DALLAS – If a credit union wants its members' business, it has to be convenient, and, convenience should not be defined by the credit union, but rather, by the members. That's the underlying business philosophy of Credit Union of Texas' President and CEO Kenneth B. Sorrels, and it's what's helped propel the CU to the billionaire ranks. "One of our objectives is to provide the service delivery channels and let the members select the ones they want to use. This method of service delivery is expensive, but it certainly is paying off," Sorrels said. Sorrels labels himself a "hands-on manager," always wanting to be prepared to change strategies that aren't working or to add new services should a need be identified. But he knows it can't be a one-man show. He also empowers staff to make changes that improve the efficiency of credit union operations. "Take care of the members, take care of the employees, take care of the board by making sure they are fully informed, and watch the numbers closely. The CEO needs to always remember that he or she is held accountable – so you had better stay close enough to the business to know what's happening," said Sorrels. Analyzing financials is certainly nothing new to the 55-year-old Sorrels. Following his graduation from Mississippi State University with an accounting degree, Sorrels served as an NCUA examiner for nine years in Birmingham, Alabama, and Charlotte, North Carolina. From there, he took over as president of Sharonview FCU in North Carolina, a position he held for 12 years. Then, he accepted the job as president/CEO of Tinker FCU in Oklahoma for four years, prior to accepting his current position. Sorrels names his parents and two NCUA contacts as career mentors. While Ken was growing up in the Mississippi Delta, his father was the local postmaster and also ran the general store. It took both jobs to make a living. "My parents were two incredibly hard-working people who lived through the Depression in their childhoods, who insisted their sons would go to school and get a college education, and ultimately, have a better life," Sorrels said. "They instilled in me the work ethic, because our business was open seven days a week and completely family-run. There was no outside help and no vacations." "Ed Collins, my first contact with NCUA, interviewed me at a Holiday Inn in Jackson, Mississippi. We talked credit unions for 10 minutes and football for three hours. I got the job!" Sorrels continued, "Bob Wilshire was the NCUA Principal Examiner in Birmingham, Alabama who was assigned to train me as an examiner. He tolerated a lot from this immature 23-year old. He was patient, he helped me grow up, and somewhere through it all, he saw enough talent to keep me on as an NCUA examiner more than 31 years ago." Sorrels took the helm at Credit Union of Texas (then Dallas Teachers Credit Union) in February 1996, and in seven years he's overseen the rebuilding of the credit union's entire infrastructure, including physical branches, services, human resources, and leading-edge technology. Assets have more than doubled over this period, from $525 million to $1.4 billion. "My marching orders were to make the credit union competitive in a very competitive Dallas marketplace. To accomplish that, we had to build an infrastructure that would support a much larger organization. In 1996, we were maxed out with our infrastructure and were incapable of growing the business," Sorrels said. "We began by establishing a comprehensive facilities plan to add several new branches over five to six years. The last in the series of branches was opened in Plano, Texas on Nov. 1, 2001," he said. "We are now developing a strategy for the next round of branches." At the same time, the credit union began adding service features with an emphasis on technology. "Don't laugh," Sorrels quipped, "we started with a toll-free telephone line." A host of services followed: additional ATMs with a fee-free network to members, debit cards, online real-time home banking, electronic bill payment, a new Web site with online electronic forms, account aggregation, wireless Internet banking/bill pay, document imaging, instant-issue debit/ATM cards, 7×24 Loan Call Center, online check imaging, and e-statements. In 2003, the credit union will further extend its services with shared branching. "In the technology area," Sorrels said, "our reputation for moving quickly earned the credit union a partnership with IBM. We have implemented IBM Business Intelligence (BI) solutions in the credit union, and we are using BI to solve complex business questions in marketing and operational areas. Our credit union has been invited to participate in IBM's Person-to-Person Business Council, an invitation limited to about 40 companies around the world. Only a quarter of them are financial organizations, and Credit Union of Texas is the only credit union." The credit union had no training department when Sorrels arrived in 1996. "Today we have five full-time trainers. We know that if we provide the tools, the employees will use them. Pure member service was the focus in the beginning, followed by cross-selling, and the introduction of a sales culture," said Sorrels. Not surprisingly, the biggest concern in rebuilding the credit union's infrastructure was how it would be financed. The credit union, under Sorrels' leadership, implemented an income enhancement, cost reduction and cost containment plan. "We began by reviewing how we were conducting business and who we were conducting business with. Quickly, we found opportunities to revise contracts that had been in place for years, and we learned to negotiate better while maintaining good relationships with our business partners. We searched internally for ways to increase income or to reduce our costs of doing business. The assurance I had to give our board was that we could find enough money to pay for all of the capital expenditures required to place the credit union in a leadership position. With the help of a dedicated staff and support of the board, we have recognized more than $16 million in new income, cost reduction and cost containment items. That's how we paid for our infrastructure upgrades, while still maintaining a strong balance sheet and income statement." Sorrels serves as chairman of the board of credit union-owned Town North National Bank, is a board member of NASCUS, and a member of the IBM Person-to-Person Business Council and the Centrix Financial Advisory Council. But most of Sorrels' time is spent at the credit union. "That's what I like to do," he said. "We have a large credit union, and it's important that I understand what is happening at all times and that we take care of the business." He enjoys traveling with wife, Pam, now that grown kids, Michelle and Chris, are out of the home. In earlier years, he spent much of his spare time coaching his children's athletic teams, including taking his daughter's softball team to three state championships. Credit Union Times asked Sorrels why he made the decision to stick with credit unions as a career. His answer? "Why not? When I started in 1971, I had no clue what a credit union was all about. I have a pretty good handle on that now!" -

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