SAN DIEGO – To be truly successful, credit union leaders need to focus on people both inside and outside of credit unions. That was the gist of the message from three different keynote speakers at the 2003 annual meeting and convention of the California/Nevada Credit Union League held here recently. "You do incredibly important work," said well-known personality Ben Stein. "You're the last honest people left in finance and I salute you very, very sincerely for it. But what we do in our personal lives really redeems us as human beings." Stein, who has worked as a lawyer, teacher, author and actor, made his remarks at the closing conference luncheon. A day earlier, Karen Hughes, one of President George W. Bush's closest confidants -she has worked with Bush since his 1994 campaign for Texas governor and served as White House counselor and communications director after he was elected president – concluded her highly partisan speech with a similar message. "The people in this room are very successful," she said. "You have many gifts and many talents. I hope you will use them not only for success in business, not only to support your own families, but also to make a difference in the lives of others." While Stein and Hughes stressed the need to focus on others beyond the credit union, Ann Rhoades, who helped found JetBlue Airways, focused on the need to create a "people-centric" organization. "I think having a great people-centric organization means that you are excessive about your members," said Rhoades, who opened the conference Monday afternoon (Nov. 17) at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego. "When I say excessive, I mean fanatical." Rhoades spoke about JetBlue's unique environment, including a hiring system where those on the front lines hire the people who work with them. "I think you should think creatively about who to hire and who helps you hire," she said. She also urged credit union leaders to seek "people that normally would not come out to apply for your job" and to listen carefully to them describe the type of environment in which they wanted to work. "Help them describe to you the environment they want to work in and let them describe the job," Rhoades advised. "You will have a totally different environment." Her other advice for credit union leaders: Always hire "A" players. "I will tell you that if you do nothing else, you want to work with `A' players if you're an `A' player," she said. "It's no fun working with `B' and `C' players unless that `B' player has a potential to become an `A' player." She added that, "Every single person that interacts with your members every day says something and has an impact on your members. You can't afford to have `C' players standing there or sitting there. You just have to get rid of them." She also advised credit unions to hire people who are risk takers; recruit with "attitude," using such things as fun or humorous ads; allow problems to be solved on the front line; keep things simple – "You don't need a lot of rules about your members. Throw away the 500-page manual that you have that tells you how to treat people because it doesn't work," she said; and exceed the expectations of employees. And don't forget, she added, to offer plenty of recognition and praise. "You have to exceed their expectations because you're asking them to exceed the expectations of your members," she said. "You guys are in a great industry," noted Rhoades, who said she has been a credit union member for more than 30 years. "You can have fun. You can have the `A' players having fun and your members are the ones who get the results of it. And it's all about doing something simple: creating a great people-centric organization. "It's all common sense," she added. "What's so funny is we think it's a 501 class, a graduate class, instead of a 101 management class. It's all about the basics and doing it right and continuing to do it." Stein drew loud applause in his speech when he praised credit unions as "the last safe place to save in America." "You never feel bad about putting your money in a credit union," he said after touching briefly on such scandals as Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and the recent mutual funds news which he described as "a scam of colossal proportions." "The evil of the people who did this and their total contempt for the clients and stockholders who made them millionaires and in some cases billionaires is just breathtaking," Stein said of the mutual funds debacle now unfolding. Credit unions, on the other hand, offer a safe haven where people can save their money and not worry about their investments. "You never get ripped off. You get exactly what you were promised and sometimes a little bit more in the way of dividends," Stein said. "You never get to feel bad. You never wake up in the middle of the night saying, `Why did I do that?' "I never had a bad moment with them (credit unions) and that is more than I can say about any financial institution I`ve ever done business with," he said to more applause. "It is no small thing in a world of suspicion and distrust to be one of the last trusted entities," he added. [email protected]

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