Over the past several years, very quietly, a new breed of credit union CEOs have come on the scene. They are running many of the industry’s largest, most innovative, most highly ranked, and most successful credit unions. They made them that way. In no small part they are also responsible for the tremendous growth of the credit union industry itself even though the majority of them tend to shun leadership positions, at least for any length of time, in the potpourri of credit union groups dependent on volunteer leadership. Who are these men and women? Where did they come from? What do they have in common? What are some of the secrets of their successes? What makes them different? For starters, they are well educated and seasoned executives who bring to their current CU CEO posts solid management experience and impressive track records. They know how to manage: their staffs, their board, members, vendors, and most of all their time. They are mostly men but the number of women in their ranks has grown significantly in the past 10 years. Some are in the peak years of their careers while others are still charging hard as they begin to face the reality of someday soon turning over the reins. They look different. They act different. They are different. But it is those things they have in common that count most. Such as the fact that many of today’s brightest CEO stars have come to credit unions from the banking industry. Like it or not (and many old timers don’t), it is a fact. At a recent meeting of about 35 CEOs of large credit unions, I asked how many in the room had a banking background. About half the hands went up. The other half either worked their way up through the ranks at their existing credit union, or more likely, hop scotched their way to the top by switching credit unions maybe as much as half a dozen times until they landed the job they had set their sights on. More important than their career paths to the top is what they have in common, the secrets of their current success, and what makes them different than the typical CU CEO of yesteryear. Every one of this new breed of CEOs understands the importance of building a top-notch team to help him or her meet personal as well as credit union goals and objectives. In fact, to help set them. By team, they mean a strong senior management structure of course, but they also consider the volunteers, especially their board of directors, an integral part of any successful credit union team. These CEOs learned long ago, even those who came from banking, that the only way to move forward is for the CEO and his or her staff to work closely with the chairman and his board, not be adversaries. And unlike many old time CEOs, they keep every team member completely informed. (Not like one longtime CU CEO who had Credit Union Times delivered to his home so his board and staff wouldn’t see it.) With this kind of a team structure in place, these CEOs are well positioned to set priorities, their own, their staffs, and their boards, and thus the overall priorities for the credit union itself. This allows the CEO to stay focused on what is really the best use of his or her time.at all times. It goes without saying that these CEOs never micromanage or allow anyone else to do so, including their boards. Consequently the board agendas at these credit unions look far different than those credit unions with more traditional CEOs. And the board meetings are more productive and much shorter. There is less talk and more action. As part of their strict adherence to making the best possible use of their valuable time, you seldom find these CEOs at some of the more generic or lowest-common-denominator-programs credit union meetings. They much prefer to go where other CEOs like them go even if the meeting of choice is not put on by any credit union organization. Networking sessions rate number one with them. They also are risk takers and don’t hesitate to put their jobs on the line if that’s what it takes. They are big picture CEOs. They do not live in an ivory tower. They stay aware and connected to everything credit union. Also, to everything being done by competitors. And being offered by leading edge vendors. They stay unbelievably well informed. Be prepared to be shot on the spot by one of these CEOs if ever the words, “Because we have always done it that way” is uttered in his or her presence. What else? They encourage candid feedback from all sources and they act on it sooner rather than later. They embrace all the traditional credit union functions such as marketing, but much prefer that their marketers come up with non-traditional approaches. And they measure its success, or lack thereof. Just winning awards doesn’t cut it with them. Only results count! They are in love with new ways of doing things that are more member friendly, less expensive, more efficient, or can be accomplished because of some newly developed technology. They are master delegators, open-minded, always asking questions, good listeners, eager to embrace change, constantly seeking new challenges, fair-minded, empathetic, ethical, and flexible. And yes, a black bottom line is second nature to them. Another thing they have in common is that they all promise big results on a consistent basis. And they deliver them. But, they are not bashful about making it clear that they expect to be well compensated for their way above average performance. They also want all this spelled out in an employment agreement with a termination clause. In today’s market, the very best of this new credit union CEO breed won’t consider accepting a position without such an employment agreement. Watch for more and more credit unions to hire this new breed of CEO within the next five years. 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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