Standing on the Shoulders of Others

Recently a CEO reported on a new event for his credit union:

Earlier this month the Executive Leadership Team and the Chairman hosted the First Annual Credit Union  Alumni Breakfast with 17 retired employees and volunteers. Special thanks to key staff for their work in putting on this special event.

Today we stand on the shoulders of these employees who have come before us as they laid the solid financial, operational, and philosophical foundation upon which we are building today.

We asked each attendee to share their favorite credit union memory.  They  can be summarized simply – the PEOPLE. To a person they shared that it was the members and/or colleagues that made this the best place they have ever worked.

They shared story after story about the changes in members’ and employees’ lives, and in many cases, how these interactions changed their own lives. We know that for so many of these retirees this was not just a job, but part of who you are.  So we will continue to cultivate that community, even after you have retired. These Alumni are some of the best Ambassadors in our community.

Celebrations Create and Honor a Shared Past

Yesterday was May Day, an informal, country-wide celebratory event in England.  My daughter sent several pictures of how the Day begins with the ringing of the bells and singing by the boy’s choir from the tower of Magdalen College. Oxford.

The event commemorates not only the beginning of spring, but the common destiny we all share with nature.

Merry Makers on the way to the Tower:

Bells ringing and boy’s choir singing to bring in Spring-with 14,000 early risers.

A Visit by Louise Herring to NCUA

In Ed Callahan, Bucky Sebastian and my first year at NCUA, Sam Rizzo who was the CEO of ASI (then NDGC) made a special  effort to bring to D.C. the last living attendee from CUNA’s founding at Estes Park, Colorado in 1934.  Louise Herring spent her entire life promoting, leading and founding numerous credit unions and supporting firms (such as ASI).  She had to travel attached to an  oxygen breathing cylinder.

Her mind and commitment were as sharp as ever.  Field of membership for FCU’s was a hot button issue. Her belief was that all Americans should have credit union access.  In her memorable phrase, “Poverty is not a common bond.”

The incredible chartering and organizational efforts of her era and the passion for the movement were apparent to everyone.

Louise is just one example of the pioneers who devoted their lives to lay the foundation for credit unions today.  Her commitment was a memorable experience for everyone she saw.

Recognizing past credit union regulatory leaders was an integral aspect of Chairman Callahan’s role.  Just one example. He honored his predecessors at NCUA and in the HEW’s  Credit Union Bureau by asking them to come to D.C. to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Federal Credit Union Act in 1984.

Earlier that year Ed presented the Agency’s highest honor, a gold medal, to recognize many whose tenures were only recorded in official reports. (see Dean Gannon’s medal award)

Current and prior federal credit union regulators, General Counsels, and Executive Directors reunite  at NCUA’s headquarters, 1776 “G” Street, Washington D. C. on the 50th anniversary of the Federal Credit union Act.

The Past Makes the Present Possible

It is always tempting to believe when one achieves a position of great responsibility, that the future begins with their arrival.  The past is gone.  Those are the achievements of others.  Now it is our turn to pivot with new beginnings.  After all who wants to just carry forward the success of others when every impulse is to put one’s own imprimatur on events?

However, without a knowledge of the past it is difficult to sustain a sense of common purpose or community with others.  Each leaders turn at the wheel becomes a unique episode.  The lessons of prior efforts are overlooked.  The successes are taken for granted, because they seem just to endure naturally.

But that is not how lives or even organizations are remembered.  When individuals are at their best, their work and example transform the moment.   There is a moral component that recognizes the worth of each person, and a commitment to common good, not merely individual or organizational momentary success.

Every society has its May Day celebrations.  They create a shared heritage that goes back generations in England.

Current leaders and CEO’s of organizations may not know or even be interested in their predecessor’s  success or viewpoints.  The past leadership is gone and I am now in charge.  Some CEO’s are uncomfortable even talking with their forebears.

Knowing the history of any organization is vital to continued relevance. That is why I believe this credit union’s inaugural Alumni breakfast matters.  Honoring leaders from different eras and circumstances, gives meaning and context to current events and decisions. How a leader remembers their predecessors is a good indicator of how one’s own tenure is likely to be recalled.




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