WASHINGTON — When Bill Cheney left the Credit Union National Association in June his successor was not known immediately, so Bill Hampel, longtime SVP of research and policy analysis and chief economist, stepped up to the plate to serve as interim CEO.
Cheney resigned his post at CUNA to take over as CEO of $10.2 billion-asset SchoolsFirst FCU in Santa Ana, Calif. Hampel, who made it clear from the start that he was not in contention for the permanent CEO post, filled in until Jim Nussle took his place in September. During that time Mike Schenk, CUNA's vice president of economics and statistics, became interim chief economist.
After Nussle was named permanent CEO, Hampel gained an additional title: chief policy officer. The newly created position meant Hampel will advise both Nussle and Chief of Staff Rich Meade on key strategic initiatives for the trade association, in addition to his duties as chief economist.
After an extraordinarily busy summer — which included dealing with a proposed NCUA regulation that sparked more controversy and more comment letters than any issue in the credit union movement's history — Credit Union Journal talked with Hampel to get his views on his time in the top spot at the nation's largest credit union trade association.
Credit Union Journal: What did you learn during your time as acting CEO? How different was it from your normal duties?
Hampel: What stood out the most was the huge, continuous flow of information and requests. There was always something going on, incoming and outgoing. People want to talk to the organization, and they want to do so through the office of the CEO. There were requests for a response, requests for CUNA to take a position and many others. I am used to answering questions, but I had to learn that many of the requests I needed to refer to other people for comment. They were not personal questions to me, but institutional questions. I had to learn when to refer to [senior vice president and deputy general counsel] Mary Dunn or [SVP legislative affairs] Ryan Donovan.
The other thing is you are never off when you are CEO of CUNA. When you go home at night the last thing you have to do before you go to sleep is to check all the e-mails that came in from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
This means there was sleep deprivation. I normally wake up two or three times a night, look at the clock, and roll over and go back to sleep. During those months, I would wake up, and my mind would start racing, thinking about all the things I had read in those e-mails. I would start thinking about having to get people together to solve problems.
There was a big difference between being analytical, as an economist, and being the leader of an organization. You cannot just tell people what to do, you have to keep people involved and allow them to give input. You have to create an atmosphere. I did not have that experience in the previous, short, 40-year career I had before.
It was kind of fun, but I am glad I am not doing that any more. I have been at CUNA as an economist for 36 years — and have managed to do OK at it. Every year there is a different issue to deal with, which keeps it fresh. It is comfortable for me to do that. The leadership issue was new and different. I learned a lot doing it and I had fun doing it.
The way people responded it seemed it worked pretty well.
CU Journal: What was the biggest issue you had to deal with during your tenure as acting CEO?
Hampel: Risk-based capital was the biggest external issue I had to deal with (see related story, page 10), and that started back in January. The other big issue was keeping the senior team focused and energized. I wanted to keep things moving forward so when the new CEO came on board he or she would find a cohesive team that kept the ball moving forward.
Back in the (Other) Saddle
CU Journal: How has the transition been back to being chief economist? How has your job changed with the addition of the title "chief policy officer"?
Hampel: It really has not changed from what I was doing for the last 15 to 20 years. The chief economist has always been involved in policy discussions, whether it be if CUNA should take a position on something the regulator is proposing or another issue. The title is a recognition of what I have been doing at CUNA rather than a change.
Mike Schenk did a really great job as acting chief economist, so when I eventually retire, we know we have a really strong person to step in.
CU Journal: How do you like working with Jim Nussle?
Hampel: I really admire him and like him. He made the transition very easy by going out of his way early on to recognize what happened while I was in his office. It was really easy to transfer over to Jim Nussle, because he is really an impressive guy. He is a very good leader, a decent human being and he wants to do right by credit unions, so he is really easy to follow. I know the organization is in really capable hands.
It is easy for anyone in senior management at CUNA to say we are happy with Jim Nussle, but I really mean it. I told him after a few weeks he is either a really decent human being with a talent for leadership, or a really good actor. He is going to be really good for credit unions.