After 1st 100 Days, CUNA Mutual CEO Forms Impression

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As he promised more than 100 days ago, CUNA Mutual Group's new CEO Jeff Post has been doing a lot of listening and learning over the last few months. And while there's still much more listening and learning to do, he's ready to unveil some hints about where CUNA Mutual Group is headed under his command.

"One of my favorite ways to communicate this is to think of it this way: if we're on the phone, and you don't know where I am and I ask you how to get to Chicago, even if you know where Chicago is, you can't tell me how to get there because you don't know where I am," Post told The Credit Union Journal. "Before you strike out on a whole bunch of journeys, make sure you know where you are, first."

And that's exactly what Post has been trying to do. But that doesn't mean he hasn't done anything, yet.

"Regardless of what sort of business you are in, there are certain things that are best practices," he related. "Let's just say that the organizational structure that was in place here wouldn't have been in any textbook under best practices. The CEO had 15 direct reports, and no one other than the CEO had responsibilities beyond one department."

That meant that only the CEO had a grasp of the big picture, Post observed, which is why among his early moves was to trim direct reports to the CEO to five from 15.

"I am creating an executive level that oversees multiple aspects of the business and is empowered to make decisions without always having to come to my desk," he explained.

Among the new big five are Jeff Holley, who served as interim CEO while CUNA Mutual Group sought a replacement for former CEO Mike Kitchen. Holley has been named CFO and has been given broader responsibilities.

Post also brought on board David Sargent as SVP, who, in addition to having worked for Post at Firemen's Fund, has also served under former GE CEO Jack Welch. Dave Lundgren has been named Chief Administrative Officer.

There are still two more executives to be named: a COO and a chief sales and marketing officer.

Other Lessons

In the meantime, the quest for learning continues. What Post has learned so far:

* "We're not focused enough," he said, noting the company needs to learn not to try to be too many things to too many people.

* "We are a critically important player in the credit union movement, and maybe we lost our way in the last three to four years," Post observed.

* "There's an enthusiasm for change among employees, but we're not experienced at it, so we're not good at it."

* "I heard different opinions about why we are not as successful as we'd like to be in selling to larger credit unions."

Along the way, there have been some surprises.

"On the positive side, one surprise is that compared to what I thought, the opportunities are even greater than what I thought they were," Post suggested. "The caveat to that is: as long as the credit union movement sticks together."

Sticking together is something credit unions have excelled at, he added, observing as he has before that credit unions are very well aligned.

"On the negative know, when I was at Firemen's, we fixed a company that was in distress, and it's a wonderful turnaround story, and we did it in a divisive culture," he related. "Coming here, I kind of thought that the Midwest collegiality and Midwest work ethic would be a strong marker on my side, since I am originally from the Midwest myself. And that really isn't where I thought it would be. For all that the credit union movement is aligned, this is a divided organization. Our union employees still don't have a contract, and that's no good for them, and our non-union people have sort of lost confidence and trust in the union people. It's created a we/they culture."

Post was referring to the drawn-out standoff over a new contract for the company's 1,400 unionized employees, who have been working without a contract since March 2004. It's a labor dispute Post inherited when he took the reins at CUNA Mutual.

Hopeful of Ratification

According to Post, CUNA Mutual recently delivered a revised contract proposal and is awaiting the union's response.

"We are hopeful that they will ratify it. I want to offer a fair wage for a fair day's work, and I believe that's what this proposal does. It's in their ballpark, now," he said. "You know, I got a note from a woman, a union employee, who talked about how stressful this has been and how stress brings on so many physical and mental issues and then said how disappointed she was that we don't have an offer on the table. And I told her, 'You're writing to the wrong person. We gave an offer to the union, we're waiting to hear back from them. If you haven't seen the new offer, you need to talk to your union rep.'"

It's clear the ongoing labor dispute is taking a toll. "In order to get a deal done, you have to have two sides that want a deal," he said. "Our employees do, but I am not convinced the union does, and I'm not sure why. We would like to hear back from the union in early June."

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