How To Stand Out In A Field Of Potential Employers

Doug Fecher, CEO of Wright-Patt Credit Union, dishes on why he joined the credit union industry and how other cooperatives can entice young, up-and-coming leaders to do the same.

 
 

CU QUICK FACTS

Wright-Patt Credit Union
Data as of 03.31.20

HQ: Beavercreek, OH
ASSETS: $5.2B
MEMBERS: 404,337
BRANCHES: 32
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 11.9%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 8.9%
ROA: 0.79%

For Doug Fecher, CEO of Wright-Patt Credit Union ($5.2B, Beavercreek, OH), entering the field of cooperative financial services was an act of serendipity rather than strategy.

“I had never heard of credit unions when I got my first job at one,” Fecher says. “I had no career plans or goals other than to get a job and support my family. I happened into something I had fun doing — lending and helping people. And the rest is history.”

Today, as credit unions navigate a maelstrom of uncertainty, Fecher offers advice on how cooperatives can recruit young, talented workers to ensure their leadership bench strength is one of design and not dumb luck. 

Related Resource: What do other leaders have to say about enticing up-and-coming leaders to join the credit union movement? Read “A Credit Union Career Isn’t For Me. Change My Mind. (Part One).” And, come back to CreditUnions.com to read responses from more leaders.

How did you get started in the credit union industry?

Doug Fecher: I had never heard of credit unions before I got my first job at one. My post-high school career started with me attending chef school at a technical college in Cincinnati. All my jobs during high school were as short-order cooks, so I thought that would be my career path. I took pride in putting out food that looked and tasted good.

Doug Fecher, CEO, Wright-Patt Credit Union

After a year in chef school, I realized I wasn’t learning anything, all my friends had Friday and Saturday nights free while I worked the dinner shift, and my classmates were less than motivated. I remember one Saturday night when I spent several hours cracking eggs into a five-gallon bucket to prepare for the Sunday morning brunch rush. Not my best moment.

So, I dropped out of chef school and enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, majoring in business and marketing. I didn’t even tell my parents I’d made a change, and they were confused when the chef school returned the tuition check. After approximately two years, I added all the requirements for a second major in finance. Marketing was fun but not that challenging, and I wanted to feel like college was pushing me. I had gotten married, had a baby on the way, and life was starting to get real.

I took a job at UC as business manager of the campus literary magazine, Clifton Magazine, to build a resume. It was a glorified ad sales job, and I realized sales wasn’t my bag. I didn’t believe in the value of what I was selling. To this day, I despise the notion of a sales culture. To me, “sales” is an inherently selfish act, trying to get somebody to do something for my reasons. After a time, I learned “service” was the thing that got me excited. Unlike sales, service is an inherently selfless act where helping someone else is the most important thing. Serving is something that makes me feel good.

When I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I sent my resume to all the banks in town — Fifth Third Bank, Central Trust [now U.S. Bank], and others. I got interviews, but my grades didn’t put me among the finalists. That none of the banks took a chance on me actually turned out to be the greatest blessing of my life.

There was a small credit union in Hamilton, OH, called Chaco Credit Union. It served the employees of the Champion International Paper Company at three mills. At $30 million in assets, the credit union thought it could use a marketing manager. The aunt of Chaco’s accounting manager worked in human resources at Central Trust Bank and forwarded my resume out of the reject pile. I got an interview, and I got the job. It was dumb luck that my resume found its way to Chaco. I never knew about the job, never applied for it, and only got the opportunity because I didn’t meet the hiring standards of a big bank.

Before letting me loose in marketing, the credit union manager — we didn’t call them “president” back then — told me I’d have to learn how to be a teller. Everyone had to be a teller — that’s how you got to know what a credit union is and how to serve members. My first boss taught me everything about credit unions and almost nothing about finance. All of that came with time, but at Chaco it was all about serving members. I was hooked.

I worked at Chaco for 12 years, starting as a teller, then in new accounts, then marketing manager, and ultimately as vice president of business development. I learned about almost every department in the credit union and perhaps made the biggest impact in lending. I was a natural lender, and I loved helping members and creating products to meet their needs. 

At some point, Wright-Patt Credit Union asked me to interview for its just-created role of vice president of lending. The credit union had a loan-to-share ratio of less than 50%, and the board demanded the then-president do something to increase lending and growth. WPCU decided I might be the one to help get that job done.

After three years as VP of lending, I was promoted to chief operating officer. Two years after that, due to the unforeseen sudden passing of the president, I interviewed for and was selected to become president. This was in the year 2000.

How can credit unions recruit young workers? Why is that important?

DF: Leaders need to focus on it, set objectives and targets, and develop tactics that achieve the goals. They need to think of it as a business problem. They must want to hire younger workers — and not leave it up to chance — put together a program to recruit and attract younger workers, and develop them aggressively after they arrive with an emphasis on how a credit union is different.

The primary barrier to hiring younger workers in positions that require a college degree is that often we look for candidates with previous experience. However, some of the best candidates will be graduates who don’t have meaningful experience. Although we will always hire experienced folks, especially at higher levels, we have to make room for inexperienced, high-potential candidates and purposefully build a program for developing them into our leaders of tomorrow.

