A CEO Remembers A Predecessor And His Career

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One of the greatest visionaries in the history of the credit union industry died on April 12 in Rochester, N.Y. of complications following surgery at the age of 67. John J. Bryson was the CEO of The Summit FCU here for 24 years, from 1971 until 1995 and was one of the pioneers of the multiple-group charter.

Under Mr. Bryson's leadership The Summit grew considerably, from a $4-million, seven-employee credit union that served the employees of Rochester Telephone, to a $150-million, 120-employee credit union serving more than 350 companies. Today The Summit is a $255-million credit union, with 130 employees. I am the current CEO and worked with John for 11 years and appreciated his vision.

John saw that the future of this industry was in a diversified membership and providing convenience for members. Even before the NCUA had liberalized its field of membership rules to allow multiple common bonds, John pursued small independent telephone companies to join Rochester Telephone Employees CU. Having had success in justifying that all telephone company employees shared a common bond, John argued that the employees of Rochester Gas & Electric (RG&E) and Rochester Telephone could belong to the same credit union because they had a common bond in the utility poles that they both worked on. He succeeded in getting NCUA to give regulatory approval to add RG&E to our field of membership. John then persuaded his board to change the name of the credit union to The Summit to make the credit union attractive to new, non-telephone groups.

Seeking Diversity

From there, The Summit added any group that wanted credit union services, from manufacturing to health care, to onion farmers to students. John realized that with diversity, we would be more apt to weather isolated economic difficulties in our member companies. The income levels of the group members never entered into it. John just wanted to bring credit union service to more people. Over the years this strategy has played out very true to John's vision. Under John's leadership the Summit was not only one of the first credit unions to expand to multiple groups, but in fact, was one of the first to engage in a shared branching program, although this was not done with fellow credit unions, but in fact with a local bank. This facilitated the lion's share of the Summit's growth until the credit union had opened some of its own branches and implemented several new electronic services. By1985, The Summit also offered a VISA program, a touch-tone audio response system, and an ATM card program, and offered a debit card, which The Summit referred to as its VISA "Check Card" in 1992. Only recently has VISA begun to use the same "Check Card" name that Bryson and his staff introduced to Summit members 10 years ago!

Well-Liked By Staff

John was very well liked by his employees and his peers. Those who worked with him, above all, saw him as a people person. He was formerly treasurer of the CWA Local 1170, and this may have been why he was very employee sensitive. Bryson seemingly always fought to keep employee benefit programs intact, and in making decisions, consistently gave employees the benefit of the doubt. When employees had tough times in their personal lives, John was generous in his attempts to help them, and give them the time needed to resolve those issues. He persuaded the rest of the employees to work as a team to cover any gaps and when an employee faced a personal challenge, or life change, he never asked why, he just gave you your space.

Under John's leadership, the Summit had a "family" type of corporate culture. This remained true, even as the employee base surpassed 100 people. John treated his employees like they were there for the long run, and did not dwell on small daily problems. You always felt like you were appreciated for all you had done over time, and John never asked "what have you done for me lately." That just made all of us work harder and more dedicated to the company.

John also had a major impact on the development of the credit union industry. With a few of his peers, he started the New York State Telephone Credit Union Association, which will have its 25th Annual Conference this summer. He was also instrumental in starting the International Telephone Credit Union Association (which is now the International Technology Credit Union Association). He was often asked to speak at conferences on expanded fields of membership. He served on committees for NAFCU, and participated in user groups for the credit union's data processing firm. He had a deep appreciation for the cooperation between credit unions and the sharing of ideas.

But, in the early 1980s he was seen as a bit of a rebel or a maverick, and some of the traditionalists in the movement resented him. Once, when speaking about expanded charters at a local credit union meeting, he was booed off the stage. But as it turned out, he was the visionary, and most everyone has followed his lead. He felt an incredible degree of satisfaction in 1998 when the Credit Union Membership Access Act, became law, and in a sense, ratified his vision.

A Pioneer And A Visionary

John Bryson was one of the pioneers in the credit union movement who shared a visionary approach that forever changed the way credit unions do business and add groups to their membership. I hope that John is recognized and remembered for these things. In fact, The Summit's board named our corporate headquarters the John J. Bryson Building upon John's retirement.

But at The Summit, that is certainly not the only memory of him we have. We will always remember John Bryson the person, and the way he helped all of us grow as employees and as people. He taught us that it was important to enjoy every day, and to have fun at work. We learned how to treat others fairly, and that some things are more important than work. We learned the true value of teamwork, and the importance we all played within that team.

Mike Vadala is the CEO of The Summit FCU. Mr. Vadala can be reached at vadala summitfcu.org.


News Briefs

Kenya's CU Report New Growth

MADISON, Wis.-The World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) is reporting that due to disciplines implemented through its PEARLS financial monitoring system, credit unions in Kenya have stabilized and are showing a 4.8% growth in membership, a 16% increase in loans outstanding, an 88.3% increase in total deposits and 15.8% increase in assets. During a recent visit to Kenya, WOCCU CEO Arthur Arnold and VP Brian Branch, met with SACCOs participating in WOCCU's Microenterprise Project (MEP). Arnold and Branch also met with the national SACCO organizations of KUSCCO and KERUSSO, with the Cooperative Bank of Kenya and the Cooperative Insurance Company. At the Mungania Tea Growers SACCO Ltd., the WOCCU delegation witnessed the implementation of INFOTECH's Micro Banker software, which automates the processing and administrative functioning of the SACCO with 5,000 members, mainly tea farmers. For info: www.woccu.org.

Foundation Meets With Ag Dept.

WASHINGTON, D.C.-National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) Executive Director Gary Officer met with top U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials to discuss how credit unions can help in rural communities. "We went there to discuss the Foundation's interest in bringing agriculture into the fold for providing funding to allow credit unions in rural areas to better serve their communities," said Officer.

Officer said that USDA staff are trying to find ways to redesign their processes, both administratively and on the regulatory side, to make agriculture products more available to credit unions across the country.

For info: www.cuna.org/ncuf.html.

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