The Unskilled and The 'Idiots,' Prima Donnas and Iron Mike

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More bits and pieces from — if not of — the road.

What about the issue of having outside directors on the board? During the 1 Credit Union Conference co-hosted by CUNA and the World Council, Louise Petschler, CEO of Abacus-Australian Mutuals, a trade group that represents Australia's 163 CUs and mutual societies (and who noted Americans complaining about adjusting to new interchange rules should be aware Australia's CUs dealt with this issue three years ago), said boards of Australian CUs must conduct skills tests. If a weakness is detected, a person with that skill set is brought to the board.

But Petschler also reminded, as did several others, that "you can have the best governance model in the world and still have terrible governance."

• At the same meeting, when panelists were asked why, as speaker and author Jim Collins had observed, credit unions have the best deal for consumers yet those same consumers aren't flocking to CUs, CUNA's Chief Economist Bill Hampel responded by pointing out the legacy of limited FOMs, consumer inertia, and a not-for-profit mindset that isn't as aggressive as other institutions.

Australia's Petschler was a bit more succinct: "Some people are idiots," she said, eliciting a round of applause. Nonetheless, Australia's CUs are rolling out a national ad campaign to raise awareness.

• One of the most highly attended sessions during the 1 CU Conference had to do with the issue that is also No. 1 with credit unions: what about the state of the corporates? While civil, it was clear the air was as charged as the neon signs just outside. During a panel discussion on the future of corporate credit unions, a board member in the audience from New York City's Municipal CU stood to say with a bit of anger, "We call them 'legacy assets,' NCUA calls them 'toxic.' We can't even be honest. I think anybody who is using their corporate is out of their minds. We can't afford to have this happen again; it's insane."

While that line drew emotional applause from the audience, Georgia CU Affiliates' CEO Mike Mercer brought the room back to Earth with this: "We don't stand to gain by deciding who should have done what. The corporates were governed by boards made up of credit unions, and natural-person credit unions would move their business for an additional three or four basis points. We, the credit union system, created the need for the risks that were taken. The problems came from a myriad of conditions that credit union leaders created."

You can find more from Mr. Mercer and many others in the July 26 and Aug. 2 issues as part of Credit Union Journal's special report on corporates, and can search any of the coverage at

• Observed by Gene Blishen, general manager of British Columbia's Mt. Lehman Credit Union: "IT execs are like prima donnas. They like to build empires and they like to tell everyone what can't be done. They speak a different language." Then he added, "There are business rules and there are IT rules."

• At NAFCU's annual meeting at Chicago's Navy Pier, outgoing chairman Brad Beal noted he had served three terms of three years each, summing it up in a way his audience would certainly understand: "I have finally reached maturity."

In his last remarks as chair, Beal observed, "Credit unions' historic mission of service is more relevant than ever. The recent financial crisis is a painful reminder of credit union ideals. If every bank had embraced credit union ideals would not be in the crisis we are in today. I can't remember a time when everyday people needed a credit union more. We have a responsibility to step up. Credit unions were created for times like these."

• NAFCU reported that despite the recession, during the past 10 years the association has nearly doubled its net worth to $9 million.

• NAFCU President Fred Becker noted during his remarks that the country's population has become more diverse than at any time in U.S. history, with various minority groups making up 40% of the citizenry, and he called on credit unions to recognize and reflect that diversity. But the same can't be said for NAFCU's board, which remains all white and has just one female member.

• Mike Ditka, who has become an iconic legend in Chicago for both his playing and coaching careers with the Bears, keynoted NAFCU's opener, and not surprisingly he leaned on a number of football analogies when it came to talking about leadership.

"There is no one person who is born a great leader," said Ditka. "I think over a period of time you develop skills of leadership and getting people to understand your game plan makes sense. To be a success, you have to put the right people in the right places in any organization."

Ditka, who signed with the Bears in 1961 for a $12,000 salary and $6,000 bonus, said his greatest thrills were not the individual accomplishments, but the team victories. And he shared an experience that would likely be good advice for many credit unions when it comes to staffing. When Ditka took over as coach of the Bears he gathered the team together and said, "I've got good news and bad news. The good news is this team is going to the Super Bowl. The bad news is about half of you won't be around to see it."

Frank J. Diekmann is publisher of Credit Union Journal and can be reached at

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