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A statement being heard more frequently as credit unions become more complex to operate, is that the most important decision a credit union board of directors will ever be called upon to make will be the hiring of a CEO. Some add, or the firing of the CEO. For years there has been ample proof that following the replacement of some credit union CEOs, shortly thereafter the credit union underwent drastic changes, usually improvements in services to members. That is no coincidence. It amuses me to hear all the recent consternation that a large percentage of credit union CEOs is expected to retire within the next few years. Almost always, this information is positioned as a scary thing for credit unions, or at least a cause for serious concern. But is it really? In at least some cases, isn’t it actually a plus to replace those CEOs who are burned out, already counting the days to their official retirement, or living examples of Peter’s Principle, with hard chargers full of new ideas and the expertise and energy to turn those ideas into reality? Rather than hand wringing over how will large numbers of upcoming CU CEO departures be replaced, I see an abundance of talent chomping at the bit to step into soon-to-be vacant CU CEO slots. Some of these CEO wannabes will of course come from outside the credit union world, but many more are already working for a credit union as a management staffer at their own CU, or perhaps doing an outstanding job as CEO at another credit union. Some of the sharpest credit union CEOs, hired into their positions over the past 18 months, were home grown. For sure the industry will be losing a high percentage of movers and shakers, CEOs who really made a difference in their own credit union and in many cases in the overall credit union industry as well. They will be sorely missed and will definitely be a tough act to follow. But no one is indispensable! In many cases, the new breed of credit union CEOs coming on board could actually be a good thing for some individual credit unions, its members and potential members, and the credit union industry in general. What are some of the attributes common to many of the new credit union CEOs that are lacking in nowhere near all, but definitely in a percentage of those ready to hang it up? For starters, consider the matter of experience of which there are many different types. Many current credit union CEOs started at the bottom when the credit union was tiny, the day-to-day operation uncomplicated, competition with banks and other credit unions pretty much non-existent, and the bulk of active members mostly having the same employer and thus connected to the credit union through payroll deduction. From this modest beginning, they built the credit union by dedication and hard work and sometimes by trial and error. They were constantly faced with change such as in technology, competition, compliance, product and service mix, regulation, personnel, a more diversified membership, and a hundred more things that could be listed here as examples. Through on-the-job experiences, sometimes even referred to as seat-of-the-pants management, they forged ahead. Many of today’s CU CEOs have much to be proud of for the pivotal role they played in building outstanding credit unions from scratch. But the new CEOs come to the position with no need to know how to transition from a successful teller to an effective CEO. They not only have experience, but up-to-date and relevant job skills learned at a starting point much further up the experience food chain. Thus, the new breed of credit union CEO can be expected to come equipped with job-specific education and management training. They will not be able to perform every job in the credit union, nor do they need to, nor should they. But they have a thorough knowledge of how to manage and grow a financial institution. And there’s so much more that the right new credit union CEO brings to his or her position than can be cited here. For example, they are master delegators. They surround themselves with bright and talented people at all levels. They set very specific priorities for themselves, their staffs, and even their boards. They encourage and embrace change. They see their boards as partners in making the credit union a success, not as impediments. They do not fear competition from any source. They define success by membership satisfaction. They are risk takers who know how to mange it rather than avoid it. They make heavy demands on their team and accept willingly heavy demands made on themselves. They work on specific goals and objectives. They see the big picture. They constantly look for ways to improve themselves, their staff, and their board. They are leaders, innovators, ethical, creative, professional, and much, much more. Does all of this mean that only those CEOs coming on the scene in the next few years posses these and many more similar management strong points? Of course not. I could have easily filled this entire column with just the names of current credit union CEOs, some near retirement, whom I greatly admire and respect. Their management styles and track records speak for themselves. However, as credit union CEO ranks anticipate record turnover, the position requirements are becoming ever more demanding. As one very successful CU CEO told me, “I’m not sure if I quit today and applied for my old job that I would be hired.” So to the credit union boards soon to be asked to find a new CEO, some for the first time in their tenure, make certain you realize just how important that task is going to be for the future of your credit union and its members, even if you currently have a top-notch CEO, but especially if you don’t. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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