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AKRON, Ohio – Don’t talk to Firestone Federal Credit Union about younger board members. The $210 million credit union stands behind the wisdom/value that comes with age and the over 33 years of credit union service under its board members’ belt – so it is a source of pride that 70 is the average age of its board. “Our board is very conservative and our operation reflects that,” said Firestone FCU President/CEO Jeff Rush. “We mainly provide the basic services without any share drafts, credit cards or ATMs and in 2003 we returned about 66% of our income to our members, while the average federal credit union returned only 26%. Each of our directors is well trained so they can intelligently carry out their credit union responsibilities and we count on our staff for new ideas.” At the age of 88, Board Chairman Paul Williams has been serving on the board since the Firestone FCU’s inception in 1961 and says he couldn’t be happier with the credit union’s success. “I didn’t have a clue what a credit union even was but when the union decided to start a credit union for company employees, I was asked to serve on the board of directors,” said Williams. “I tried to tell them I didn’t know anything about credit unions but they told me `well you’ll learn the hard way’. And I did -as treasurer I started calling around to other credit union treasurers to find reports and took it from there. I’ve been on the board 44 years now and it is wonderful working with such a great bunch of people.” Rush says the board stays updated on all issues not just locally but also those facing the credit union movement as a whole. “You can always count on Paul to get to the bottom of the issue and make his case intelligently. He always brings out the best in all of us by being fully informed on all issues-in fact everyone knows they have to present the facts to support their position or their request won’t fly.” The majority of the board members are retired from the parent company with the exception of two who are still employed by Firestone. Williams says that a good working relationship has resulted in little turnover in the nine-member board. When there are openings, replacement candidates are pulled internally from those currently serving on committees based on their time served and experience. With both legs amputated Williams never misses a monthly board meeting but passes on other weekly meetings since it is difficult for him to get to the main building. In general the board meets at least 16 times a year and some board members even hold daily meetings depending on what issues need to be addressed. A great working relationship doesn’t translate into zero conflict but Williams says the board operates under the idea of “You have to confront to correct or you have no gripe coming”-in other words a healthy debate ultimately benefits the members. Given an increasing number of scandals such as Enron and others, the board here maintains an open door policy. “Our reports are available to anyone who wants to see them, members and the public,” said Williams. “As board members we have to be very careful with the lawsuits today so we stay as open as possible to avoid getting into trouble.” Williams points to Firestone FCU’s loan portfolio as its greatest challenge. “Our loans outstanding is small compared to most credit union’s, it’s now about $60 million in loans and $150 million in securities and every year we explore different approaches to get more members to borrow from us,” said Williams. “The problem is that the competition here is tremendous with so many people buying cars with those zero interest deals but we are working on it.” Despite running a conservative ship Firestone FCU has focused on membership by being approved to reach out to area dentists and doctors who had no credit union available to them and to serve Firestone offices nationwide. “We have a large number of members from Tennessee and we keep getting new members through family referrals,” said Williams. “We keep our eye on what our members want. I think we paid the highest interest on savings than any other credit union around-our members are interested in really good deals so we deliver and that helps our member growth.” Williams says the credit union lucked out when it tapped Rush for CEO. “The most important choice a board can make is selecting the right person as President/CEO,” said Williams. “You can’t just pick someone based solely on their educational background or because they did a great job at another credit union – the CEO has to be the right fit for your credit union. An experienced leader in-house can always go get the additional education. Too many times when you see major board/CEO conflict it is because maybe they didn’t look at the total individual.” [email protected]

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