After 55 Years Of Volunteering, A 'Fair' Perspective

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While Neil Maddux still has a lot of tennis games left in him, the 78-year-old credit union volunteer knows how he would like to be remembered.

"If my grandchildren put one thing on my tombstone, I want it to be, 'He was fair." Maddux says.

It's an epitaph he thinks he's earned during his 55 years of volunteerism to credit unions that served his employer, Seaboard Railroad.

Maddux, who most recently served 24 years on the board Seaboard Credit Union in Jacksonville, Fla.-the last 14 as chairman-said it's time for him to move into the next phase of life, which will include playing a lot of tennis, spending time with family and volunteering at his local church.

Proud to have served an industry that he said captured his heart with its people-helping-people philosophy, Maddux says he's leaving with mixed emotions about the evolution taking place within the movement.

"It's a worthwhile industry," he said. "I like the concept. But, if we are just going to act like banks and get less interested in our members, it's not going to last."

In a candid interview with The Credit Union Journal, Maddux addressed everything from criticism about his lengthy term on the board to accusations that CUs no longer deserve tax-exempt status.

Service Before Asset Size

"When I started, most credit unions were small and only represented one or two entities," he said. "They were not as anxious to get larger as they were to serve. Coming up with that type of background, service is what I think credit unions are all about."

In 1950, Maddux, then 23, was asked to serve as collector of Seaboard Credit Union's Raleigh, N.C. site. A few years later, when he was promoted and transferred to Savannah, Ga., he volunteered as treasurer of the sole sponsor's local CU.

Maddux said his initial duties came with a cigar box and $5 in change. "And if that didn't balance, I had to pay out of my own pocket."

During his service in Savannah, Maddux said he assisted state regulators in dissolving a CU in Columbus, Ga., performing a feat never before accomplished-he collected 100% of all outstanding debts.

As was the nature of the railroad industry, Maddux was transferred again, this time to Richmond, Va. There, he became the CU's volunteer president until he left for Jacksonville, Fla., in 1980. Two years later, Maddux was elected to SCU's board of directors.

Maddux said he doesn't take seriously complaints that long-time board members stifle progress. "Some of the people who have done the best work haven't been the youngest," he said. "Just look at the Supreme Court."

It's not the age of the board member, he said, rather his passion and respect for the position. It's those "that don't attend meetings or don't serve on committees or don't want to help in the cases where nobody else will step in" that cause problems for boards, he said.

Maddux said it has been his belief that the hardest working members, no matter their age, are worth keeping.

"You only keep the active ones who have the credit union way up at the top of their priorities," he said. "I feel very strongly that to have good board meetings, you must have active committee meetings."

He said the best board members-and CEOs, for that matter-have three strong qualities: they like people, they have integrity, and they are educated.

He said for every hour that his board meets, the chairman should spend three hours preparing. If done right, no meeting should last more than an hour an a half, he said. "If you are going to get good people and keep good people, you can't keep them there all night. Board meetings should be just to finalize things."

Maddux said his goal has always been to recruit as little as possible.

"If you get that person that has the credit union mentality-people helping people-and the reality to want to live it, you hang on to them. You can teach the person with the right attitude but you can't teach someone whose there just to add the title to their resume."

During Maddux's tenure in Jacksonville, SCU with $100 million in assets, has built a new corporate office, changed its name, expanded its field of membership, adapted to technological changes, hired a new CEO, and introduced many new products and services.

"We have to help those who come on board understand that back when credit unions started, young employees couldn't get loans anywhere."

Maddux recalled the days when he had to jump through major hoops just to get a $50 loan and remembered how excited fellow employees were when they learned how easy it was to borrow from their credit union.

With technology playing such a major role in the industry's evolution, he said, it's going to get much harder maintain a distinction from banks. "Back then, credit unions could offer more and give better rates," he said.

Banks Are Catching Up

While his wish is that CUs stay true to their roots, the challenge is on. "For years and years, when you mentioned credit unions, they ranked very high on service," he said. "But now the banks are getting better on service, too."

He said the competition isn't just about rates. It's about which institution can do the best job and treat their customers or members the best.

While Congress hasn't been quick to respond to the bankers' pleas that CUs be taxed, Maddux senses a change soon.

"It's getting more troublesome all the time because credit unions have been getting into areas where banks have been, especially with real estate loans," he said, noting that some industry insiders that he's talked with have said they "really don't mind" if the government decides to tax them as they can afford it.

"I think tax exemption was something to get credit unions started," he said. "I don't know that taxation is a problem now. It'll probably pass on the next round (of Congressional hearings).

Maddux considers himself lucky. At 78, he says his health still allows him to play tennis with the 55-plus crowd. "And I don't lose to them."

He recalled a recent conversation with a fellow tennis player that put his volunteerism into perspective. "He told me that he educated all four of his children on credit union money. That's what it's all about for me."

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