LAS VEGAS – Colorado business guru and author Jim Collins had some kind words here for credit unions for holding “a purity of mission” and true leadership, but he said future challenges come in how managers hire talent and rise above mediocrity. In a keynote speech to NAFCU’s annual conference, the Boulder author of best sellers “Built to Last” and “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap” said CUs deserve greater scrutiny from the public but they are often at a great disadvantage because of their non-profit status. That structure sometimes inhibits CUs from an ability to pay, attract and motivate top talent and yet CUs have done well as compared to capital-rich corporate brethren, which can hand out big paychecks and stock options. Still the noble cause of serving the public in a special way draws exceptional expertise, maintained the Fortune and Business Week columnist whose hour and half motivational talk was well received by the NAFCU audience assembled in a ballroom at Mandalay Bay Resort/Casino. He said because CUs must rely heavily on unpaid volunteer help they are forced to perform at higher levels. Discussing those high performers, he said CEOs who show real humility on the job and are not self-serving are the ones that his surveys show move ahead quickest. “Look for `level 5′ leaders – those who aren’t necessarily charismatic with grand visions, but more `average guys,’” he said. Collins provided advice on how good organizations remember their core values -”That is the advantage that you have, your purpose” adding they must remain flexible enough to challenge their cultural and operational practices. He pointed to the Girl Scouts as an example, noting this group has remained true to its original mission but has also been able to change with the times. On achieving greatness, Collins said, “greatness is not a function of circumstances; it takes conscious choice and discipline.” “Every industry,” he said, “has its unique and irrational constraints and that `great’ organizations have figured these out and how to rise above them,” he said. Also, “Think first about who you want on the bus and then where you want to drive it,” he said. That is, great companies became great by first hiring the right people, he said. Without saying anything about the fees NAFCU paid for his appearance, Collins suggested he was picky about where he spoke noting that the NAFCU staff had to undergo interviews and also provide Collins with extensive advance data on the industry. He said he only gives 25 talks a year and that he decided to speak at NAFCU “based on a thoughtful letter” written by NAFCU President/CEO Fred Becker. A spokesman said the letter detailed background on CU structure with initial contact made a year ago. Becker declined to divulge Collins’ fee but said “it was worth every penny.” -

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