August 2016 | 

Developing Credit Union Leaders: CEO Institute

Developing Credit Union Leaders: CEO Institute

The credit union industry is facing a challenge many others can relate to — its top executives are nearing or at retirement, creating a potentially massive talent void. But instead of relying on individual institutions to come up with their own solutions, as many industries are doing, the Credit Union Executives Society, or CUES, stepped in to help.

“Credit unions need the bench strength to fill the positions of retiring baby boomers,” says Christopher Stevenson, senior vice president and chief learning officer at CUES, “Leadership development has always been important, but now it is critical.”

To meet that need, CUES reached out to three of the world’s top business schools to develop CEO Institute, a three-module program designed to strengthen the strategic and individual leadership of the industry’s top executives.

“We are providing world-class leadership and strategy development education for credit union leaders. In the end, it’s not just about the individuals who attend the program, though. We serve the credit union movement, and the CEO Institute helps to improve the overall system,” says Stevenson.

The first week of the custom program is held at Wharton’s Philadelphia campus, where top Wharton faculty share research, trends, and current best practices for strategic planning and maintaining a competitive advantage in changing times. Strengthening strategic leadership is particularly important for credit union executives since the last two decades have seen an influx of non-traditional players enter the financial services system. They include peer lenders, retailers such as Target and Costco, the U.S. Postal Service, and telecommunications companies (AT&T and T-Mobile) to name a few. With the breadth and depth of competition growing daily, the need to think and respond strategically is essential.

Melissa Ashley, executive vice president and CFO of Corporate One FCU, says the timing of the program was perfect for her. “Over the years I have been involved in many aspects of strategic planning, but now I am responsible for it. I considered CEO Institute last year, but when my role expanded, I knew I had to go.”

Ashley says the tools she learned during the week at Wharton are proving invaluable. “I started using them immediately. We are now creating more integration between upper management, where we create the vision, and middle management that is responsible for execution. We are setting checkpoints between the two, making sure everyone is on the same page and moving forward together.”

Kari Wilfong, executive vice president and CFO at Co-Op Financial Services, says the program broadened her perspective. “It’s easy to get myopic, focusing only on what we do day to day. The Wharton faculty challenged us to think differently and shared new approaches and tools for problem solving. We’re doing our budgeting and strategic planning now; I know what I am looking for in terms of an end result, but I’m using a variety of new tools to get there. CEO Institute challenges preconceived notions and helps you to listen and better understand why others come to different conclusions with the same set of facts or circumstances. It gets you thinking beyond the industry and makes strategic leadership come alive.”

“This is the best program available to credit unions’ executives interested in pursuing leadership and strategic effectiveness,” says Christopher Stevenson. “No other institute education is done at top-tier business schools. CUES has a terrific partnership with Wharton that has resulted in a world-class program.”