When it is time to give out accolades for the success credit unions have enjoyed over the years, the line up of potential recipients is bound to be a long and diverse one. However, at the head of such a line would be credit union CEOs. Granted, credit union CEOs alone haven’t been responsible for the solid membership and asset growth that the credit union industry and individual credit unions have enjoyed. Yet, if you think about it, who has played (and is playing) a more important role than the men and women on the firing line day in and day out? Members? They are what credit unions are all about. Without a growing number of active and satisfied members no credit union can survive for very long. Volunteers? They are very important doing what they do, providing leadership and setting policy that they rightfully expect their CEOs to carry out. CU staffs? As credit unions grow and become more complex, the staff has taken on more and more responsibility and plays a pivotal role in the credit union’s success. Vendors? Like any enterprise, credit unions will only succeed if the management is provided with the tools needed to do the job, which is why strong vendor support has never been more crucial in helping a credit union meet its goals. Trade groups? Their role is key in coordinating industry wide wish lists, providing widespread educational opportunities, and confronting any and all threats, which enable CEOs to run the day-to-day operation of a credit union unencumbered by needless restraints and roadblocks. Yet, at the end of the day, it is the credit union CEO who pulls it all together. It is the CEO who devotes full-time (and more) every day to his or her credit union. It is the CEO who turns members, staff, volunteers, vendors, and trade groups into a well-oiled machine. Many years ago, long before the first billion-dollar credit union emerged, retired Dearborn Federal Credit Union CEO Don Mackinnon, said, “The single most important decision any credit union board will ever be called upon to make is the hiring and firing of the credit union CEO.” I agreed wholeheartedly with his statement when I first heard it and agree even more today. Look around at credit unions that are universally admired. And at those that are beset with troubles of every stripe imaginable. The credit and the blame almost always fall directly in the lap of the CEOs. It should come as no surprise that the really good credit unions are managed by outstanding CEOs. And vice versa. Examples abound where a credit union went from a poor or mediocre operation with all the bad numbers to match, to a credit union that excelled in member service while racking up key ratios that would warm the heart of even the most critical regulator. The only thing that changed in these before and after scenarios is the hiring of a new CEO. What do all these outstanding credit union CEOs have in common? Is it their ability to keep members as their number one priority? Their people skills in their dealings with a volunteer board? The good sense to hire good people, pay them well, and let them do their jobs without micro-managing them? Or is it their sixth sense in seeking out the best vendors for the job at hand? Of course it is all of the above and much more. For example, the very best credit union CEOs are focused, excellent communicators, risk takers, master delegators, visionaries, dedicated, hard workers, ethical, intelligent, accessible, and big picture types. No matter how much they are paid, or not paid, in salary, bonuses, and perks. To put it all another way, the really good credit union CEOs look a lot like Darren Williams, CEO of Wescom Credit Union, a $2.9 billion credit union in Pasadena, California. Williams is the 2004 Credit Union Times CEO of the Year (see page one story). From its unique birds-eye view of the credit union industry, Credit Union Times interacts with dozens of outstanding credit union CEOs all year long. Singling out just one as the best of the best was no small task and one that was not taken lightly. Many (not all) of the reasons why Williams stood out from the CEO crowd are neatly chronicled in the page one story in this issue written by editor Paul Gentile. Others will be cited at a special dinner during the GAC where he will be presented with a handsome trophy, a working telescope symbolizing his focus and vision, and a framed copy of the cover of this issue as a lasting keepsake of the high regard in which he is held not only by Credit Union Times, but throughout the credit union industry, especially among his CU CEO colleagues. In the credit union industry there are many awards given to credit union CEOs and deservedly so. But this one is different. As the only completely independent credit union publication, Credit Union Times is beholden to no one politically, or otherwise. Our selection is based strictly on what the CEO of the Year has accomplished, in what length of time, how he did it, his vision of the future, and his dedication to members, his staff, and his leadership group This award, unlike some others, is not bestowed in recognition of a lifetime of service. Williams is only 44 and has been CEO of Wescom for less than nine years, but his lengthy list of impressive accomplishments would do a soon-to-retire CU CEO proud. No consideration was given to what groups he was a member of, what positions he is holding or has held, or what’s in it for us (nothing). This comes through loud and clear in Gentile’s article. What also comes through with unmistakable clarity is that credit unions without top drawer CEOs end up shortchanging their membership. 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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