How To Keep The Credit Union’s Beating Heart Running During A CEO Change

Lisa Ginter became CEO of CommunityAmerica in 2015. She knew that while some changes were needed, there was also plenty worth saving.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Lisa Ginter has been CEO of CommunityAmerica Credit Union since early 2015.
  • While she’s helped usher in change to the Kansas City credit union, she doubled down on a community-first ethos.

CU QUICK FACTS

CommunityAmerica Credit Union
Data as of 03.31.19

HQ: Lenexa, KS
ASSETS: $2.9B
MEMBERS: 243,395
BRANCHES: 33
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 7.2%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 11.6%
ROA: 1.26%

When Lisa Ginter became CEO of CommunityAmerica Credit Union ($2.9B, Lenexa, KS) in early 2015, she was quite literally handed the gavel of authority from her retiring predecessor. 

“We had a big ceremony where our longtime CEO passed the gavel onto me,” Ginter says. Once she accepted it, she made her first act of leadership: presenting a state of the credit union address to the hundreds of CommunityAmerica employees in attendance. 

“I told them that this was a change, and there would be more,” Ginter says. “But that what wasn’t going to change was our credit union’s beating heart. We are a people-driven organization that serves to make an impact in our members’ lives.”

In the years since, Ginter has doubled down on that promise.

Three Little Letters

Lisa Ginter, CEO, CommunityAmerica Credit Union

Ginter had been COO at the credit union, where she worked alongside several senior team members of the retiring CEO’s generation. When the opportunity arose to interview for the position, Ginter went for it, not for the title but for what it would allow her to do.

“I didn’t want to be CEO to be in charge,” she says. “But if those three little initials allow me to make big impacts with our members, employees, and community, that’s reason for me.”

For Ginter, change was inevitable. She did not have the same style of leadership as her predecessor, and a common piece of advice she received from him was not to try. After a down period in the early 2010s, the credit union had started to gain member and loan growth momentum, and while Ginter looked to retain some of that success, her goal was to interpret through her own lens all that the credit union was doing, then help do it better.

Ginter started by organizing her team.

When CommunityAmerica’s previous CEO retired others on the senior team did as well, leaving several seats open for Ginter to fill. “It afforded me the opportunity to bring in my team,” she says. Ginter’s primary focus for the organization was deepening its community giveback efforts, and she hired and set a strategic focus around that goal.

To keep herself and her new senior leaders on track, Ginter instituted a monthly schedule of two-hour meetings on Friday mornings, each with a specific design. In her words:

  • First Friday — Visioning: “We look at our future as a blank canvas. How are we painting it? Do we need to paint it differently?”
  • Second Friday — Strategic Initiatives: “What projects do we have? Do we need to start something new? Stop something?”
  • Third Friday — Performance: “KPIs, financial performance, etc. Do we have any concerns with any of these?”
  • Fourth Friday — Opportunities and Threats: “What’s out there in the marketplace? What do we need to be aware of?”
  • Fifth Friday — Free For All: “If there is a fifth Friday, we get together without an agenda.”

“These meetings work,” she says. “They help us stay directionally oriented.” 

But filling empty seats was just one objective in her first days at the helm; in fact, just as important was further developing relationships with the staff already in place — not to mention her board of directors. Within her first 90 days, Ginter had met with each of CommunityAmerica’s board members one-on-one to discuss expectations and set a standard for transparent interactions going forward. In addition, she made sure to schedule regular meetings with her board chair.

“You need to make sure you have a great rapport with your board,” Ginter says.

Next, she focused on her staff. She had her senior-level employees read “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins to underscore the importance of getting up to speed quickly. For her entire staff, however, she had something else in store.

The Lisa Roadshow

It what has become an annual August tradition, early in her tenure at CommunityAmerica Ginter went on what she describes as “The Lisa Roadshow.” She met with her 850-plus staff over the course of one month, often pulling small groups together for conversations about the credit union.

“I just wanted to get a feel about what they like about the organization and what they’d like to see done differently,” she says. 

These meetings have no agenda. Instead, Ginter relies on those she speaks with to set the topics of conversation. An important consideration: conversations are confidential and based on trust.

“If you’re going to go out on a limb to tell me something, I have to reciprocate that trust,” she says. “We’re trying to create an avenue for employees to communicate directly with the CEO and feel that leadership cares about what’s important to them.”

It’s in these meetings that Ginter can see how well her staff understands and buys into the direction of the credit union, and vice versa. 

“I probably get more of out these meetings than the staff gets out of them,” Ginter says. “Their feedback is so valuable to me.”

LOAN AND MEMBER GROWTH

FOR COMMUNITYAMERICA CREDIT UNION | DATA AS OF 03.31.19
© Callahan & Associates | CreditUnions.com

In the past several years, CommunityAmerica’s loan and member growth have outpaced credit union’s nationally.

So far, feedback has been as positive as the credit union’s performance. Since 2015, CommunityAmerica has outpaced credit unions nationally in loan and member growth and, with its community focus — including a spokesperson deal with Kansas City Chiefs MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes — the cooperative is primed for further progress in the years ahead. But there’s more work to be done. 

“Strategically looking at the path we’re on, we’ve set guideposts for ourselves, making sure we have all the right people on the right seats riding the bus,” Ginter says. “But there are always course corrections to make. We just need to determine which ones.”

3 Tips For New CEOs

Lisa Ginter became CEO of CommunityAmerica Credit Union in 2015. Here, she offers three tips for new CEOs.

  • Make it your own: “It’s expected for a candidate from outside of the organization to make big changes, but if you are an internal candidate who moves into the CEO role it’s important to make it your own. And not simply ride down the path created by your predecessor.”
  • Take the pulse of the credit union: “You can learn a lot by speaking with those who are close to members. That’s been valuable to me.”
  • Carve out time for thought: “Make sure you give yourself enough time for strategic thought where you look out and see a blank canvas ahead of you. Visualize five years into the future and where your credit union fits into that, then leverage your team to help paint that blank canvas.”

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July 15, 2019


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