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Why the Past Matters Today

Recently I posted two blogs that lifted stories Jeff Farver, a former credit union CEO turnaround artist, wrote for his family and friends about his career.

In three multi-year workouts, two as CEO, he saved these credit unions from liquidation. He did so in partnership with the NCUA who recognized his talents and innovative approach to resolutions. For example, his Good CU and Bad CU distinction and his ability to fashion a long term plan.

Credit union difficulties in New York City are continuing front page news.

Regret Yet Contentment

At the end of his short history, Jeff added this paragraph:

One of my regrets in retirement is the loss of fellowship with my fellow Credit union CEO’s, but especially those who were problem solvers, risk takers and cooperative adventurers. As I reflect on my career, I must acknowledge how those past successes have led to my positive outlook on the future and self-esteem and contentment.

The Regret that Should Inform Us All

Today NCUA and state regulators struggle with how to resolve problem situations. The instinct is to want them to go away. Merge them so someone else with excess capital can figure out what to do. Or in harder cases, just spend money to make the problem disappear—the most expensive and destructive option of all. Moreover, members don’t vanish when a credit union is liquidated, as we see in the example of NCUA’s mishandled taxi medallion liquidations [5].

Jeff knew that turnarounds were not a math problem to achieve the right net worth result. Competent leadership was the key. Like life itself, effective management takes multiple paths for success and flexibility for changing circumstances.

Jeff was not the only workout road warrior for the cooperative system. Other names that come to mind then and today include: Jim Ray (now deceased), Gordon Dames (former NCUA examiner), Don McKinnon, Bill Connors, Andy Hunter, John Tippets and Steve Winninger.

And it was not just RD John Ruffin but a whole class of NCUA Regional Directors who became partners with credit union workout leaders. These senior NCUA managers encouraged turnarounds not simply ending charters. Dozens of CEOs also persevered often in the face of irrational NCUA demands to downsize. They resisted the demand to shrink until the remaining capital was sufficient to meet a net worth ratio goal, but maybe not sustainable for the long term.

The Key Success Factor in CU Turnarounds

The key success factor in resolving the inevitable problems credit unions will encounter is wise leadership. When this wisdom is lacking, replaced by panic or fear for one’s reputation, then responding effectively to problems is literally short-changed. Every NCUA  response becomes a nail to be hit with a hammer, until it disappears into the wood.

Jeff characterizes the qualities needed “problem solvers, risk takers and cooperative adventurers.” He laments their absence. He modeled these necessary capabilities. That is leaders informed by the lessons of the past and the ambition for resolving credit union challenges with sustainable solutions.

Thank you, Jeff, for your life of cooperative service. Hopefully your example will inspire others to emulate your venturing spirit.

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