State Employees' CU has developed a pool of future executives and CEOs through a process its current chief executive calls "horizontal diversification."

"By that I mean that we train people aggressively in many different disciplines, leading them to become multi-skilled, multi-talented financial executives," CEO Jim Blaine told Credit Union Journal.

Whether it's in brokerage activities, investment businesses, insurance or property management, Blaine says staff are vigorously trained at the $29 billion Raleigh, N.C., institution.

And they usually start at the entry-level, as a branch teller.

"We keep you challenged, we keep you well-trained and you will learn everything," Blaine said. "If we don't have an executive spot for you here, we will assist you in getting a top job elsewhere."

Blaine pointed out that by providing real-life training in various different aspects of financial services, his executives learn not only about new types of business, but also how to formulate and implement policies. "This type of thing really doesn't exist in the big banks, where the C-suite exists in a kind of ivory tower," he noted.

This creates not only strong CEO candidates, but also very strong active C-suite executives. "We have a flattened organizational structure rather than a pyramid. We feature a dispersal of duties, so people learn many different jobs within our structure," he added.

Of course, there are only so many spots available on any one credit union — so, as an unintended consequence of such a program, some highly talented people will flee to other credit unions, but that will serve to strengthen the overall movement.

Thus, Blaine suggests that any succession plan include multiple possible CEO candidates, rather than just one.

Alabama-based consultant Dennis Dollar said CUs should do more to mentor executives from within.

Increasing training budgets and allowing promising executives to attend third-party leadership development institutes and to gain executive certifications are areas that most credit unions could probably enhance. In addition, executive development is not an afterthought at credit unions as it may have been two decades ago.

"Credit unions are larger, and the executive responsibilities have grown dramatically with their institutional growth" Dollar explained. "Developing the next generation of credit union managers and executives is vitally important for strategic-minded credit unions, and most larger credit unions are stepping to the plate with a commitment in the executive development arena."

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