After 30 years in the credit union movement – and more than 20 of them spent at $2.8 billion-asset Baxter Credit Union – CEO Mike Valentine has become known as “the quintessential relationship guy.”

That’s according to Carey Price, SVP and chief retail officer at Vernon Hills, Ill.-based BCU, and that sentiment was echoed by Chief Lending Officer Jim Block.

“Mike finds people who are fighting the same fight and gets conversations started that wouldn’t have started otherwise,” said Block.

Valentine started in the credit union industry in 1984 when a head hunter from BCU noticed he was working for Household Finance Corporation, a provider of consumer-lending products. Ten years later, after working through several departments and earning his MBA, Valentine was named CEO of the credit union.

As Valentine moved up in his career, he watched how each part of a credit union connects to the other. Now as CEO, he finds ways to connect people within his CU and within the industry to solve problems. Because of his lifetime of achievements and dedication to credit unions, he was inducted into the Credit Union Executives Society’s Hall of Fame in October, and his leadership style influenced six BCU employees who moved on to become CEOs at other credit unions and credit union organizations.

Mike Valentine, president and CEO of Baxter Credit Union
Mike Valentine, president and CEO of BCU

“I’ve always believed you hire people better than you and get out of the way,” Valentine said. “It’s a collaborative style of leadership, not a dictatorship.”

More than a mentor

Among those who have gone on from Baxter to become CEOs of other credit unions or credit union service organizations is Bob McKay, whom Valentine hired in 1995. After five years, McKay was named BCU’s chief operating officer, and today is president and CEO of St. Louis, Mo.-based Anheuser-Busch Employees’ Credit Union and Divisions. At Anheuser-Busch Employees’ CU McKay takes his cues from one of many lessons he learned under Valentine’s tutelage.

“Myself and my executive management team take a leadership role in the community and industry,” said McKay.

When John Bratsakis – current CEO of the Maryland & DC Credit Union Association – took over as CEO of Gurnee, Ill.-based Community Trust Credit Union, Valentine called him to welcome him to the neighborhood and asked if there was anything he could do to help Bratsakis get adjusted. “He enjoys getting projects done within the credit union and even in the industry,” recalled Bratsakis.

Later, when the two were having a long conversation at a CEO event, Valentine suggested Bratsakis come work for him.

“The rest is history,” Bratsakis said. “Within sixty or ninety days I was working with Mike.”

Bratsakis reminded that collaboration has long been a major driver for the credit union community, and he has found that Valentine has never been much for keeping good ideas to himself.

“He likes working together with people and believes that more ideas and viewpoints put into the process, the better the decision and outcome,” said Bratsakis.

Looking for partners

Even when it comes to finding vendors for financial services, Valentine wants companies whose goals align with BCU’s goals. “We really look for a partner not a vendor,” he said. “Someone with skin in the game with us.”

One component of BCU’s business model is tied to adding select employee groups regularly. Chief lending officer Block attributes part of the credit union’s success at attracting SEGs to Valentine’s ability to form and leverage relationships.

When members move from one company to another, that gives BCU an avenue to approach other organizations about becoming a SEG. This is often where Valentine can find an open door to meet BCU’s goals: To add a large company every two years and small companies consistently each year.

Because of this strategy, BCU sees asset growth each year ranging from 12 to 18 percent. A bad year usually means only single-digit growth.

“When you’re adding these companies there is an impact over the whole organization,” Block said. “We’re looking for companies that are good companies that invest in their employees and care about their financial care so they can invest side-by-side with us.”

Being on the board at PSCU gave Valentine valuable education and training for being a CEO. It was there that he realized the importance of having a board that holds its director accountable and gives them space to make mistakes. He’s also on the CUNA Mutual board of directors, and has spent time serving on panels for the Filene Research Institute and Visa, among others.

And Valentine has high expectations for his senior executives – he wants them to not just be a manager in a building, but to have an impact on the credit union movement as a whole and to be involved with CUSOs and other business partners.

“It forces you to raise your game,” Block said.