No Messes in Texas: After Career Doing Turnarounds, Ensweiler Says He Has Found a Home

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For a guy who started out working out of a 10'x12' shack in back of a motorcycle plant, Dick Ensweiler hasn't done too badly for himself.

This week he will preside over the Texas Credit Union League's annual meeting not just as its president, but also as the first league president to serve as CUNA chairman since the trade group implemented its Renewal Project. For Ensweiler, it just the latest in what has been a long and storied history within the credit union movement.

"It all started 40 years ago when I was looking for a summer job, and I worked as a teller at a credit union," Ensweiler recalled. "I hit it off with the CEO, and he told me that when I finished college and fulfilled my military obligation I should come back to the credit union, and he'd have a job for me."

But there was a catch. When Ensweiler returned to State Central CU in Milwaukee, he was told he indeed had a job-but only for two years.

"There were five guys ahead of me, all in line for the CEO's job, so he told me I had two years to learn all I could about credit unions and then I was out," he related. "It was really the first management trainee position. It was a unique education."

And it's an education that has served him well. From SCCU, Ensweiler moved on to take over Harley Davidson's credit union.

"The position opened up, and because I was the cheapest I got the job," he laughed, noting the credit union was under regulatory suspension and his job was to resurrect it, if he could.

"On my first day I walked into Harley Davidson and they took me through the plant. I had been interviewed for the job at a hotel, you see, so I hadn't seen the credit union offices yet," he told The Credit Union Journal. "We walked all the way through the plant, and then they took me out the back door, and I was wondering where they were taking me. As we headed out the door, I saw a guard shack, no more than a 10'x12' space, and that was the credit union office. At 8 a.m., a terrible rumbling started up, and it just kept going and wouldn't stop, so I asked what it was.

"It turns out that when you buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle, one in four are actually taken out on the road and test driven-and I often thought that sounded like a job I'd like to have, test driving the Harleys-but the other three out of four, the engine is mounted on a frame, and they start it up and run it to make sure it's working properly. And it just so happens the engines were tested right under the windows of the credit union."

In what would become characteristic of Ensweiler's career, he helped get the credit union out of regulatory suspension and got it back into good shape-but where was the fun in that?

"Once we had it running well, I got bored," he said, so it was time to find another challenge. It came in the form of the Michigan Credit Union League, where Ensweiler helped rebuild the then troubled league. Not long after getting things ship-shape in Michigan, Ensweiler "got bored" again, so when he heard about an opening at the Minnesota league, he jumped at it.

From there, he headed to the Illinois CU League, which was having troubles of its own at the time. Ensweiler spent 10 years at the league before "getting bored" once more with how well things were going again. Ensweiler left the Illinois league and moved to Madison, Wis., in July of 1994 to take a position as vice president of the Plan America program. He moved onto become executive VP-corporate and public relations.

But in 1995, while still in Madison, Ensweiler heard about the embattled Texas Credit Union League. "The annual meeting the year before I came on board was highly contentious. The league was in severe financial difficulties, and they had to sell off some of their most important assets-their building and the item processing operation," he commented. "Morale was low among league staff, the member credit unions' confidence in the league was low."

For a man who is easily bored when things are running too well, the TCUL job was a dream come true, and iheonce again pulled up roots and headed to the Lone Star State.

"We have really come alive. Last year was the league's most profitable year ever, and we had phenomenal legislative success, truly a superb year," he offered. "We were told we weren't going to get anywhere legislatively, but we did, and we did that even though our senior vice president of advocacy walked out mid-session and I had to take that over personally until we could bring Buddy Gill on board. I'm very proud of what we've done at the Texas Credit Union League."

Not Bored This Time

But, with 10 years under his belt at TCUL and all that success, isn't Ensweiler starting to get a little, well, bored? "No, no, no," he chuckled. "I made a commitment to my family and to the board. I like living in Texas, and I want to retire in Texas. I am enjoying this very much."

Over the years, Ensweiler has become known as something of a Mr. Fix-It, having been called in to resurrect troubled credit unions and leagues alike, and Ensweiler has a ready answer for how he earned that reputation.

"Opportunities generally become available when there's something wrong, when there's an issue that needs to be addressed," he suggested. "Rare is the opportunity to take over something in good shape. So, these were the opportunities that came to me."

After spending much of his career in the credit union/organization repair business, Ensweiler has developed three primary strategies for approaching an organization in need. "The first thing I do is establish honest, open and forthright communication with the directors," he commented. "The board will have lots of communication and will know what's expected and will have the information they need to make good decisions.

"Second, I'm the type of guy who likes to get out with credit unions a lot. I need to know what their needs are. I like talking to them. When you are responsive to your members, good things happen," he continued. "Third, I am committed to the bottom line. You have to have the resources to make things happen."

Although Ensweiler sort of "fell into" credit unions initially, he has made a point of staying with the CU movement for four decades. "I was hooked the moment I got there," he said, referring to that very first credit union job. "I like the idea that what you do makes a difference in people's lives every day. I like every day knowing my job is to serve members. When we help credit unions, we help them help the people of the United States. I can't think of anything I'd rather do. I like the credit union purpose, the credit union structure. I like contributing to the financial well-being of my fellow citizens."

And he's passed that passion along to his sons, both of whom have worked in credit union land. Mike is vice president of new business development at Mid States Corporate-the corporate Ensweiler helped create during his tenure with the Illinois league. Jeff just recently left Texans CU in Dallas, but is still working with credit unions, just on the vendor side as a printing broker.

And though his wife, Judy, doesn't work for a credit union, she's had to learn more about the credit union community than most. "My wife of 30 years is a very special person with her own career, and she has been a real trouper," Ensweiler said. "I have been truly blessed."

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