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On Lessons Learned: Annaloro Reflects on a Storied Career

With his retirement now just a week away, NWCUA CEO John Annaloro talks about the past, present and future with the same lighthearted wisdom and insightful wit the credit union community has enjoyed for the past 15 years.

John Annaloro at ConventionAfter 15 years as the CEO of the Washington Credit Union League and, beginning in 2011, the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA), John Annaloro, known as the architect of Washington’s progressive state-chartering environment, will retire on Oct. 2, 2012.

With less than a week remaining before he vacates the corner office, Anthem staff sat down with Annaloro for a conversation that touched on just about every aspect of his storied career. Packed to the gills with Annaloro’s lighthearted wisdom and insightful wit, read on for John’s take…

… On taking a 40,000-foot view and sharing lessons learned:

You know, I’ve had a lot of high-level positions. And I’ve always learned that being as nice as you can, and doing the most you can—not the least you can get away with—is the best management practice.

This is a unique time for financial services. We’ve had this global crisis. The industry was tested. The credit union sector proved to be the strongest portion of the American sovereign financial system. It may be the strongest globally, and we proved our worth, our strength, the value to the American economy. The future for the industry is wonderful.

I am disappointed in some ways I won’t be able to make the next part of the journey with the credit unions of the Northwest. They have a proud, hundred year history; certainly a hundred year future and things have changed. Consumers appreciate what we do, to a degree that they’ve not understood or appreciated before.

Our institutions are tested, more sophisticated, more capable than ever, and it should be a time of tremendous growth and opportunity, and good cheer—which is necessary following the hard work that’s been done over the last four years since 2008 when the crisis began.

The regulatory environment is softening. The industry is accelerating. And I wish everyone the best.

… On his visionary leadership and his management style:

I was hired not to be a representative of what is, but to be sensitive to the needs of the industry and lead from the future tense; to take care of what needs to be. That means taking care of the institutions’ needs and the dreams of our credit unions and their business aspirations, the professional aspirations of our CEO community who are moving up and building increasingly larger staffs, and at the same time, being entrusted by the regulatory community [with] the material shortcomings of the charter, in rule and statute, and being expected to do something about them.

That’s kept me busy, worried about tomorrow and maybe not so much about today.

Maybe that’s where I ‘m a little different. I not as distracted by the managerial things. I have surrounded myself with talented staff capable of taking care of those things, which in turn frees me to do more than I might otherwise.

… On Spokane Media Federal Credit Union CEO Debie Keesee’s description of John as an excellent mentor:

I am honored by Debie and by others who have committed to system endeavors in addition to their career pursuits in their own credit union.

It’s sort of the incumbent responsibility of every generation of industry participants in the regulated sectors of American business to move the operating environment to make sure that the governing principles, the activities, the framework that we operate in is kept contemporary—and it can’t be done by yourself. It has to be done in partnership with your board of directors that sets a progressive strategic plan that makes it clear that that’s what the association stands for, that credit unions affiliate with this vision. That’s where we’re going.

Debie was a good partner. Most of my board chairmen—all of my chairmen—have been great partners for me.

Often times when there’s a fork or an alternative path that is presented, you have no place else to go except the board of directors, and say, ‘We have these two solutions. What do you think? We can go this way or that.’ And having people that will be in the moment with me and understand it from the perspective of broader industry concerns has been very beneficial.

… On selfless generosity, personal and professional:

Professional friendships are everything. It’s so important to have friends who stand by your side, stay by your side, and in turn that takes a commitment on the part of anyone to stand by your friends and advance their concerns and their hopes and expectations as well.

That’s a good partnership, and that’s working together.

… On being described as “the father of the open field of membership”:

The issue is one of self determination of cooperative financial institutions—in fact, any business entity—and self-determination as defined by the right of any well-run credit union to make its own decisions in its own board room about who it’s going to serve, and how it’s going to serve them, and the product array.

And it’s not about the competition or the credit union down the street or the Congress or the courts to define what a well-run business that’s legally chartered should be doing and define their business future.

It’s really what it’s about. There’s nothing in safety and soundness tenets that require a narrow field of membership. Actually, that presents certain forms of concentration risks.

