Retired CEOs Offer Lessons No Classroom Can Teach

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MELBOURNE, Fla.-Credit union CEOs and senior managers continue to enroll in post-graduate courses to burnish their education, but textbooks and classrooms can't effectively teach people skills.

Those are learned on the job and are some of the most important attributes of successful CU executives, according to three CEOs who spoke with Credit Union Journal. All are members of Credit Union Retired Executives (CURE), an online service that allows current CU leaders to ask questions of retired credit union executives.

Ed Baranowski, president of the Topics Unlimited, a consulting firm here, believes the importance of people skills needs to be emphasized in more education classes for credit union executives, because too many people today lean on social networking and e-mail to communicate. "Everyone is Tweeting and texting and relying on computers. The face-to-face interaction and team building is dropping by the wayside," Baranowski offered.

During his tenure as CEO of the University of Wisconsin CU in Madison, Wis. and then later as president of FAIRWINDS CU in Orlando, Fla., Baranowski learned that people skills always helped him get the best out of his employees, as well as with NCUA, examiners, and boards. "I managed credit unions for over 40 years and never got into trouble with the board or with regulators-even when they took stern action," said Baranowski. "I did not get into a heated discussion. I thanked the regulator for bringing things to my attention and asked for ways to solve the problem. Lots of times during the exam process I was able to get a board policy or procedure changed and I gave credit to the examiner for their input."

Getting along with others, especially Gen Y, and having the skills to get the most out of this demographic, is a something credit union executives need to pay more attention to, suggested Nancy Mattox. Mattox just took over as CEO of the $7-million Priority FCU in Russellville, Ark., after a five-year retirement. Previously she ran Seaboard CU in Jacksonville, Fla., for 25 years. "You won't find how to deal with Gen Y anywhere in textbooks," said Mattox. "And how you have dealt with your more seasoned workers over the years will not work with Gen Y. They are a totally different breed."

Mattox contends that Gen Y are more independent than those who have preceded them in the workforce, and they like to have free time to text or use social networking. Ignore that need and you will not get quality-or a great deal-of work out of a Gen Y employee, and you won't keep them on staff for long, she insisted.

"It is very important to Gen Y to give them some latitude on the job, and time to do their texting and social networking," Mattox said. "You have to be flexible with them and just manage the policy abusers."

Mattox said Gen Y also requires a lot more praise. "Treat them right and you will have loyal, hard workers with you for many years."

In Salt Lake City, Utah, Gordon Dames, SVP-national accounts for the San Antonio-based SWBC and former CEO of Mountain America CU in Salt Lake City for 19 years, contends that more courses should emphasize that importance of putting the member first in every decision that is made.

"It is such a simple concept, but I think pressure on growth can take people in another direction, leading them to overlook the importance of always making sure that every decision that is made is in the best interest of members," Dames said.

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