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Conference kicks off
Day One of the 40th edition of the Directors & CEOs Leadership Convention in Las Vegas was headlined by something Caesars Palace has seen many times it its history – a battle of heavyweights exchanging sharp blows and trash talk. In this case, instead of Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield, the “fight” was a debate over the value of adding a sales culture to credit unions. Also on Wednesday were appearances by NCUA board member Rick Metsger, legendary television news anchor Dan Rather and leadership advice from Jon Hernandez, a CEO who runs three credit unions.
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Leadership lessons from a legendary journalist
Dan Rather succeeded the legendary Walter Cronkite as evening anchor for CBS News. Prior to the switch he was warned that ratings might drop the first two years. When ratings stayed steady, Rather admits he became conceited. One night he came home and his wife told him, “If your head gets any bigger you won’t be able to fit in the front door – and to be honest, the kids and I are sick of it.” The lesson: gratitude and humility are important.

Most human beings have a quest in life. Rather said in his experience leaders want to achieve something that has to do with their passion. “To lead a noble life is to lead a life of service to others. Credit union leaders are one of the bulwarks of the community,” he said.

According to Rather, four words leaders should keep in mind are: humility, gratitude, tolerance and mercy. He added leadership excellence has to do with the phrase, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

“Those are 10 magic words, and I have actually seen leaders count off the 10 words on their fingers while they are saying it to me.”

Hearts can inspire other hearts with their fire, Rather continued. He said leaders let the fire in their own hearts inspire others. “Leaders do not just hear, they listen. To improve as a leader, improve your listening habits and skills. Great leaders are strong communicators, if not always great orators.”
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Rather praises CU leaders
Rather then listed several leaders he met during his lengthy career as a journalist, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who Rather said “lived on the knife edge of danger at all times.”

“The more dangerous it became, the quieter and more calm he became. Dr. King was fond of telling those around him, ‘One person with courage is a majority.’”

Mother Teresa had a combination of gentleness, toughness and sacrifice, Rather told the audience. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa for more than 25 years. He had the ability to forgive but not forget. The Dalai Lama was “the epitome of optimism, meditation and hard, deep study,” Rather said. “His optimism was based on very high study. Leadership excellence needs optimism. Not the foolish optimism but a deep optimism.”

Sadaam Hussein was an example of someone who took the wrong lesson from a hard life, Rather explained. Hussein, who spent some time in prison, decided if you survive, you win. “It is better to lose with honor than to win with disgrace,” Rather said. “Just surviving is not the essence of leadership excellence.”

Rather then told the audience of credit union professionals, “I appreciate what you do. I understand that most of you do volunteer work. You spend time being a bulwark in your community. I respect the fact you take it upon yourselves to take care of your neighbors. In this chaotic and difficult period in this country’s history, do not get distracted, because yours is noble work.”
NCUA board member Rick Metsger addressing the 2017 CU Directors and CEOs conference in Las Vegas.
Metsger reflects
NCUA board member Rick Metsger reminded the crowd he served as a director on a credit union board in Oregon prior to moving to Washington, D.C.:

“The board I am on now is larger in scope, but still trying to do the same job,” he said.

Wednesday was four years to the day Metsger joined the NCUA board. Speaking of the city he has called home since then, he quoted John F. Kennedy, “In Washington your friends come and go, but you accumulate your enemies.”

Metsger said he brought a credit union member/board member perspective to NCUA.

“Board members are the regulators of their credit union. They see that the credit union serves the members in a safe and sound way. The better you do your job, the less work there is for me. I have a lot of respect for what you do.”

Metsger used his remarks to discuss some of the major events from his time on the NCUA board, as well as more recent news the board has made.

The change to the member business lending rule, which Metsger pointed out went into effect almost exactly one year ago, allows credit unions to help small businesses, he said. “The average credit union business loan is $220,000. No major bank would let you in the door to waste their time for a loan of $220,000. Small businesses, collectively, make our economy grow.”

Metsger also discussed reducing the basic framework of NCUA, slimming its network of five regional offices to three regional offices. “We want to be where credit unions are five years from now. We want to be lean and mean, and have the tools to interact with you. This is an action plan, not shooting from the hip.”

Metsger reminded the audience comments on NCUA’s proposal to end the Corporate Stabilization Fund and move the assets into the Share Insurance Fund are due in three days. He also urged CUs to be “for” something, rather than just against banks or against regulations.

“It is easy to be against. But if you are serving your members, it is important to know what you are for. Review your mission statement. Make sure what you have done this year meets the mission statement. It is a living document.”

“I hope we have made a difference. I hope you are better able to compete with other financial providers. It has been an honor to serve you,” Metsger said.
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Lessons from leading 3 CUs at once
Jon Hernandez is the CEO of three credit unions that are headquartered in about a 10-mile triangle in the greater Los Angeles area: CalCom FCU, Nikkei FCU and Mattel CU.

People ask Hernandez all the time how he ended up running three CUs. He noted he started in 2002, when he was heading one credit union and another CU down the street needed help because the CEO had heart problems. When the CEO passed away Hernandez served as the interim CEO until the second credit union merged with his. Subsequently, Hernandez added two more credit unions.

“Every time I take on a new credit union I make a plan to make sure I can do handle it,” he said.

Another question Hernandez fields frequently is: What does running three credit unions look like on a day-to-day basis? He said he is physically in each CU one day per week: Monday at CalCom FCU, Tuesday at Nikkei FCU and Wednesday at Mattel CU. Thursdays are reserved for board meetings, as he sits on several boards, while Fridays he works from home.

“Weekends are for me and my family,” he said.

Leadership is invisible, Hernandez said, because leaders influence others – many of whom the leaders have never met. To be a leader at three organizations at once, he said the key is to create a culture of shared decision-making.

“Developing culture depends on four concepts: expectations, transparency, consistency and accountability,” he said. “I have a screen door policy as opposed to an open door policy. When someone brings me a problem, he or she has to have a solution first. This teaches them to think for themselves, and prepare them to be a future leader.”

All department heads at the three CUs experience accountability every day, because they are required to interface directly with internal and external auditors, and with regulators. “Because they face the examiners and prepare their own reports, they take ownership,” he assessed. “All of our new hires have to demonstrate the ability to take the initiative.”

“Push the limits,” Hernandez advised credit union leaders. “Learn from your young employees. Educate young members rather than just instructing them how to do steps.”
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CUs get a lesson in 'love'
Andy Janning, founder of NO NET Solutions, said the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.

“Ask, are we doing what is best for others? Or what is easiest on us?” he told the crowd.

In the credit union industry people use the word “love” quite a bit, Janning pointed out. He said love is more than a slogan, love is dangerous.

“When we say we love our members, that we love our employees, do we love people or do we just love their stuff? When we care more about what we can get out of people, we will be found out.”

According to Janning, love is not a feeling, love is a verb. “Love is not a competitive advantage, love is our mission. Your world awaits. Love it. Give to it.”