Being a CEO must be great. Years of working your way up the ladder have culminated with you becoming the preeminent leader of the organization. You’re the top dog, the one who sets the pace for everyone else. The perks aren’t bad either. CEOs have nice corner offices, dedicated parking spaces, attentive secretaries, are well paid, and enjoy a level of respect that must do good things for the ego. CEOs get to put their theories into action. Middle managers may have great ideas, but face challenges getting them implemented. CEOs can take the ball and run with it on strategic concepts they develop – that is if they can convince their boards to back these concepts. When a CEO has the full faith of his or her board, they have a lot of freedom in directing the organization’s future. That must be nice. Imagine, being able to cut through the bureaucracy that plagues lower and middle managers and just get things done, now that’s living.or shall I say working. Some CEOs who are reading this may be getting a little worked up by now because they know being a CEO is about a lot more than the corner office, the big desk and the nice leather chair. CEOs have to make difficult decisions every day that affect their members, their employees and their own future. If an organization has a bad year or is hitting some stumbling blocks, the first to get looked at is the top gun. If a CEO, who has so far been a board darling, isn’t meeting goals and objectives, he or she can quickly move into the crosshairs of the board. Let’s face it, the CEO job is pressure packed. I bet many non-CEOs wouldn’t wish that kind of pressure on their worst enemy- they want to leave work at the office and just relax at home with their families. There are others who thrive on being the pressure point of an organization. I can think of a few CEOs in this industry right now who are leading prestigious, venerable organizations, but face tremendous pressure. Just take CUNA Mutual CEO Jeff Post. Post, who already had a tremendous track record as a CEO prior to joining CUNA Mutual, has a number of challenges facing him. He inherited a very odd management structure that needs to be revamped. CUNA Mutual also has its hands in so many different products and services it can be daunting for even careful observers to see what direction this company is going. He also walked into a bitter labor dispute. This was not a case of Post coming in and carrying on what his predecessor left for him. But to Post’s credit, he has done some smart things. He spent about a year getting to know industry players, which is key for CUNA Mutual. CUNA Mutual isn’t just another vendor. They have a special place in the industry. Post must get a feel for where this organization fits in the industry. Post himself has admitted that CUNA Mutual sometimes wins business just because of who they are, not that they have the best products or prices. The fact that he has acknowledged this publicly, to me shows great wisdom and a CEO who is not sitting idle while competitors catch up. In this period of tight spreads and shrinking bottom lines, credit unions can no longer afford to choose CUNA Mutual because of their history, they need the best deal, and Post recognizes that. Post has brought in his own leadership team to help him reshape the organization. He is consolidating the company. Since last fall, CUNA Mutual has laid off 510 employees, nearly 10% of its workforce. It was an excruciating decision for him. He wants the customer experience to be better and is trying to trim the company’s 38 call centers into a more manageable call center structure where the reps know more about customers and can better help them. Will Post hit a homerun? I’m not sure and I don’t think anyone is, but you can see that this is a CEO who is taking on the tough issues and putting himself on the line. He is leading. Now let’s look at Francis Lee, the new CEO of U.S. Central. U.S. Central by itself represents one tier of the three-tier system. It is steeped in tradition and is a $32 billion institution. But I know for a fact leading U.S. Central is a job many would turn down in a heartbeat. It is an inherently political position. The CEO has to balance the delicate line of serving corporates so they can better serve their member credit unions, while itself not getting too close to credit unions. Corporates do not want U.S. Central touching its members. Lee’s board is made up of the very corporate credit union CEOs who are wary not only of U.S. Central getting closer to credit unions, but of what direction U.S. Central goes in. It obviously has the scale to get into other lines of business, but whatever it does will go under the microscope. Good luck Francis, this is a tough one. I believe corporate credit union CEOs owe it to him to let him be a leader and shape U.S. Central so it is a value-add for the entire industry. Lee is a proven commodity, but if his hands get tied, any innovative concepts he develops will wither on the vine. With economies of scale being so important these days, corporate CEOs must wake up to the fact that U.S. Central can help, and they must allow him to do it. So before you wish you were pulling into your dedicated parking spot and walking into your corner office, think about the burdens CEOs must carry – they can be heavy. -Comments? E-mail [email protected]

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