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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – When it comes to leadership are credit unions on the verge of exhausting their supply? Many experts say maybe not, but amid predictions of current CEOs retiring within the next five years it will become more challenging to find the right leader for the times. According to Counter Intelligence Associates Executive Vice President Linda Manship, whether a credit union opts to search on its own or hire a firm finding the best CEO boils down to spending time. “No one way is better over another,” said Manship. “If the board has the expertise and time commitment to conduct the search then it can be done quite well in-house otherwise a search firm is yet another option.” According to Manship, it is crucial that credit unions establish their criteria for recruitment and implement a succession plan. “Too often credit unions have not clarified or identified exactly what they are looking for,” said Manship. “And what is most critical is the starting point -having the right criteria including minimum qualifications you are looking for and going beyond just the job description to identifying those leadership skills your credit union needs.” For Williamsville, New York-based Western Division Credit Union a solid succession plan is the reason why its CEO position was filled in just two weeks. “We actually have a handbook on succession planning that employees use to help figure out their next step here,” said Marketing/Information Technology Manager Thomas D. Fazio. “We have a policy of promoting from within to help with employee morale and it really encourages everyone to try to better themselves because they know they can move up.” According to Fazio, then-President/CEO Peter Zlotkowski with board approval handpicked Executive Vice President of Finance Craig Mellenthien as his replacement. As a CPA working in public accounting for 15 years prior to joining the credit union, Mellenthien wore several hats during his nine years at WDCU and began his CEO training early. Although Mellenthien has just started he too will be keeping an eye out for his successor. For those credit unions handling the CEO search themselves Manship suggests establishing a search committee dedicated exclusively to the task-”because it would be challenging to get the entire board together for every candidate.” Credit unions that don’t have the time or experience necessary to search for their CEO are urged to at least put the time into finding the right executive search firm. “You want to ask how the search firm finds best candidates and evaluates them to make sure these are really the top people for the position. Lots of people can interview very well but they may not really be able to operationally lead the credit union,” said O’Rourke Career Connections CEO Jim Hansen. “Is the search firm looking at experience and the financial performance of the candidate’s prior credit union while digging deeper to discover to what degree the CEO contributed to that credit union’s success? Basically you want to know more about the firm’s screening process.” Manship agrees and says to also make sure the search firm’s beliefs of the right candidate align with the individual credit union’s philosophy. “We’ve heard too many stories from credit union boards complaining that they didn’t get the best CEO for their needs but the CEO that a search firm thought was best for them,” said Manship. “Then you end up with a situation where there it is conflict and a few months later the board is looking for yet another CEO.” To fill such an important role experts say in general searches can take anywhere from four months to over a year regardless of asset size. “It can be deceiving because you can have two $100 million credit unions that can be structured and run differently,” said Manship. “And that can make a big difference in the role of the CEO so instead of focusing on the asset size look at the credit union in terms of manpower.” Hansen adds that “Usually the larger the credit union the more coveted the job so from a search firm perspective we get inundated with not only more resumes but a higher level of candidates applying for those billion dollar positions for example.” Recent billion dollar positions filled include The Golden One Credit Union, Patelco Credit Union and the largest corporate CU, WesCorp. With a shrinking talent pool and increased opportunities to fill CEO positions experts agree that credit unions need to expand their scope beyond CU-land and even look to bankers. “I don’t believe it is a bad idea to tap a banker,” said Manship. “Credit unions are of course ahead of the curve in serving members, but bankers can bring a fresh perspective and a lot of information about what banks are doing right internally.” Hansen says just make sure the banking candidate’s philosophy and values match those of the credit union. A few ex-bankers turned credit union leaders include Priority One FCU’s Henry Prior and Catholic Federal Credit Union’s Robert Adams. If taking the time and due diligence is the first step then the final step is not only having an enticing offer but also preparing several counteroffers. Future CEO candidates should start building experience in every aspect of the credit union from auditing to marketing. In addition experts say they should develop any weak areas and of course network- make search firms, other credit unions aware of your interest. Most search firms say that most credit union clients look for a qualified leader with a willingness to be flexible. [email protected]

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