Climbing the Steps to a Stronger Credit Union Strategy

Many professional development conferences are informative in nature. The CUES CEO Institute I: Strategic Planning Session held at The Wharton School in April 2016 went so much further than informing. Through powerful world-renowned speakers, experiential sessions, challenging content in one of the most prestigious academic settings, this opportunity shed an enormous amount of light on the importance of developing an effective strategic plan, how to harness change and how to redirect uncertainty to create competitive advantage.

Beyond opportunities to learn how to successfully lead a Credit Union, I left the Institute with at least two indelible memories that shaped my experience: The Thomas Jefferson quotes stamped into the brick pathways at the University of Pennsylvania, and the field trip my classmates and I took to the “Rocky Balboa steps” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Throughout the week, I was delighted to accelerate my leadership skills and learn at a prestigious institution that is recognized globally for intellectual leadership and innovation in the business arena.

From the moment we entered the classroom, we knew we were in for a treat. After all, it’s the Wharton School, and I won the opportunity to gain this knowledge. Almost everyone I talked to at the session, from a CEO at a top 25 credit union to a Vice President at CUNA Mutual Group, was talking about plans for moving ideas along in the future. The professors seemed just as excited to talk about developing strategic segmentation and focusing on your vision. It was such a motivational experience.

While all of the instructors were powerful I was especially inspired by Kathy Pearson, an award-winning educator and Founder / President of Enterprise Learning Solutions, an executive development and learning firm. Her vast knowledge in financial services and health care has introduced companies such as Royal Bank of Scotland and The Estee Lauder Company to countless new and innovative ideas. Kathy has a way of drawing you in; her presentation style was interesting and the content was well informed and based on solid research. Her insights altered the way I approach strategic thinking and execution.

My experience at the CEO Institute allowed me to understand that leading a credit union is about more than doing the right thing. Through a credit union simulation exercise, I learned the importance of steady organizational growth and the drawbacks of making hasty decisions. Luckily we were in simulation mode, because the decisions we made would have certainly landed us a not-so honorable mention in Credit Union Times. This simulation, among many other activities, heightened my respect for the CEOs who have a duty to lead their Credit Unions in both positive times and through moments of uncertainty.

In summary, my time at The Wharton School has enriched my life in many ways. It has broadened my scope on effective decision-making and allowed me to create strong bonds with veteran leaders in the credit union movement. This was the first of three sessions that I must attend to obtain the prestigious Certified Chief Executive (CCE) designation. I am so grateful to CUES, Currency Marketing, and DDJ Myers for providing such a meaningful prize as a part of the Next Top Credit Union Executive contest. Next stop, CEO Institute II: Organizational Effectiveness, which will be held at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University in April 2017.

Jimese Harkley