Credit Unions: Who’s On Your Board Of Directors?

A recent article in CU Times claims that Trey Reeme of Texas Dow Employees CU in Lake Jackson, TX suggested that:

“60-plus-year old directors looking at the industry’s future should seriously consider stepping down to make way for a generation more connected to new technology.”

My take: This is a ridiculous recommendation, and a careless remark (if quoted accurately). Not to mention age discrimination, but I’m not here to argue about the legal aspects of replacing the 60-somethings on your board of directors.

There are two things that wrankle me about the statement. The first is the implicit assumption that just because someone is 60-ish that they don’t “get it.” Hogwash (not my first choice of words).

In the past year or so, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Gene Blishen, GM of Mt. Lehman CU in Canada. Gene is a Twitter friend, we share comments on our respective blogs, and we’ve met in person a couple of times. I don’t think Gene is 60 (yet), but he’s close enough for our discussion (sorry, Gene).

So, Trey, let me ask you something: Should a guy who blogs, Twitters, runs a Mac-only CU, attends BarCampBank meetings, and spends a month in Denmark, seriously consider stepping down?

And what about Ginny Brady, who’s on the board of directors at UFirst CU in upstate NY? Ginny blogs, twitters, and attends BarCampBank meetings too. Oh wait — it’s OK for her to stay on the board because she’s a woman, right?

The second problem is the implicit assumption that putting a Gen Yer on the board somehow creates “representation” of the technology-connected generation. The problem here, Trey, is what marketers call belly-button research: Taking a sample of one — yourself — and projecting out to the broader population.

So exactly which Gen Yer should a CU put on its board? The problem is, putting anyone person — Gen Yer, woman, Hispanic, etc. — and expecting that that person will “represent” the group they come from is wishful and fallacious thinking.

As much as Trey — and apparently some of my other Twitter friends who chimed in yesterday — think the problem is rooted in too many 60-year-old white guys on the boards of CUs, that’s not the root of the problem (it is a problem, just not the cause).

The root of the problem was hinted at in a recent post on the CU Warrior blog. Writing about a 29 year-old friend of his who’s up for a CU CEO position, the CU Warrior wrote:

“Don’t hire based on age. Hire based on an individual’s ability to move your financial institution in the direction the Board desires. And if your Board doesn’t have that vision, that direction, your needs run deeper than just a vacant CEO position.”

And therein lies the problem with the composition of many CU boards. They didn’t start with a vision of what the board was supposed to accomplish, and what the right set of skills of were to fulfill those goals and vision. And so a bunch of people were chosen — among the few who volunteered — who supposedly “represented” the CU’s membership.

Bottom line: Replacing the 60-somethings on CU boards with 20-somethings is not necessarily the right move. It could be, but it’s more about finding the right Gen Yer — not just any Gen Yer. And replacing the wrong 60-somethings — not the ones making strong contributions to the CU. But it’s got to start with the CEO and chairperson of the board rethinking the purpose, goals, and vision of the board and the CU.

Disclaimer: As I wrote this, I couldn’t help but think that the article might very well have misrepresented Trey’s true thoughts and words. Apologies to Trey if that was the case. But even if that were so, it wouldn’t change the sentiments of this blog post.

UPDATE: Please see this post on Trey’s site for a clarification of what transpired between him and the CU Times reporter.

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20 thoughts on “Credit Unions: Who’s On Your Board Of Directors?

  1. BTW, I’m not referring to your sentiment – you’re right in that. Problem is, there are a lot of folks who now think I said something I didn’t say and believe something I don’t believe.

    If I would’ve said what I’m reported to have said, I’d deserve it. But you should know me well enough to know I don’t feel that way.

    I really hope someone will come to my defense on this before it goes much further. I have to keep thinking how awesome it was that my board and other team members were in the room and they know I didn’t say that or imply it. I just don’t want the rest of a community I participate in and respect, you included Ron, to convict me without knowing the truth.

  2. Confession: Because I believe that there are many in the CU community that share the feelings you were alleged to have voiced, I didn’t seriously question whether the quote was accurate. As I wrote, I allowed for the possibility that it was a a misquote, but — I’m sorry to say — I didn’t read it and say “no way did Trey say this.”

  3. As a fairly young CU’er, I’m always on the non-discrimination based on age thing. Whether old or young. A person ability to get the job done and do it well is all that matters. It could be a great GM like Gene or a 29 year old CEO. They just need to be awesome at the job.

    As far as board makeup goes, we have lots of opportunity to make improvements. While I, nor Trey, would ask 60 year olds to step down, CU’s do need to take a good hard look at what they expect out of a board of directors and how they can get a board to perform to those expectations.

  4. To further your point about selecting people to “represent” different generations, races, sexes, etc., I’d point at that more than any generation before Gen Y craves individuality. How, amongst a group that desires to be as unlike one another as possible, do you expect to find someone who “represents” the entire generation? Sure, you might find someone more in tune with pop culture and the latest gizmos, but there are certainly no guarantees. I have so little in common with most 29-year olds, it’s not even funny. It just so happens that’s my age.

  5. I agree with Matt as well. It is actually shocking how much I am different than those close to my same age. Maybe it is because I’m a “business man”, but the belly-button research would not work in my case or Matt’s.

  6. @CU Warrior: “more than any gen before, Gen Y craves individuality” HUH? You’re kidding me, right? I’m a boomer — i.e., the ME generation. Don’t give me this crap about Gen Y individuality.

    While it’s unfortunate that Trey was misquoted in the article, the fact remains that there are plenty of people going around CU land telling CU execs what Gen Y “is all about”. And based on what? Well-researched data? Nope. They say things like “we’re this…” and “we’re that….” or “we’re collaborative”.

