From A Hand-Off, Part II, To Literally Giving A Hand

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously observed that "There are no second acts in American life." Mr. Fitzgerald never met credit unions.

This week Dave Chatfield will be at the California/Nevada leagues' annual meeting as the outgoing CEO. It's the second time he's done so. When Chatfield retired after 15 years as CEO of the leagues in 2006, he was succeeded as CEO by Bill Cheney. But Cheney left in July to take on an even bigger post, president and CEO of CUNA. That left the leagues in search of both an interim CEO and someone to take over full-time. While it searched for the latter, it found the former by tapping someone who already had "former" in his job title.

"Retirement was terrific," said Chatfield, who will be at the Disneyland Hotel this week at the leagues' annual. "People who are retired always tell you that you won't believe how busy you are when retired, and I was very busy. There is a lot to do, with kids and grandkids all around the country."

Chatfield said he had the opportunity to do a number of things when he left what were then the leagues' Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. offices, but "I pretty much wanted to stay retired. But when (league chairman) Jeff York called, he said it was a call to duty that I had to answer. They wanted someone who knew the issues."

Within CUs, the issues are often pretty consistent. But then there's that other change since Chatfield retired in 2006 ("Buy This House Now Or It Will Be Gone!!!") and when he returned 2010 ("I'll Be Gone Before Someone Ever Buys This House.")

"I'm back in the saddle, but I didn't expect it to be so lumpy and uncomfortable and on a bucking horse," offered Chatfield. "But I have been amazed at the resilience of credit unions and credit union people. These are tough times, and CU folks are tired and tattered-but they are seeing it through."

Those tough, tired and tattered times have also led folks to do something one didn't hear much about four years ago-question the credit union business model.

"I hear that sometimes and I understand how it could happen," said Chatfield, who will be replaced by Diana Dykstra. "But many folks are working through this and looking forward to easier days ahead and the same business model. Some people will decide that this is too difficult to do and that it's too tough. There will be a few of those, but others will be resilient."

Chatfield, who initially retired to a life that is right out of one of those insurance company retirement plan commercials, with houses in Hawaii and Alaska, has since moved again and now is living in Prescott, Arizona. He said the move makes it easier for him and his wife, Kris, to visit their four children (all of whom have worked in CUs, two of whom still do) and grandchildren.

As for what's ahead for the CU community, "There will still be mergers, for the right reasons if it's to enhance member service, and for the wrong reasons if it's to build empires," he said. "Small and mid-size credit unions especially still find that collaboration is the way to survive, and there is more of this taking place."

As for Retirement Part II, Chatfield said he may still work on a few small CU projects.

Credit union staff meetings typically follow the same format, often concluding with some sort of team-building project, the effectiveness of which is the subject of much debate within the broader business community. Do employees really collaborate better after creating something out of Legos or catching one another as each falls backward?

But some CUs have discovered a team building exercise that leaves everyone feeling better. The employees of SunState FCU employees in north Florida, for instance, recently found themselves in a Best Western hotel meeting room, broken into groups of three and challenged to assemble a mystery device that came with small parts and the kind of instructions that have parents cursing on Christmas Eve. Yet when they were done there was anything but cursing.

Led by CU Philanthropy Group (just add the .org), and its co-founders, Frank and Connie Hackney, the CU teams were not told what they were working on. While it isn't a race, many of the teams still treat it that way, and then offer some assistance to others who are struggling with some of the finer pieces. Most teams meet the time deadline, but only a few deduce the function of the brown, plastic device they have put together, even as they are having their pictures taken with it.

Then comes a video, and soon the teams understand what they've just done and suddenly the day seems a lot better spent.

The functional, prosthetic hands, provided by Helping Hands, will eventually be distributed through Rotary International to children and adults in developing nations who have lost limbs to landmines, through conflict, disease and birth defects. It is estimated that there are between 25,000 and 50,000 children who have lost hands and arms due to some of the 100 million active landmines in the world. There are approximately 2,000 civilians hurt by landmines every month.

The photo of the team that assembled it is included with the prosthetic hand as it travels to the child who receives it. You have to wonder who's happier; the child, or the folks in the picture.

Frank J. Diekmann is publisher of Credit Union Journal and can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.