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Paragon Federal Credit Union President/CEO Richard Rays has never taken lightly the trust members, his board and the community at large have in him.In fact, that dedication to placing the members needs and the good of the credit union first served as the impetus behind Rays announcing his retirement at the end of this year after 16 years of service.“Well, I’m an old guy now,” joked Rays when asked why he’s retiring in December. “Seriously though, seven years ago we put this plan into action as there was a deferred comp plan with a pension that called for a date of retirement and the end of 2009 was the date. We met a year ago in anticipation of this date, and the reason why I didn’t even contemplate extending my retirement is that it is a trigger date for a very large sum of money that will come back to the credit union. I didn’t want to take a chance that the credit union would be impacted, so I felt the best thing for the credit union and the members is to retire and let them look for someone who can bring in a fresh perspective.”Prior to joining Paragon FCU, he served as president/CEO at Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union in Albuquerque, N.M., and executive vice president at Eastern Financial Federal Credit Union in Miami, Fla. His corporate officer experiences include serving as vice president of finance for a subsidiary of Hughes Tool Co. in Houston and chief financial officer for Electro-Gas Dynamics Inc., a manufacturer of electrostatic coating equipment. Since 1993, Rays has headed the Montvale, N.J.-based credit union and is credited with helping it grow to $400 million in assets and serve over 56,000 members.“It has been a pleasure to be associated with Richard as he embodied Paragon Federal’s trailblazing leadership and vision. Paragon has been very fortunate to have Richard as our leader, who not only grew our credit union, but kept the ‘people helping people’ philosophy that has been the hallmark of Paragon and the credit union industry as a whole,” said James Colagreco, chairman of the board.Some of the milestones reached under Rays’ leadership include the purchase, renovation and unveiling of Paragon’s new, state-of-the-art main branch and headquarters located within a 100,000-square-foot building on 13 acres in Montvale and the opening of three new branches in Mahwah, Dumont and Allentown, Pa. In addition, his ability to recognize and capitalize on emerging trends and technologies has played an instrumental role in the success of developing subsidiary organizations, under Paragon FCU, aimed at servicing the entire credit union industry. Rays says a few of these ventures include Tellagent LLC, a groundbreaking automated teller machine; Paragon Services LLC, creator and host of the only Web site designed as a marketplace solely for the accommodation and exchange of loan participation; and the concept behind Memberville LLC, a social networking portal aimed at connecting over 92 million credit union members in the United States with businesses.As a licensed pilot, Rays’ passion for aviation also led to the formation of the credit union’s AeroClub program, where students learn principals of math and science through model aeronautics. He said he’s most proud of the credit union’s transition to a highly sophisticated, complex and large organization with a community charter that provides any service imaginable.“From the outset we were probably one of the earliest credit unions to implement home banking and from there over the years to continue being the first to develop and launch other technology innovations is the part I’ve enjoyed the most,” said Rays. “I’ve also had an excellent relationship with the board over the past years. There is an extraordinary trust there, and I made sure I never violated that trust. I never added fluff or slipped potential problems under the carpet. Just one incident of loss of confidence and trust takes years to restore, so that has been paramount in my relationship with the board as well as close, open and honest communications so everyone is kept fully informed.”He said now is a particularly challenging time for credit unions in general. They’ve got to pay close attention to their costs yet still remain competitive, he added.“A good strong capital structure is key to determine strength of the organization, its ability to invest in growth in the future and there are tough decisions to be made,” said Rays.Despite his retirement don’t count Rays completely out of the credit union industry just yet. He said he’s open for anything.“I don’t have any fixed plans at all. I’ve always wanted to see more of the world, so while I’m still able to I’d like to travel,” said Rays. “And if an opportunity comes up or a credit union is between CEOs and needs someone for the next four to six months I might consider an interim assignment. I have no plans for any full-time assignments, but I’m willing to be involved if asked.”–[email protected]

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