Doug Fecher

Wright-Patt Credit Union
President/CEO, 2000-present

Wright-Patt Credit Union
COO, 1998-2000

Wright-Patt Credit Union
VP Lending, 1995-1998

Chaco Credit Union
VP, Business Development 1983-1995

Tactics could include almost anything, but two I find interesting are intern programs and management training programs.

For intern programs, a credit union can partner with local colleges and universities and create paid internship positions. Put interns into positions of supervised authority, although working the teller line for at least six months could be invaluable as a kind of apprenticeship program. Interns could work as assistants to high volume mortgage originators, commercial loan underwriters, licensed financial advisors, financial analysts, core programmers — the possibilities are endless. The interns get invaluable experience from helping a master of the craft become more productive. A carefully thought-out intern program could be worth its weight in gold.

For management training programs, a credit union can hire recent college graduates into a formal management trainee program in which a candidate spends at least one year — two is better — rotating among key business units for three to six months each to learn the various facets of different operating units. After two years, a management trainee transfers to a permanent assignment in the business unit they’re most suited to and like, and the program refills the management trainee position with a new college graduate. Larger credit unions could run several positions.

Another way to attract young workers with the potential to be future leaders is to create an internal task force composed entirely of employees who are younger than 30 years old. Give the task force the job of helping the credit union appeal to young adults as members because we need young members, too. Most young people don’t know credit unions like their parents did, and it will be a challenge to attract future generations of members. We hit two targets with a task force. First, we give younger high-potential employees a meaningful task. Second, we learn what appeals to younger adults as members. 

Then, when we hire younger talent, we must give them responsibility. Using interns as clerks or keeping them as tellers beyond what is necessary will drive them away. Most young workers are looking for a path to advancement and will tire of jobs where they have no real responsibility or authority. This is similar to leadership development in the U.S. Air Force where young officers have a lot of authority and move up quickly. If we don’t challenge young workers, they will leave for more meaningful work. And their loss will be our loss.

Finally, for me, why it’s important to hire younger workers should be obvious. What might be less obvious is that it’s important to teach the next generation of credit union leaders what a credit union is and the importance of a cooperative credit union system in our country. Far too many people see credit unions as another kind of bank and don’t understand the history of credit unions, how they were formed, how they are governed, and why they exist in the first place.

This is an important imperative for credit unions, and I was lucky to have Bill Michael as my first boss at Chaco. He taught me what it meant to work at a credit union. All the technical skills I needed came through experience, but understanding why I was doing what I was doing, how it connected to the notion of cooperative finance for American families, and why service instead of profits was the real goal —  these were the things that were most important to me.

How would you “sell” a young executive on why they should enter the credit union field?

DF: The most important selling point we have is that we are an industry that focuses on changing people’s lives rather than maximizing profits and the bottom line.

I mentioned earlier that not being hired out of college by a bank was one of the greatest blessings of my life. It wasn’t a blessing because I was able to craft a long and rewarding career for myself, which I probably wouldn’t have been able to do at a bank. It was a blessing because I found a career in which I would be judged by how many people I helped instead of how much money I made for my company or whether I could eke out another nickel in earnings per share. This would have been true whether I was an individual loan officer or in a management position.

I often tell college kids to not forget smaller companies when looking for their first job — the road to advancement tends to be shorter, and if you’ve got it going on, you’re likely to be given more responsibility sooner.

Doug Fecher, CEO, Wright-Patt Credit Union

This is a particularly powerful message for today’s younger workers, who more and more seem intrigued by the idea of benefiting others even as they benefit themselves, who are looking for a rewarding career that serves others. This is exactly what credit unions do — we put people ahead of profits. 

Additionally, I believe credit unions offer more upside potential for career advancement than banks. If I had been hired by a bank after graduating from college, I most likely would have been placed in a management trainee program with a dozen or more other college graduates, all of us competing for advancement opportunities as they came up. My career might have had the same trajectory, but I probably never would have had the opportunities in a bank that I’ve had in credit unions. 

I often tell college kids to not forget smaller companies when looking for their first job — the road to advancement tends to be shorter, and if you’ve got it going on, you’re likely to be given more responsibility sooner. 

That’s not something I would have known had it not been for my own experience at Chaco Credit Union. At Chaco, I joined a $30 million credit union with 30 employees, and I was one of the few with a college degree. When opportunities arose, I was on the short list by virtue of my degree. And, my grades no longer mattered. Everybody in the organization could see my work ethic, my effectiveness, my creativity, and more, so they knew I had the things that matter to a small business. In the end, being hired by a small company made it easier for my work to stand out.

Any parting thoughts?

DF: I wasn’t a very good teller in that first job. I couldn’t balance my cash drawer to save my life. The tellers I worked with weren’t too happy with me because no teller could leave for the day until all tellers had balanced their cash drawers. But, the members loved me. I think they looked at me as kind of a lottery because they stood a pretty good chance of getting more cash than they had coming to them, and if I didn’t give them enough, they’d tell me and I’d believe them and make up the shortfall. No wonder I couldn’t balance. The credit union had to get me out of that window before I lost too much money, but instead of letting me go, it promoted me into new accounts and far away from the cash.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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