<p>MADISON, Wis. – Wayne Benson, Chief Officer of Marketing and Strategy for CUNA Mutual Group, and who in recent years has emerged publicly as a leadership figure for the company, has resigned to pursue other opportunities. As of April 8, Benson, 43, was no longer with the company. James Gowan, SVP, Sales, for CUNA Mutual, will assume Benson's role in an acting capacity. The seemingly abrupt move came as a surprise to many at the company, but Benson said he's been in discussions with CEO Mike Kitchen for about a year. The two tried to find a way for Benson to meet his career goals, within CUNA Mutual's goals. Benson said he's always looked for new challenges in his work, and ways to fulfill his desire to lead. He said there's no secret reason he is leaving, he simply feels he's no longer a fit with the company. "Mike did not ask me to leave. We worked hard to find a win-win solution, but after considerable effort just agreed this was probably best," said Benson. Elaborating, Benson said his career path was no longer in sync with his path at CUNA Mutual. "I've been fortunate that the company's growth rate and my growth rate kind of paralleled each other. Over the last year or so, the kinds of challenges and opportunities that I was looking for weren't in alignment with the challenges and opportunities at CUNA Mutual," said Benson. He stressed that he had no conflicts with Kitchen, nor was he after his job. He raised these issues because he's so far been amazed by what people reacting to the move have speculated his motivations were. "It's unbelievable what goes through people's minds. I think the world of Mike Kitchen. I did not want his job. He is the best leader I've ever worked with. I recognize the decision I made potentially makes his world more difficult in the short-term, but we both agreed this was a decision that was best for me and the company," Benson said. Benson said the job, for the first time, began to get stressful. "When the job is right, the stress level is less. Even if you have a very stressful job, you don't feel that stress. Over the last year, the job was taking its toll. It's hard to say to yourself that you don't fit anymore, but that's where I was." In a sense, Benson's entire 21-year career has been with CUNA Mutual. He worked for Lutheran Mutual right out of college. It eventually became Century Companies of America which is now CUNA Mutual Life Insurance Company. Benson's full-fledged CUNA Mutual career, however, started about 11 years ago as a sales representative, moving up to sales manager and regional officer. His career took off in 1997 when he was named Chief Officer-Sales. In 2000 he moved up to Chief Officer-Sales and Marketing; and in 2001, named to his last position, Chief Officer-Marketing and Strategy. Benson was part of the elite CUNA Mutual Group Executive Leadership Team, now a group of just nine executives (see chart). He led the company's 1,000-plus sales field force, but moved way beyond just sales. He was also in charge of CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., the company's broker/dealer. Benson spearheaded CUNA Mutual's e-business strategy, and for a few years, its communication efforts. Publicly, Benson essentially became Kitchen's right hand man on implementing the company's new overall strategy. He joined with Kitchen to lead the charge, of "one company, one team." Benson was quoted often in this publication talking about that strategy which rested on the logistical ability of the company to coordinate all of its regional offices with the main office in Madison in order to offer CU clients more cohesive services. Benson believes CUNA Mutual has taken considerable steps in recent years to become "a company that can be a performing asset for the credit union system, and help provide them the power to compete." He noted MEMBERS Development Company and HR Value Group as two successful ventures the company has created. He said initiatives like HR Value Group, where CUNA Mutual partnered with leagues, will become more common going forward. Known as a leader amongst his peers, Benson said he was just one of many leaders that have helped CUNA Mutual grow and succeed. "I was just one of the change agents. A lot of people worked hard to bring a one company, one team attitude that is spread through the organization today." He feels there are a number of leaders poised to emerge at the company. "I always preached to my staff, my leadership staff, their job was to work themselves out of a job. I worked myself out of a job, and that's great." Another surprise about Benson's departure is that he does not have another job lined up, and in fact hasn't even started looking. "I have no plans. I'm going to prepare a resume and do the things you need to do to get repositioned. I'm going to see what's out there. I'm still a young guy, and I have a lot to offer," said Benson. Benson said for the immediate future he plans to spend more time with his wife and two children. In a press release statement, Kitchen said the following: "We are disappointed that Wayne is turning his considerable talents to other pursuits, but we wish him tremendous success and good fortune." [email protected]</p>

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