What's That, asks Larry Johnson? Running League Like `Herding Cats'
GREENSBORO, N.C. - "Have you ever tried herding cats?" asks Larry G. Johnson, the now retired president/CEO of the North Carolina Credit Union League. Huh? What is Johnson talking about? The answer, of course, is managing a state CU league, a job he says that can become "impossible" given the...
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – “Have you ever tried herding cats?” asks Larry G. Johnson, the now retired president/CEO of the North Carolina Credit Union League. Huh? What is Johnson talking about? The answer, of course, is managing a state CU league, a job he says that can become “impossible” given the “strong egos and strong drives” of the members. The 63-year-old Johnson knows something about that. He was CEO of the North Carolina League for 25 years, 36 years as a trade group executive, and until his formal retirement Dec. 31 was the number two “dean” of state league managers, based on his years as president. Gary Wolter, 64, of Alabama holds the top spot. “When you’re trying to be successful running a League, you simply have to take risks and you only have 20/20 vision after it’s over,” quipped Johnson in describing his down-home management philosophy. As in any business, “there are risks to be taken – you win some and lose some and you’re not simply going to bat a thousand,” declares Johnson in detailing the manager’s approach, coming at a time there has been high turnover among League CEOs, some of it related to policy differences on confronting the heightened banker attacks. Apart from those banker fights-of which North Carolina has been right at the top with some of the most important and newsworthy relating to the AT&T Family FCU (now Truliant FCU) FOM case that led to the passage of the Credit Union Membership Access Act, H.R. 1151 -Johnson’s achievements go far beyond keeping the banking lobby in check. For instance, starting in 1978 he nursed the League back to financial health from a $250,000 negative and 75% member affiliation to $1 million in equity currently in the League’s service corporation plus 96% affiliation. “I don’t take credit for that since it is not one person that can do the job-it takes a team,” said Johnson, who has long been modest about his industry accomplishments. According to the Johnson management philosophy, “You have to have an active, functioning good quality board, a chapter structure that understands the organization’s needs and a competent and experienced staff.” During his tenure at the League, CU eligible membership in North Carolina has climbed from 700,000 to 2.6 million. “I have watched Larry Johnson `in action’ for over 30 years-a teacher, a preacher and man of great purpose and one we’ve always looked up to,” said James Blaine, president of the $11 billion State Employees CU, of Raleigh, the state’s largest. Citing the depth of his character, Blaine said Johnson “looms large as a leader – great heart, a true servant and unwavering commitment to the cooperative philosophy.” That Johnson commitment was never more evident than in the countless “social responsibility” causes he has spearheaded ranging from a $500,000 campaign in support of the Duke Medical Center’s Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Research Laboratory or a $450,000 campaign on behalf of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. And the most recent has been a $500,000 two-state Carolinas Credit Union Foundation campaign to raise funds for the Victory Junction Gang Camp, a facility to be opened next June in Randelman, N.C. for children with life threatening illnesses and tied to Hollywood actor Paul Newman. The tears flowed from family, friends and Johnson himself last June at the annual meeting of the League when Johnson was presented not only with the “Lifetime Achievement Award” but also a surprise honor – the naming of a spiritual center in his name and his wife, Hanna, at the Victory Junction camp. Construction of the spiritual center will begin this fall to follow the opening in June of the two medically-equipped cabins for the youngsters. In a July letter to League members, Johnson wrote that “life is not about accomplishments, but about relationships,” and the “outpouring of love and appreciation was overwhelming.” The funding of the spiritual center “really touched our hearts” and to include his wife “was indeed special and deserved recognition of her role as Larry’s partner, supporter and confidant.” In addition to a specially engraved bible and a trip to Germany for the couple, the Johnson tribute was also included in the Congressional Record by U.S. Rep. Howard Coble (R.-N.C), who praised Johnson for serving members of the League “with honor and dignity” throughout his career. His contributions, wrote Coble, “have been an asset to credit unions in North Carolina and across the country.” A native of Greensboro, Johnson joined the League in 1972 as executive vice president after serving as first time manager of First Carolina Corporate Credit Union. He began his CU career in December 1967 as the first full-time manager of the corporate. Prior to joining the corporate, he served eight years with the U.S. Air Force where he received extensive training in accounting, finance and budgeting. In joining the League, Johnson was given primary responsibilities for legislative/regulatory activities, later moving up to president. He served on numerous national committees and has been a three-term director of the American Association of Credit Union League Executives Board. During 1986/1987, he was chairman of the National Credit Union Political Action Committee (CULAC). Regionally, he had been director of the Southeast Regional Service Corp., a cooperative effort by state leagues to develop regional/national shared service facilities, and a director of the Southeast Regional Schools. His colleagues have long recognized Johnson’s generous spirit, underscored they say in the transition to his successor, the July appointment of John Radebaugh, former president/CEO of the New Mexico League. The North Carolina League Board, apparently wanting to give time to Johnson to step aside, stipulated that Johnson would remain as president/CEO through 2003 and that Radebaugh would become president-elect Oct. 13 assuming the top job at Dec. 31. But in a surprise move, Johnson announced in mid-October that he would be giving up the president/CEO job, stating “I am now senior consultant.” a title he said was made up. Johnson said then, “I see no reason to have a delay as we deal with budgets and salaries” adding “this gives me time to slip quietly away into the night while the spotlight falls totally on John.” In reflecting on his career, Johnson told Credit Union Times he is most proud of standing up to the banking lobby on field of membership/tax challenges over the AT&T Family Credit Union case, H.R. 1151 as well as a North Carolina battle over municipal investment funds. “I suppose one of my biggest disappointments is the price we had to pay on H.R.1151 on PCA,” said Johnson referring to provisions in the law over CU capital thresholds. He said it is heartened to hear recent Congressional support for changing PCA which has become “too onerous.” He said he also “fully supports” the NCUA in its effort to make it more difficult for CUs to convert to a mutual stock form. He said it is unfortunate those managers of CUs seeking to make the change “have completely lost sight of the cooperative nature” of a CU. As he departs the credit union industry to “step back, catch my breath, play golf and take a trip to Germany with my wife,” Johnson said he hoped his legacy might be that North Carolina CUs “truly stay focused on their core philosophy and not get caught up in profit and growth. We just can’t do that.” -
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