The sale on this is an easy one to make. And I think once we started talking about it, everyone understood that it was a smart thing to do—from the regulatory to the legislative community that needed to bless it, and of course the credit unions embraced it in Washington.

And we moved beyond that restriction. There’s really nothing in contemporary finance that can’t be done on a people-first, not-for-profit basis, so the charter limitations are senseless.

And we’ve operated on that principle in the Northwest for some time. We’ve seen it in excess in Washington. We see it in the 2013 agenda for both Oregon and Washington as we start to run bills in each of the legislatures that further open these charters so that the credit unions are not second-class providers in tomorrow’s marketplace. The public deserves better than that.

… On the parallels between difficult sports and difficult jobs (he is an avid skier… but doesn’t see a link):

My parents were both athletes—my mother and father were both marathoners. I grew up in a family that valued exercise and being outdoors—and competing, frankly. It was just natural. It wasn’t something that was an acquired opportunity. It was something that just was in the family.

Work, however, takes a lot of time. I’m not sure that I lived the athletic lifestyle, and at times I certainly show it. I’m looking forward to a belated summer vacation and maybe returning to more of those things that I love.

… On his plans:

Monkey business. And if not too unduly influenced by monkeys, I will return to some semblance of sanity and join my friends at a later date.

However, if I show up on their doorstep with monkeys… please don’t let me in.

… On giving advice to up-and-comers:

You know, I worry about some of the younger professionals. They are coming up in an industry that is a bit crueler and much more demanding than the environment I came up through the credit union system in.

The regulatory expectation [and] the technical requirements are much more demanding, and what had to give way [are] some issues regarding philosophy, relation to members, the historical tenets of the credit union system, the social mission, and I’m hoping that we can get to a more comfortable time so that we can let the people that are coming up through the system reunite with all of those people-first philosophies that have made the credit union system so special.

We have a social mission as well as a financial mission, and keeping that embodied in the credit union system of tomorrow is really important. And I hope we get there.

… On the future of the Northwest Credit Union Association nearly two years after the merger of the Oregon and Washington leagues:

Well, Oregon and Washington share a common economic and geographic region that’s unique in the United States, so the combination of the institutions, bringing them all together as one large family, is a natural part of our evolution.

In terms of the business model of putting the two associations together and eliminating the duplicative activities, we are stronger by working together than we would be by separately or alone.

So, there is more we can do in the future. There are more issues we can manage. There are more complications we can minister to. There are more lessons we can document and learn from in the future, and there are more celebrations for the industry because we’re together.

And the amount of people we can bring together to leverage against issues—some of them are very difficult issues because of competitive tension, public pressure and worry about financials, and the political environment is more hostile than ever for any industry group. Because we have more people working together, we can do more to improve the future.

I think—in fact, I am certain—that by brining the two Oregon and Washington sectors together, we can be far stronger in the years ahead than we’ve been in the years just recently.

… On what he will miss the most:

The professional friendships are real. And they are national and global. Am I’m united with people across the country who share a concern and pride in this industry, who know they work for something clean and green and healthy and wholesome, believe in the mission, believe in the benefit that we provide.

I do have great friends and colleagues who I don’t see often but who share a similar value system.

… On seeing old pictures of himself… with hair:

That’s what you’ve done to me. And I would trade the hair any day for the honor of the opportunity that’s been entrusted in the office that I’ve held for this last 15-plus years. I believe I’m the sixth executive in Washington state, the first one of the new combined organization, and every day has been an honor for me to represent what’s now nearly 5 million citizens in Oregon and Washington, nearly 200 organizations, and many professional aspirations and institutional dreams from our credit unions.

There is nothing bad about this job. There is only a feeling of perhaps I didn’t work hard enough or long enough on a given day or week to do all the things that really deserved more attention.

But we’re resource-limited sometimes, and energy-constrained at times as well, and I think we’ve done a fine job as a team, with the board, with the staff and with the new team. I’m delighted to turn the desk over to Troy Stang. I think the future is very promising and this is a great opportunity for everyone.

 

Questions or Concerns? Contact Matt Halvorson, Anthem Editor: mhalvorson@nwcua.org.

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