Notes From The Road On Errors, Heirs, Airheads, & Air

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More notes from the road, in this case, the 5, the 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to Monterey...

Do you get your best ideas in regulatory compliance meetings? That was the question posed by Eric Wahl, an artist (likely doesn't pay that well) who apparently is also a management consultant (pays better) and who has combined both skills to become a conference speaker (can pay very well). Wahl was the keynoter at the California league's Big Valley Conference in Monterey (which is actually a peninsula), where he talked about why the creative process is so often stymied within financial institutions, which is why when CU marketing directors get together they like to share I-can-top-that tales about how some of their best ideas have been thwarted by I-don't-get-it finance types. "Creativity leads to productivity, which leads to profitability," Wahl told the Californians. "Vision in financial services is going to be couched in creativity. But we are dominated by the left brain because we crave to exist in a rational, logical world, and we hesitate to venture to the other side."

Also in California... One of the most discussed job openings in the next few months will be that of CEO of the California/Nevada Credit Union League. The much-respected Dave Chatfield has announced plans to retire from the position effective April 1, 2006 (no foolin') in order to divide his time between homes in Alaska (where he and his family lived for a decade) and Hawaii (which we're guessing he and his family frequently thought of six months out of every year during that same period).

The job is high profile and not easy. Many remember the short career of Chatfield's predecessor, Chris Stewart, in the job. It requires the diplomatic skills of a UN bureaucrat in balancing the needs of the Golden State's many billion-dollar CUs (which, frankly, can afford to pay dues to a league they really don't need) and its many, many smaller credit unions (which can't afford to pay dues to the league they desperately do need).

Chatfield said he doesn't know who might succeed him (someone from inside the league? Another league president? A CU CEO? Another, gasp, outsider?), but he does have a pretty good idea of the skill set they'll need if they want to stay in Rancho Cucamonga.

"The most important thing to develop is an atmosphere of collaboration and trust, especially in this job," said Chatfield. "You really have to be able to develop good relationships and build a good team. Those relationships have to be with elected officials, employees and credit unions. I've been on all sides and this is a different job than running a credit union. That doesn't mean that someone who is a credit union CEO couldn't do the job, but they must understand that this is a difficult job. Even among trade associations it's a different animal."

Speaking of animals (sort of), I've attended many credit union functions over the years and few have ever topped the private, evening reception and dinner held by the California league in the Monterey Aquarium, where diners sat at tables amid the displays of jellyfish and other sea life. The event was sponsored by WesCorp. And speaking of WesCorp, I overheard this conversation during the trade show at the Big Valley meeting. A woman representing a vendor and apparently oblivious to her audience said in a patronizing, sing-song tone to Dick Johnson, the former CEO of WesCorp who happened to be passing by her booth: "Helloooo," she sang out, leaning forward to read his name badge. "Ohhh, you're with the Western Corporate Federal Credit Union. Wow. And what do you do there?" I didn't hear Johnson's reply, but if the woman had just looked about six booths away she might have noticed another booth, that of a certain Richard Myles Johnson Foundation. By the way, when I was speaking to Johnson about how the foundation was progressing, he said that when it was first proposed it be named after him he had to check his pulse to ensure he was still alive.

I think every credit union executive will agree that strategic consultants and planning retreats are all well and good, but the best ideas germinate when credit union folk get together in the hotel lobby bar. Here's an idea that was "strategized" during the recent CUES Nexus Conference at the Hyatt Manchester in San Diego that I have no doubt will soon be copied widely: credit union branches with floors like those in table air-hockey games where air is forced up through those tiny holes-but in this case on a much larger scale. No longer will members have to walk through the branch, they'll glide to the teller line. Is the branch manager being cold-called in person by a salesman? Just give him a push and he's out the door. Is that member meeting with the MSR a deadbeat? A little shove and he slides right over to collections. Unhappy with the configuration of the branch? Slide those desks and wall dividers around. Just remember, you read it here first.

Frank J. Diekmann is Editor of The Credit Union Journal.

Make money and the whole world will conspire to call you a gentleman. -Mark Twain

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