NORTH HIGHLANDS, Calif.-In February, $1.9-billion SAFE Credit Union announced an unusual power-sharing arrangement, with EVP/COO Dave Roughton being named president and COO, while long-time CEO Henry Wirz retained that title.

The plan is for Roughton to assume more of the day-to-day responsibilities, while Wirz dedicates more time to development of strategies and the long-term business plan. Roughton told Credit Union Journal the partnership is working well, mostly because he and Wirz have such similar mindsets.

"I have a wonderful relationship with Henry," Roughton said. "Both of us are CPAs, so we think the same way. I have known and worked with him for 25 years. He is a visionary leader. He creates a path for the credit union to move down and allows us to do our job-as evidenced by the fact we have many, many long-term employees."

According to Roughton, his new role assists him in his professional development as a leader. While five senior executives used to report to Wirz, now three do, with the CFO and CIO reporting to Roughton, whose responsibilities in the community have been expanded.

Roughton said he has always operated on the theory leaders have to surround themselves with talent and expertise.

"If you have great people, you can formulate a plan and then turn those folks loose to execute that plan," he said. "You have to hire people who are smarter than you to ensure the future of the organization. At SAFE we talk about developing the leaders behind us, and Henry walks that walk."

 

Supporting Role

Roughton said his role is to be "100% supportive" of Wirz as CEO. Roughton said his promotion helps Wirz focus on long-term strategy and to work with the board on executing that strategy.

"All kinds of things happen at a credit union on a daily basis that require decisions by executives to make sure we are helping our members improve their financial well being, and we are making decisions for the right reasons," he said. "I have been in an executive role at SAFE for 14 years, so the staff knows who I am."

The skill set to be a credit union CEO is largely the same as any other industry, Roughton asserted: a great communicator, a great judge of talent, must have an intense desire to succeed and a great work ethic.

"With all of that is a desire to drive innovation and change," he said. "The environment is always changing, and to compete and win in the marketplace is a great challenge."

The sense of responsibility is something no amount of training can prepare someone for, Roughton reported. He said when someone becomes a CEO, even when he or she gets in his/her car to go home at night, the weight of the organization remains on the leader's shoulders.

"The members and the staff depend on the CEO," he said. "Until you are in that chair you do not really understand the magnitude of that responsibility, and you have to be comfortable with it."

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