Your legacy, and the changing of the credit union guard

I don’t know about you, but I’m having a difficult time seeing credit union friends nearing the end of their career and heading off into retirement. Over the years, I’ve been blessed to work with some remarkable credit union people, amazing people who helped me and set a great example for me to follow. Friends like Bob Schumacher. I had a difficult time seeing Bob retire (although it’s great to still see his mug on some of the CUDE workshop posts). Bob, or “Schu” as he is affectionately known, has helped a lot of credit union people, including me. It was Bob who reached out to me many years ago and encouraged me to become a credit union consultant. He believed in me at a time when I really needed it. Bob was our very first client. It was also Bob who encouraged me (incessantly) to complete the CUDE program. I did, and it definitely left a lasting impact on me that has shaped the type of work we do on behalf of underserved communities here at Your Credit Union Partner. Simply put, Bob helped me help others.

Another I’m going to have a hard time with is the retirement of Richard Cooper, President/CEO at Mendo Lake Credit Union. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy for him and he definitely deserves a great retirement! It’s just that it’s been so fun to collaborate with him and his team. They’re passionate and have impacted tens of thousands of underserved consumers, had remarkable growth, and received more than $5 million in CDFI grants.

I’ve just listed two that are top-of-mind, but a good chunk of our colleagues will retire in the next few years. Thinking about Bob and Richard led me to reflect on their legacy and my own.

What is your legacy?

If you are or have been a leader in the credit union movement, you’ve created a legacy. Hopefully, it’s a legacy you can be proud of. We all have different talents and pursue a wide range of different things that are important to us. From my perspective, here are a few examples of the types of accomplishments worthy of a legacy:

Inspired and developed people. In a movement built on “people helping people,” this should be a top priority. Did your example inspire others to develop, grow, and become better people? Or did you support a toxic culture that churned through talent and burned out really good people? Did you encourage and challenge those around you to stretch and try new things? Or did you take most of the credit for yourself? As Sir Richard Branson has said, “have you trained people well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they don’t want to?” Or have you withheld training opportunities because they cost money, or because staff may become more educated than yourself?

Developed a thriving credit union (or department) that will be relevant for the next 10 years. Every now and then, I’ll hear “the CU just needs to make it for another three or four years until I retire.” This is always disappointing, and it’s very self-serving. This isn’t people helping people – it’s people helping you, and it’s not right. Is your credit union well-capitalized, profitable, and growing? Or is it just floating along, treading water? Has your credit union carved out its unique niche; has it become number one or number two in your local market? Do you have the right people in place to fill your shoes, and do they have the skill sets needed to take the credit union forward? Or will the next leader have to make broad staff changes when they arrive to get the talent they need?

Made a significant mark on the community. We serve many different communities that can be defined by geography, employers, and associations. Regardless of how you define community, have you made a positive mark for the good? Has your credit union made a meaningful and material difference in the lives of your membership and your community? Are people better off because you were there? Of course any credit union can probably say that it benefited members with lower fees and better rates. In this regard, we are the gold standard. However, I challenge you to look a little deeper. During your tenure, were you able to help people that others didn’t want to? Did you encourage your team to help people who were experiencing challenges and may not have had anywhere else to turn? Did your organization work with other organizations to fight a community problem, like hunger, homelessness, or poverty? When you are gone, how long will your community remember your name or impact?

Why your legacy matters

I’m one of those old-timers who believes the credit union space is a movement. A hundred-year movement that is still worthy of great effort and lofty goals. To me, credit union service is so much more than a job, and I believe that under the right leadership, others will see it that way also. It’s a movement that has improved the lives of millions of people and thousands of communities. More than ever, great leadership is needed to carry our torch forward for the next 100 years. We need great leaders who place people (including staff) before profits, build strong and viable organizations and fight for better communities, and who will champion the underserved.

I have a long list of credit union leaders and friends I admire, people who have positively impacted my life: Filene, Bergengren, Herring, Mikkelson, Moody, Earl, DeFilippi, Schumacher, Schillios, Cooper, Fonseca, and dozens of other amazing people. I can’t imagine where I’d be without their leadership and examples.

The torch is being past to many of our young and up and coming leaders. To these new leaders, I issue a challenge to build upon our movements great legacy and take it to the next level. You’re our great hope. It’s in your hands to make a lasting mark on our movement and sustain us for the next 100 years. We believe in you!