Bert Hash has been CEO of Baltimore-based MECU for 17 years. When he took the helm, the credit union had one branch and $300 million in assets. When he retires in June 2014, he’ll leave an institution that today has eight branches and $1.2 billion in assets. Hash has served on the board of the Credit Union National Association for nearly a decade and is recognized as a great leader by fellow executives across the industry.
Hash’s success is well documented; what might be surprising is that this leader of the cooperative movement came from the banking industry. Before becoming CEO in 1996, Hash worked at Equitable Bank and Provident Bank of Maryland. Despite his banking background, Hash recognizes the value in promoting internal candidates to positions of leadership. In fact, when he closes his 17th floor office overlooking Baltimore’s Inner Harbour for the last time, he’ll be leaving the institution in the hands of MECU’s longest tenured employee, Gary Martin. Martin is a senior vice president and the institution’s chief lending office; he’s also been with MECU for more than 42 years.
Sometimes it’s best to bring in talent from outside the industry. Sometimes it makes more sense to hire from within. MECU has now done both.
Security Service Federal Credit Union ($7.7B, San Antonio, TX) tries to promote from within its ranks of more than 1,600 employees before looking outside the credit union or the industry, says John Worthington, SSFCU’s executive vice president and chief communications officer.
“It’s to our benefit if we can hire from within because we’ve got someone who has credit union experience and they know the culture at Security Service,” he says. “We don’t have to do a lot of training with somebody who is already part of the team.”
If there is not a qualified internal candidate, then Security Service next looks to the broader credit union industry. SSFCU values credit union experience in almost any position, but it is especially important for those member-facing, member-service positions. In the member service arena, Security Service values credit union experience because these are the employees who interact directly with members and potential members.
“From a relationship standpoint, you want to have people who have a basic understanding of the credit union industry,” Worthington says. “Someone who has worked for another credit union is likely to understand the industry. They understand credit unions and how we go about being a people-helping-people operation.”
If the credit union has to look beyond the credit union industry, then it tries to find candidates with financial experience and sales or customer service experience. Credit union experience isn’t as essential in non-member facing positions and it can be beneficial to look outside the credit union industry to fill those jobs that require technical expertise that might not be available within the organization. For example, according to Worthington, the credit union might be better off filling an IT position with top talent from outside the credit union industry.
That’s a sentiment echoed by Barbara Winstead, vice president of human resources at Heritage Federal Credit Union ($454.3M, Newburgh, IN). Winstead says her institution has had trouble filling specialized positions in IT.
“We’ve had a programming position open since June,” she said in October 2013. “It’s specific to our core processor, so that makes it difficult to find the [right] individual.”
In addition to posting jobs online and on social media, Heritage also advertises on league boards to attract candidates with credit union experience. And when identifying success factors, Winstead makes a distinction between learned and intangible skills.
“Can they talk to a member?” she asks. “Can they provide that quality service? Do they understand that that member coming through the door is the most important thing going on at that time?
“Sometimes that’s hard to teach,” she continues. “We can teach someone how to balance a drawer. We can teach someone how to take a loan application. We can teach someone how to open an account. But service is a hard thing [to teach] if they don’t have it coming in.”
Luckily for Heritage, the credit union is in a position where it can be picky with job applicants, Winstead says. Security Service can also afford to be picky. According to Worthington, the credit union hires only about 5% of the people it interviews. And when Martin takes the helm at MECU, the credit union can rest assured knowing after a nationwide search that yielded more than 60 qualified candidates, Hash and the board chose the best successor around.