    I’m going to put myself on shaky ground w/ this next comment, but I think a lot of CUs would do themselves a favor if they constructed a BOD a lot more like for-profits do, than the way they decide board composition today.

  7. I would not believe for a minute that Trey would say something like that. Trey is the kind of guy who wants to include everyone in the conversation. I believe Trey when he says he was misquoted.

  8. I am relatively new (and somewhat of an outsider) to the credit union professionals’ circuit. My “baptism” was less than a year ago at the Washington Credit Union League Conference in Spokane. What struck me then and what has continued to surprise and delight me is the acceptance I have received among my blogging, twitter and facebook friends (all of whom are younger than I am). Trey, Brent, William, Morriss and Shari were the first “youngsters” I met and their support and encouragement, along with others, have helped to keep me motivated.

    I believe board members, no matter what their age, should evaluate their contributions to the membership they serve. It’s no longer enough just to attend monthly board meetings and be the rubber stamp for the decisions and practices of the CEO/Manager. It seems to me that board members should see themselves as professionals as well as volunteers. This involves more than implementing new technology. It involves listening to the membership no matter their age and having a clear understanding of the ideals and principles of credit unions It means using their individual talents as well as sacrificing their time to learn the skills necessary to participate in the strategic planning necessary to move their credit union forward in today’s economy.

  9. Ron – Not kidding at all, actually. Also funny that as a prelude to ranting about Gen Yers in CU land claiming “we’re this” and “we’re that”, you essentially say “I’m a Boomer, I’m individualistic.”

    We could argue my comment until the cows come home, but you cannot deny that this (Gen Y) is a generation that craves individualism. I contend that Boomers are a much more homogenous group than they would like to admit, but that’s totally beside the point that I was making.

  10. Ginny I totally agree with everything you said. One mistake I have seen is the attitude “we have done it this way for 50 years so we’ll just keep doing what we have been doing” (and assuming that that will ensure continued success). So what I might add is the landscape is changing and BOD members need to keep learning, growing and being open to change. But that is true for management as well, regardless of age.

  11. The Gen Y Individualism comment makes me LOL.

    We all like to be individuals, we all like to be our own person.

    I’m 23. I’m heaps different to my friends. Or maybe I’m not. Who cares?

    Talk about definining generations is frustrating. It’s just lame. It’s like when you hear a bunch of kids arguing about some band being some particular style.

    “I like band X, they are kind of a euro metal sound”

    “Nah, they are more of a metalcore”

    “I disagree, I’d say more a speed metal”

    (It’s just lame.)

  12. I don’t feel that old, wait Ron, I am not that old. I agree that if Trey would have said that it would be out of context. But the problem tends to say why don’t people think differently, be they old or young. I have encountered a lot of ‘old’ people who haven’t hit 25 yet.

    A few, well a number of years back, a band was appearing at the local student union building at the University of BC. Not a big venue for any band. A few days later we heard that Robertson Davies was at the gig. Robertson Davies is a Canadian author beyond compare. At the time he was in his 70’s. The band was R.E.M. What that presented to me, and something to ponder, was it didn’t matter the ages or who attended the event or who played. What really happened was that some like minds met. Some people who had a similar passion. That explains to me why groups and organizations make things happen while others sit stagnating.

    When people of any generation of a similar interest and a common passion set direction their organization (credit union) will be different, it will be relevant, and it will exceed whatever they dreamed they could do. In today’s world generations and distance are sometimes factors of the old world. And there was that old world concept of the world was flat until someone found out that it wasn’t.

  13. I don’t know Trey that well but I was surprised at first to think he’d say that. That would be judging a book by it’s cover and not by it’s content. I do wish that we could clone some great board members and re-create them 20 or 30 years younger!

    To respond to the other avenue of these comments, I think individualism is an American thing, not a generational thing. All currently living generations in our nation are into themselves more so than most foreign cultures. Except when huge tragedies come. Like tonight Danville, VA had one of it’s biggest fires ever which totally destroyed one of the most historical building in the city. It was the old abandoned textile mill that put the city on the map, yet at the same time dramatically hindered it’s growth. It was neat to see hundreds of people watching the blaze together, young and old. Many older people probably worked there their entire lives. The young just thought it was cool to see a fire that big. Though this was a terrible thing, it brought us all closer to each other as a community, at least for tonight.

  14. @Gene: In no way did I mean to imply you were old, or even act old. Just the opposite, in fact. I think the sentiments you convey in your comment are right on — but I personally think CUs should focus more on attracting and developing Gen Y MANAGERS than worrying about getting Gen Yers on their BOD.

    @James: Thanks for bringing some sanity to this discussion. You’re absolutely right — everybody thinks they’re an individual. I should have left my reply to Matt at that, rather than make the Boomer point.

    @CUWarrior: Yopu’ll recall that I’m the one who argued that each generation has more similarities than differences (

  15. The true key to Leadership in the credit union environment is the ability to listen, watch, hear and adapt, knowing that providing the products and services desired, in the preferred manner, is key to survival of the org. Board members and CU Leaders alike could spend more time listening to all ages, lifestyles, genders, etc.

    Ask the members and non-members of all ages; be quiet and listen to what they tell you. Then, be willing to adapt (often quickly) and ensure that everyone within the credit union is on board, provide they need and want from your organization. Any board member, of any age, of any “type,” of any gender, etc. can provide true visionary leadership.

  16. Ron, I certainly understand your thoughts on what the BOD should consist of.

    I also agree completely with your last comment, CUs should focus on attracting and developing Gen Y in management not their board. See the last paragrapn on my blog post.

    Here are my thoughts about the article on on the BOD, not filtered by a reporter, they are straight from my keyboard to your computer screen.

  17. Pingback: The Banktastics » Blog Archive » The CU Scoop - Old vs. Young (Ep. 9)

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