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.”