After a Three-Decade History with CUs, Bianchini Starts the Next Chapter of His Life
TULSA, Okla. - If retirement is an opportunity to reflect on the ups and downs of one's career, then Bob Bianchini's assessment of his more than 30-year career with the credit union industry would be that it's been quite a roller coaster ride, with several twists and turns he no...
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TULSA, Okla. – If retirement is an opportunity to reflect on the ups and downs of one’s career, then Bob Bianchini’s assessment of his more than 30-year career with the credit union industry would be that it’s been quite a roller coaster ride, with several twists and turns he no doubt could have done without, but which helped shape what turned out to be a colorful career. The 64-year old Bianchini retired as president/CEO of the Oklahoma Credit Union League on Jan. 25 after 11 years of service with that League, officially turning the key to the corner office over to then-EVP Lisa Finley (CU Times, Jan. 26). “I’m so proud of Lisa,” he says. “It’s a tremendous comfort to me knowing the League will be managed by someone who has an outstanding background and will do a superb job.” Add to that another 20 years before that as head of the Rhode Island Credit Union League – with a short interim period between the two when he worked outside the CU industry. For someone who was active for so long with everything credit unions, Bianchini’s retirement life is deliberately a 180-degree change from his pre-retirement days. When asked whether he has any interest in remaining involved with credit unions, Bianchini says he may remain involved to offer advice or assistance, “but I don’t want to be obligated.” And instead of traveling to various credit union trade association conferences and events, Bianchini’s travel itinerary for the future includes traveling with his present wife Lana whom he married in 2002 to visit their children and grandchildren. He also wants to catch up on his reading and play a few sets of tennis. But life wasn’t always so leisurely for Bianchini. In fact the first half of his credit union career was punctuated by some events and circumstances he’s worked hard to put behind him. That’s why Bianchini prefers to focus on his last 11 years of credit union service because he said they impressed on him the cooperative spirit of the staff of the Oklahoma Credit Union League and of credit unions throughout the state. “The people in charge of credit unions in Oklahoma believe very strongly that when you pool human and financial resources there’s no limit to what you can accomplish,” says the now-retired OCUL president. That attitude became most evident to Bianchini in 1995 when the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was ripped by an explosion planted by domestic terrorists. The bombing caused the deaths of 168 people, including 18 of the 33 employees of Federal Employee CU which was headquartered in the ill-fated building. “The cooperative spirit of the people here in the days following the tragedy is something I will always remember,” says Bianchini who recalled the way area credit unions pitched in and were there to offer their support. Bianchini wishes he could say the same for his first 20 years of credit union industry service at the Rhode Island League – a chapter of his career he refers to as “my first life.”. A native of Rhode Island, Bianchini never could have imagined his career would take as many turns as it did when he graduated in 1962 from Bryant University, Rhode Island with a degree in business administration majoring in management. Though long associated with his leadership positions with the Oklahoma and Rhode Island credit union leagues, Bianchini cut his teeth on credit unions when he worked for as banking commissioner for Rhode Island from 1969-1971. It was there as a 29-year old, said Bianchini, “that I came to see credit unions as being a true viable alternative to the for-profit sector of the community.” Invited by the Rhode Island League to be their managing director in 1971, Bianchini accepted the position but never expected to stay there for two decades. “The calendar just kept turning over,” he said. “I loved what I was doing.” During his years at the Rhode Island League, Bianchini immersed himself in all things credit union related. That included, among other things, participating on a task force with representatives from the Canadian credit union system to help shape the U.S. corporate credit union system which led to the formation of U.S. Central Credit Union. He was active with the International Association of Managing Directors (IAMD), the precursor to the Association of Credit Union League Executives (ACULE) now called the American Association of Credit Union Leagues (AACUL). Bianchini was chairman of IAMD and US Central. He recalls his early years with the Rhode Island League