Confession: if you haven’t realized it by now, I’m a bit of a nerd. I thoroughly enjoyed school, enough to be considering pursuing a Master’s Degree, just for funsies. So imagine my delight when, through my NTCUE experience and success, I was able to travel to Philadelphia for one very intense week of school. And not just any school – the Wharton School at UPenn is one of the most prestigious business schools in the nation.
I’ll admit that I was nervous – which you already know if you read my pre-trip blog post. I was worried that I wouldn’t understand the material, that the curriculum would be over my head, and that I would grossly out of place as the only non-management attendee (I am, at present time, a Coordinator). After all, this is training for the next edition of CEOs – top executives in our industry. I’m not experienced reading call reports, dealing with personnel issues, or forming the strategic plan for an entire organization.
I was delighted to discover, as DeeDee Myers had encouraged, that not only was I not out of my element, I was firmly within my element. I understood, connected with, and excelled at the content of the sessions, finding many things relevant to my current position and to my plans for future growth and advancement. I was even successful at the math – yes, math! – portions of the week (fear not; if you are considering attending the CEO Institute and are mathematically challenged, the week is not very math-intensive).
I am a student of the industry. I recognize that I have much to learn and experience as my career continues. But this week firmly helped me take ownership of the fact that I also have a lot to contribute at the present time. Community Outreach, Financial Education, and the impact these things have or could potentially have on our movement is the topic of much current debate in various arenas right now. I spend 90% of my time living in these areas, and was able to offer insight and clarity as needed in several conversations.
So yes – the content was great, and I was able to comprehend, utilize, and even add to many of the topics. But beyond that, there were so many other aspects of the week that were fascinating and informative. One of the professors mentioned that the most successful leaders in any industry spend approximately 50% of their time networking, in one form or another. I took that to heart; used every opportunity I could to expand my network, and also realized that I have a rather extensive network throughout the industry, already. I got to talk with CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, and heads of HR, lending, accounting, sales, and service. Listening to their stories of experience and career progression helped me to refocus my own career, be more open to taking risks and making moves as opportunities open up, and rekindled my love for our movement and my belief that anything is truly possible for me in the credit union world.
As a side note, one thing I love about CUES is the opportunity these conferences, schools, and networks allow us to have with our great Neighbors to the North – Canadian credit unions. I found it interesting to discuss the differences between American and Canadian credit union systems, how shops operate, and the common or unique problems we face in our respective countries. One thing I take heart in is that, despite having been taxed for over 30 years, and really losing all tax benefits just a few years ago, Canadian credit unions still know who they are, and are still different in the intrinsic and meaningful ways that American credit unions consider ourselves different from banks. It gives me a renewed sense of confidence that no matter what the decades ahead hold for me and the credit unions I work with, we will continue to Be Who We Are in the face of changing regulations, continued pressure on our tax status, and a more competitive, smaller-margin market.
My week at Wharton was shaped in part by the incredible content that CUES and Wharton worked to present to us, and in part by the people I spent the week with. My journey through CEO Institute I reaffirmed my passion for credit unions and my confidence that my future is here, in this movement, with these people. What I fell in love with isn’t a fairy tale – while it can be elusive and while we all must make a conscious effort to preserve and demonstrate it, the ideals of community outreach, development, and serving those who need us most is alive and well within credit unions across North America – and this is what I will spend my career working for.