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<p>By MICHELLE SAMAAD CU Times Correspondent-At-Large HONOLULU – Having no qualms about showing off his lush, green homeland, it’s no wonder Ron Ogata, president/CEO of HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union has been deemed the `ambassador of Hawaiian hospitality’ by so many who have visited the islands. Future hosting may be on a more intimate scale since Ogata announced he would be retiring at the end of January after serving at the helm of the second-largest credit union here for nearly 14 years. Still, Ogata leaves behind a legacy of unprecedented growth. During his tenure, HawaiiUSA went from 16,000 members to 70,000, $165 million in assets to $471 million and one branch to nine. “It’s safe to say he brought some of the good things from the banking side in terms of operations like indirect lending,” said Rich Andrews, president/CEO, F&A Federal Credit Union in Los Angeles. “Always an innovator, always had the courage to try new things and the vision to see what can be as opposed to what currently is.” As clich? as it may sound, Ogata was literally groomed to carve his niche in the credit union movement. His late father served as chairman of his credit union for 42 years, and many of his relatives including his father-in-law, cousins, uncles and a brother-in-law are very active in “credit unionism.” Ogata himself has been in the financial services industry for more than 40 years. But like many credit union CEOs, Ogata came from the other side of the fence – the banking arena. He was employed in banking for 24 years before being recruited to head what was then Oahu Educational Employees Federal Credit Union by a board that embraced his management background and unique people skills. Still, he had his work cut out for him because tensions were at an all-time high on a number of issues. “We faced many problems when I first came aboard,” Ogata admitted. “One problem was that the employees were organized by a most demanding labor union. In a unionized atmosphere, employees did only specific duties of their position as described by their position description.” For instance, new accounts personnel handled only new accounts, loan interviewers did just that and tellers were delegated to strictly teller duties, Ogata explained. Problems arose when two strikes in the credit union’s twenty-year period of being unionized “literally brought all operations to a halt.” “None of the staff were cross-trained and service quality was very poor,” Ogata said. It took two years but employees eventually would vote to decertify the credit union and while Ogata reasoned that there was no single issue that led to decertification, management felt that it was simply that staff was treated “with respect,” and minor and major successes were always recognized. Hawaii’s department of education was also in the midst of a hiring freeze, bringing in only a few teachers each year. This posed a problem for the credit union, which was originally chartered in 1936 to serve persons and retirees of Oahu’s public school system. Soon after Ogata arrived, their children and relatives were allowed to join. “We went from school to school to convince practically every teacher to join,” he recalled. “When SEGs were allowed, we signed up as many companies that were interested in joining.” When membership started to surge, branch accessibility became a major issue given the “brutal traffic situation” the island had to deal with, Ogata said. He along with other top managers convinced the board to develop a strategic plan to open more branches. Today, HawaiiUSA members have access to eight branches on the island of Oahu and a ninth high-tech center that recently opened in Maui. At the latter, an automated teller machine cashes checks and an interactive television monitor connects to the main branch’s loan department for rapid loan responses. Since 1988, members have also made HawaiiUSA their primary financial institution because of the addition of home mortgages, certificates of deposits, money market accounts, credit cards, individual retirement accounts, business and indirect lending. Ogata has helped to align all of Hawaii’s credit unions including through his founding of the Hawaii Shared Branching Network CUSO, a partnership that allows members from eight of the island’s largest credit unions to share branches on Oahu, Kauai, Lihue and the big island, Hawaii. Not one to miss the forest for the trees, Ogata doesn’t stand on the sidelines delegating. During the heady days of H.R. 1151, he made three separate trips to Washington to ask the Hawaii delegation for their support. He and his colleagues continue to press for the continuance of the island’s real property tax exemption, which has been quite favorable for credit unions and other non-profits. “This exemption, in my opinion, is at risk,” given the pressing financial problems the state is currently facing, Ogata said. “We need to be involved in the political action process.” As any board member or CEO may tell you a credit union is only as good as its employees. Ogata encouraged staff to attend seminars and schools sponsored by CUNA, CUES, NAFCU, CUNA Mutual Group and the American Institute of Banking. All of HawaiiUSA’s senior managers are graduates of Western CUNA Management School. “He has a real soft spot for his employees but challenged them to move out of comfort zones,” said Wallace Watanabe, president/CEO of Honolulu City & County Employees Credit Union. “There’s a lot charisma and a strong presence in him but deep down inside, he’s a real softy.” On the eve on his retirement, Ogata continues to stress the urgency of Hawaii’s credit unions alliance for the ability to give members sound services at an affordable cost to the credit unions. “It’s a challenge to provide the best of services at the lowest possible cost to the member,” Ogata explained. “It’s a numbers game, with more we can do it better and cheaper. Chip Filson said it very simply – `get together and we all get stronger.’ For Hawaii’s credit union to be able to stay in the forefront, he also emphasized the need for new blood: “we need younger people with fresh ideas, we need to have volunteers to be better educated.” As his final days wind down, Ogata is looking forward to a much-anticipated vacation in Napa Valley with Karen, his wife of 42 years and catching up on some overdue leisure reading, renewing his love for photography and teeing up on the green. He’s a father to two children – Kelly Jo, a social worker for the state of Hawaii and Reid Patrick, a lieutenant for the state’s sheriff division. Ogata’s also the grandfather to 8 year-old Shelby. His good friend, Ed Paternostro, president/CEO of Nassau Educators Federal Credit Union in New York has been trying for years to convince Ogata to move to the upper states. The two met 10 years ago at a CUES conference and have been comrades since. “He’s a very giving and wonderful individual,” Paternostro said. “He has the ability to bring different personalities together in a friendly atmosphere. I’m still trying to get him to move to New York, though.” – [email protected]</p>

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