fondly, citing other credit union veterans like Gary Wolter (past president/CEO, Alabama Credit Union League), Eugene Farley (past president/CEO, Virginia Credit Union League) , Carroll Beach (former president/CEO, Colorado Credit Union System), and Dick Ensweiler (president/CEO Texas Credit Union League and CUNA Chairman). “We were all considered the young renegrades of the group at the time and traveled in some interesting circles in those days,” says Bianchini. “It was a good thing there were some older people around making sure we didn’t get too reckless.” During the time Bianchini headed the Rhode Island Credit Union League he actually juggled another professional responsibility at the same for 14 years as state legislator representing Cranston, R.I. “It wasn’t easy to do both,” he recalled. “I would be at the league office at six in the morning and stay there until the early afternoon, then going to the legislature until 10 or 11 at night.” This changed dramatically for Bianchini in 1990 when he was accused of using his influence as a state legislator to kill a bill that would have required state-chartered credit unions to be federally insured. Bianchini admits he opposed the bill that would have effectively put private insurer Rhode Island Share & Deposit Insurance Corp. out of business. But when the insurance company failed – a failure that was brought on by the embezzlement of a bank president who Bianchini knew well, Joseph Mollicone – Bianchini’s name was linked to the RISDIC’s collapse. “It made for some very interesting reading for quite a while,” he remembers. “People turned their anger on me over the failure of the insurance company.” In January 1990, all financial institutions that were insured by RISDIC were ordered closed by then Gov. Bruce Sundlun. Most of Rhode Island’s state-chartered credit unions were able to be insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF), but others were unable to. Nine CUs eventually never reopened for business. “It was a whole set of circumstances you couldn’t duplicate if you wanted to,” says Bianchini – not that he’d like to try. He left the Rhode Island League “of my own accord” in June 1991 “because I felt it was best for the league,” he says. For the next few years Bianchini worked for an engineering company in Rhode Island, and he kept in close contact with many of his former credit union colleagues many of whom he said often asked him when he was going to return to the “credit union family.” Tempting as it was, Bianchini wasn’t in a hurry to return to the credit union fold. “For a long time I didn’t want to be involved with credit unions because the trauma of the situation in Rhode Island was so overwhelming,” says. But a trip to Georgia in 1994 for a meeting with League presidents gave Bianchini the opportunity to talk and meet with people he hadn’t seen in several years. “It made me realize how much I had missed credit unions,” he says, adding that, “they gave me a lot of encouragement to let me know of opportunities if I wanted to return to the movement.” Bianchini was already familiar with the Oklahoma Credit Union League at this time because he was part of the IAMD team in 1987 that did a custom analysis of the organization. He accepted the offer from the League’s Board in 1994 to succeed Dale Huff as president/CEO. But that like so much else is part of Bianchini’s personal history now. These days he’s more interested in planning with Lana their upcoming trips between Oklahoma and Rhode Island to visit family. At some point in time he says he’ll probably rent property in Rhode Island besides owning a home in Oklahoma because he spends so much time in both states. He’s also looking forward to having more time to enjoy his favorite sport – basketball. Bianchini says he’s followed the University of Tulsa basketball team since he first arrived in Oklahoma and was recently appointed to the Hurricane Club which is a support group for the University’s athletic program. He’s also had the opportunity over the years to personally meet several former college basketball coach notables such as Jim Valvano of North Carolina State University, Bobby Knight of Indiana State, and Rollie Massimino who coached Villanova University. Bianchini describes himself as being “a pretty typical kind of person and laid back. I can be intense at times, but I give the outward appearance of being even-tempered.” It’s certainly a trait he’s acquired over the years. That intensity become evident when Bianchini talks about the credit union industry. “I think everyone associated with credit unions but league presidents especially need to defend the cooperative principles and stand up when we see there’s something wrong that needs to be corrected. We need to celebrate our uniqueness as democratic organizations and show legislators our differences,” Bianchini says. -
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