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I have to take exception to Mike Welch’s June 23rd column about not getting carried away with succession planning. The thing to remember about succession planning is that it’s almost never about the successor and almost always about the plan. Welch is right in that there may be a plethora of talent out there, but few boards have a well thought out plan on how to make sure they are positioned to acquire that talent. This point hit close to home four years ago when this credit union tragically lost its CEO who was hit and killed by a vehicle while walking to lunch a half a block from the office. There was no second in command, no leaders in training, and no succession plan. This credit union really had to scramble. After the initial panic, our board was smart enough to contact the California Credit Union League and seek the expert counsel of president/CEO Dave Chatfield. Through his contacts they were able to hire a search firm and find superb interim leadership (retired CEO Bill Broxterman) to serve for the next six months until the search was completed. You’re right – the credit union didn’t fall apart. But neither did we flourish during that time. Everyone was nervous and unsure about the future. One of the first items I tended to upon being hired was to assess our talent and put together a succession plan, (emphasis on the plan). Our board approved the plan and was grateful to have something to direct them should we ever experience another key vacancy in the organization. It doesn’t name my successor, other than to recommend an interim CEO during the search process. Our plan not only outlines the process for filling the CEO vacancy, but outlines development steps needed in order to move other key executives through the organization. It assesses their present value, states their ultimate career goal, and then sets forth a plan to close that gap. The assessment of key executives is updated annually and I visit with my board in closed session to review the growth of key executives in the organization, so they always know the level of talent represented on my team at any given time. I think one of the most important jobs of a CEO is to develop leaders. A great credit union usually isn’t great because of its CEO. It’s usually great because the CEO was smart enough to assemble leadership talent and see to it that leadership principals have been infused throughout the organization. As Welch’s column points out, the best CEO is one whose absence does not affect the organization in a negative way. Even though they may be missed, the organization will be positioned with leadership talent to step in, even if it’s for the interim. Our plan provides me and my board with the assurance that USA FCU wouldn’t miss a beat if its leadership changed. We wouldn’t coast or waiver either. We’d continue full speed ahead. Mary Cunningham President/CEO USA Federal Credit Union San Diego, Calif.

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