one position in the state. I mentioned a possible candidate who sounded like he fit their job description and goals to a “T.” They eventually hired him and shortly thereafter the credit union literally took off. It grew rapidly, adding services and branches and tons of assets, and new members. The new CEO was truly a dynamo. His reward for overnight putting the credit union in high gear? He was fired after about a year on the job. Turns out the board was frightened to death of the CEO’s aggressiveness. It was something that they didn’t want to deal with after all. They eventually hired a caretaker CEO, went back to their quiet life, and all lived happily ever after. Today, that credit union is still not among the largest and has a reputation for being ultra conservative. The point is that during that tumultuous year, the CEO and board obviously were not on the same page. As a large number of credit union CEOs (almost 25% by some estimates) phase out in the next five years, this all leads up to just a few of many things to keep in mind as current boards seek new CEOs. For example, a new CEO will not accept the position without a written employment agreement with a termination clause. Be prepared for sticker shock. Any CEO should only be held accountable for goals that are mutually set and agreed upon by the CEO and his or her board in unison. Some CEOs have lost their jobs because they did incredibly well at things it turns out that the board didn’t feel were really all that important. Any CEO has zero chance of success who works for a board that micro manages and/or constantly second guesses the CEO’s decisions even if they don’t know or won’t admit that that’s what they are doing. This is especially true with a board that doesn’t understand the clear distinction between setting policy and management and doesn’t make an effort to get and stay educated. Every CEO should get his or her resume up to date if he finds himself with a chairman who thinks the CEO’s job is a piece of cake and one that the chairman could easily handle. A volunteer should never be directly involved with immediately replacing the CEO with himself even on a temporary or part-time basis. A policy against that happening? Policies can be easily changed. Among other reasons, that is an insult to the rest of the management staff. A CEO should also be looking for a new position if he finds himself or herself with a board that worries that the CEO makes more than any of them, the governor, the base commander, etc. or is getting too much credit for the success of the CU. It has always been important to have the right CEO in place, one who can get the job done but also knows how to work in partnership with a volunteer board of directors. It is more important today than ever before. However, the other side of that coin is having a board that knows how to work with a credit union CEO and letting he or she do the job they were hired to do. Will today’s veteran boards be up to the challenge when it’s time to hire a new CEO? Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected].</p>

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Peter Westerman


Credit Union Times

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