Wright-Patt Credit Union ($2.8B, Beavercreek, OH) is launching its seventh annual Savings Race in October. Initiatives like this seven-month team challenge and the credit union's yearly patronage dividend payout are how the Ohio-based cooperative makes itself indispensible to the people it serves. As of second quarter 2014, the credit union had 28 branches, more than 282,000 members, and a wealth of select employee groups spread across a 10-county footprint.
Doug Fecher, the credit union's CEO, started his career as a teller in a small financial cooperative in Hamilton, OH. He joined Wright-Patt Credit Union in 1995 as the vice president of lending and moved up to chief operating officer before finally taking the helm in 2000.
"One of the greatest blessings ever is that I found myself in the credit union industry versus the banking industry when I graduated college," Fecher says. "It didn't take me too long to figure out that, at the end of the day, we get measured by how many people we help and not by how much money we make.
Here, Fecher talks about leadership and what he learned during his first months as CEO.
CU QUICK FACTS
Wright-Patt Credit Union
HQ: Beavercreek, OH
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 6.18%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 19.35%
How did you become CEO of Wright-Patt Credit Union?
Doug Fecher: I had been at the credit union about five years when the CEO passed away suddenly. I was the chief operating officer at the time. The board named me interim CEO within 72 hours and then CEO six months later.
What was the biggest hurdle you faced when you became CEO?
DF: I was the newest member of senior management and overnight went from being a peer to being the boss.
Why was that an issue?
DF: Every time I tried to challenge the status quo — even about relatively innocuous decisions — it turned into a bigger fight than it needed to be. I tried to build consensus too much out of the sense of wanting everybody to get along; as a result, I didn't established my authority in the early days or months.
How did you solve that?
DF: On straightforward issues, I started to say, "This is what we're going to do." On more difficult issues, we had more conversation.
What was a straightforward issue?
DF: We had casual labor fold, stuff, and mail 150,000 member statements printed from our mainframe computer every month. I decided to hire a statement processor because that would be cheaper.
What were the credit union's more difficult problems?
DF: Wright-Patt has always been a profitable credit union, but we were underperforming in terms of value delivered to members and value delivered to employees. We weren't growing. We weren't anywhere close to realizing our potential.
Who did you look to for leadership guidance?
DF: Informally, I talked with peers that were CEOs and had been for a while. Formally, I asked the board for an executive coach for one year.
Describe your leadership style now.
DF: I ask myself how I would react if I were on the other side of the table. What would I want to see happen? The key to this is that I have established authority in a reasonable way, which I had not done before.
What would you do differently if you had it all to do again?
DF: I would meet with everyone on my senior management team for two reasons: one, to find out who's with me and who might not be; and two, to hear what they would do if they were in my shoes regarding the very real problems of the credit union. I didn't do this back then and wouldn't have known to do it, but this would have gotten everybody talking about the real problems so we're not dwelling on who's in charge.
Whether you do it overtly or not, your actions will decide what the organization is going to stand for, what values it’s going to have, and what’s going to be important to it.
What have you learned during your time as CEO?
DF: The one thing the CEO gets to do is determine the character and values the organization will stand for. Whether you do it overtly or not, your actions will decide what the organization is going to stand for, what values it's going to have, and what's going to be important to it.
Editor's Note: Some leadership lessons are timeless. The reflections above were excerpted from a 2011 interview.