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Everyone knows that the loneliest guy in town is the Maytag repairman. But there are some credit union folks who are a lot more lonely. They are the credit union CEOs who leave their credit union early one day because they have been told they no longer work there. The scenario usually works something like this: The unsuspecting CEO is told to be present at a special meeting. It is almost always a very brief meeting with the CEO doing little if any talking. Something like this is said: “the board has decided to take the credit union in a different direction,” or, “the board has lost confidence in your ability to manage this credit union.” “Sign here (letter of “resignation” with a confidentiality clause ) unless you want to leave with empty pockets.” Unfortunately, CU boards unceremoniously booting credit union CEOs out the door with virtually no advance notice, warning, or even a hint that there was a problem seems to be happening more frequently. Often times the axe falls shortly after the disengaged CEO returns from an out-of-town credit union meeting of some kind. In a number of cases, the CEO is escorted out the door not too long after receiving a favorable performance appraisal by the board. What impact does this ambush method of dismissal have on the fired CEO? First, the fired CEO feels an immediate sense of isolation. He or she is hard pressed to even find someone to talk to about the situation. He or she is prohibited from attempting to seek reasons for the dismissal and why it was handled so inhumanely. Or from just crying on the shoulders of his or her former staff. Or any sympathetic board members. Furthermore, he or she is told not to talk to other credit union CEOs, vendors, league and other CU group staffers, but especially not to the press. Or else! Violate the confidentiality gag order and pay for it in your wallet. Thus the unexpected “resignation” remains shrouded in mystery often to even the credit union’s staffers. Who can blame the former CEO from feeling pretty much alone in the world at this point with no one to talk to? While still in a state of shock and sitting at home asking “why?”, displaced CEOs immediately learn who their friends are. Some colleagues will quickly get in touch with the former CEO to offer sympathy, moral support, and to help them get through the experience. But not many. Most “friends” quickly get swept up in the over-active credit union rumor mill. In the process many times they end up thinking the worst of the CEO. They don’t have any facts, but nevertheless generate a lot of juicy speculation. At some point the shock begins to wear off. That’s when the out-of-work CEO realizes that because he or she wasn’t looking for a job and, in fact, had no plans to leave the credit union, they realize that they don’t even have a current resume with which to begin the arduous search for a new position. Or remember how to do one. Many of these CEOs have not been without a job for even a day since they first entered the job market. They have never been without a regular paycheck. Panic begins to set in. So does reality. And questions arise. Because of family considerations (kids in school; spouse’s job), must I limit my job search to this area? Where and how do I begin? Will another CU board want to even consider hiring me knowing the way my departure was handled? How do I answer the question: “Why did you leave your last position?” Can I get influential references that can get me past this hurdle? Will any of the executive recruiters who specialize in CU positions be able to assist me? Or will they shun me? Should I take the first job offered? At less pay? At a smaller credit union? Would I fit in at one of the CU organizations? Should I apply for a vendor position? Will my former colleagues welcome me with open arms when I try and sell them something? As the questions pour out of the former CEOs, the loneliness intensifies. It doesn’t take long before most realize that they have been virtually cut off from everything to do with credit unions. They are asked to resign from volunteer positions they held by virtue of their full-time job. They are taken off of every mailing list. (I frequently put these CEOs on a comp list for Credit Union Times so that they can stay connected and up to speed while looking.) In short, they are banished to a lonely world of their own. I have been in touch with once apparently very successful credit union CEOs who simply couldn’t handle their situation. Depression, drinking, and even an attempted suicide entered the picture. I am personally aware of many who were in the twilight of their careers when the boom was lowered. They never did get another credit union job or even one anywhere near the level of their former CEO position. They might have if they had seen it coming or were given sufficient warning to make other plans. Is it really that bad when these types of dismissals occur? Yes. Do all fired CU CEOs fit these descriptions? Of course not. Some bounce back a lot faster than others. Some look back on the experience and realize it was the best thing that could have happened to them. Nevertheless, there has to be a better way for a board and its CEO to part company. If the CEO really should have known that he or she was in trouble and D-Day could be imminent, that’s one thing. But there’s no reason to blindside any credit union CEO, especially one who apparently did a good enough job to fill the top slot for many years. Is there? 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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