Thoughts On Acheiving 'Perfect Balance'

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Charlie Grossklaus, the well-known CEO of Royal Credit Union here has announced plans to retire on Jan. 2, 2012. Grossklaus has been with RCU for 40 years, the last 26 as CEO (just RCU's second CEO since it was founded in 1964).

During his career Grossklaus has overseen growth to more than $1 billion in assets from $100 million, including the 2010 purchase of 11AnchorBank offices. Today, RCU has 582 employees, 25 branches and serves 18 counties in Wisconsin and 12 counties in Minnesota.

Below, Grossklaus offers his thoughts in this Credit Union Journal Exit Interview.

CU Journal: How did you come to be involved in credit unions? How have your impressions changed since then?
Grossklaus: I was hired as a collector at RCU in 1971, when it was a $5-million credit union. At the time, I was not familiar with the philosophies of credit unions. I became very involved in the credit union movement, and became increasingly inspired by the philosophies. Beginning as a collector formed how I view members. Members who were facing difficulty staying current helped me to learn to view the situation from the member's perspective. The experience helped me forge an enduring affiliation with members. From those early days, focusing on member impact became an anchor principle I embraced. Assessing the effect on members has been one of my core drivers as I've guided RCU to where it is today. The one thing most people don't always appreciate as an organization evolves is the ability to stay focused on the needs and feelings of members. Today, RCU is a $1.2 billion institution serving more than 130,000 members, but our focus remains the same as it was when we first started.

CU Journal: What lessons have you learned during your career about successfully driving and managing growth?
Grossklaus: As my career evolved and RCU grew, I quickly learned that a great way to keep your member focus is to align with employees who have similar philosophies. One of our critical successes has been to hire, train and inspire the best employees. I believe it's easier to help employees adjust and evolve with the organization than it is to implant perceived experts. I'm especially proud of our many employees who started in branches serving members. Their personal drive and determination pushed them to excel. Many are now key members of our leadership team. Over the years, our board of directors has also been critical to our success. I have been fortunate to work with board members who demonstrate focus and clear commitment to making RCU the financial institution of choice in the communities we serve. Another area critical to the success of RCU is our focus on communities. Members rely on their communities for prosperity and growth. Identifying what is important to these communities and then taking action to make a real difference helps us to meet our member's needs. The process is the same for members and employees. In order to help them achieve their goals we need to stay close to them, listen to what is important and ask how they feel about RCU.

CU Journal: RCU has had a number of successful business lines, including Member Business Lending. What has been your strategy here, and has it evolved?
Grossklaus: RCU has been a community credit union for many years and community involvement is one of our key focus areas to keep RCU successful. One of our duties as a prominent financial in all of our communities is to serve consumers and small business owners. Over the last 30 years the net income from business relationships has given us the opportunity to help all of our members. For example, we offer service seven days a week and operate more than 20 school-site offices that teach our children how to save. We've seen the effect of these efforts as we hear stories of these kids teaching their younger siblings and their parents what they have learned. We also have several student employees that have stayed with us through college and beyond for a professional career.

As any successful organization grows, the need for more sophistication and enhancements to control quality and efficiency exists. This comes in the form of highly experienced commercial lenders and proven outsource consultants such as the CU Business Group (CUBG).

CU Journal: Among the most notable headlines related to RCU was its acquisition of 11 AnchorBank branches. How did that come about, and can you describe the process of bringing both customers and employees into RCU's (and the credit union) culture?
Grossklaus: RCU targeted the region serviced by AnchorBank in our five-year strategic plan. Our history has shown us that we can be successful merging with smaller credit unions and produce great results. Our plan was to build an office each year, which included some of the communities that AnchorBank served. Purchasing the 11 offices and integrating 114 trained bank employees who were involved in the communities brought us creditability and collateral. The employees of AnchorBank shared many of the same principals and philosophies as RCU's employees. They cared for their customers and their communities just as we care for our members and the towns in which they live. The attitude of the AnchorBank employees helped foster a team spirit during the transition process.

Too often mergers leave employees and members feeling isolated or like they've experienced a takeover. Staying true to our focus on Members, employees and communities, we specifically created unique and exhaustive integration efforts. The real secret was our focus on the employees and the members during and throughout the transition so that they all felt like a part of the RCU family from day one.

CU Journal: What have you learned about managing people during your career?
Grossklaus: I have learned to surround myself with knowledgeable, dedicated and hardworking people who embrace the principles and philosophies of RCU. I have also learned that listening can be far more beneficial than talking. The voices of the employees, board of directors, members and the communities have guided the direction of this credit union and will continue to shape its future for years to come. My advice is, if you want loyalty and trust, you need to give it first. I've found that people respond to honest and trustworthy relationships. I've found that employees, who connect with our members and at the same time are able to deliver results, provide the perfect balance to support RCU's mission. I've found that balance allows us to focus on our business objectives while never losing sight of the needs of members and community.

CU Journal: What is your view on the future of credit unions, if there is to be one?
Grossklaus: Well-managed credit unions have a strong future, as long as laws and regulations do not hinder our growth. Looking back, I think the same principles and focus areas of members, employees and communities will continue to serve credit unions well. At RCU, our success comes from our determined commitment to these three focus areas. We work to make decisions with these principles serving as our guide. As long as we are able to stay true to our mission without becoming over-regulated, there is no limit to the potential of credit unions. Put simply, we exist to serve our members, not profit from them.

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