James McBride had a lot to bring to the table as the new president and CEO of Lion’s Share Federal Credit Union ($69.6M, Salisbury, NC), but he also quickly found out he had a lot to learn.
McBride had been executive vice president of The Tennessee Credit Union ($417.1M, Nashville, TN) for five years when he was hired in mid-2021 by Lion’s Share, a 12,000-member cooperative that serves employees of Food Lion and other grocery chains up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
That stint at Tennessee was his second there. He started as a part-time teller while attending Lipscomb University in Music City and spent nine years there before departing for four years at Arkansas Federal Credit Union ($2.1B, Little Rock, AR). He was recruited back to Nashville as a human resources specialist at The Tennessee and then became vice president of operations and finally executive vice president before moving to North Carolina with his wife and what he calls “a collection of animals.”
Now he’s herding cats of a different stripe in his first role in the top job of a member-owned financial cooperative. Here, he shares tips and lessons he’s learned.
On taking the pulse of the place …
Don’t feel like you need to go in at a hundred miles an hour and start changing things. I was totally new to the area, and I was replacing a CEO who had been there for a decade. I took the time to find out what’s working and what’s not working.
CU QUICK FACTS
Lion’s Share FCU
DATA AS OF 12.31.22
HQ: Salisbury, NC
NET WORTH: 8.7%
You need to establish open communication with your staff to find out the lay of the land and where the pressure points are. I found out quickly that benefits are not very good, so we’re now working on that.
Another thing I did is start Tuesday Talks, where we open up the boardroom from 8:30-10 a.m. and 3:00-5:00 p.m. I work in there, and anyone can come in and talk about anything that’s important to them.
You name it; we’ve probably talked about it. Normally, the conversation is around issues like the call center, how to get more out of our team, sales training, partner relationships, and strategic things like the need for a skip-a-pay product. We now have that.
On making your mission their mission …
Our marching orders are to take care of our members, who work in grocery stores in a dozen different states and don’t make that much money. That’s why our board has never pursued a merger with any fervor. They’re not interested in expanding our FOM or in growth for growth’s sake. We just need to find more ways to say “yes” while managing risk responsibly. That’s how we’re ensuring the integrity of our service to the people we serve.
Values/Mission/Vision At Lion’s Share FCU
You Can Count on Us to embrace these values in all that we do in service to each other and our members: Courage, Compassion, Collaboration, Credibility
To improve financial lives and provide superior service, solutions, and education to…Every Member, Every Day, Every Time
To become our members’ Preferred Financial Choice and a credit union where Members Matter Most.
For us to succeed, our board, our members, and our staff need to be engaged, and someone in charge has to be working on their behalf. That’s my job.
I soon realized this disconnect had grown from our mission, vision, and values. So, together, we’ve created a new values/mission/vision statements while we work to build a collaborative environment. You build credibility when you listen and then act. It shows everyone their concerns matter.
On coaching the home team …
When I arrived, I found an underdeveloped leadership team. This was a group of four people who did their jobs well and had an extraordinary love for the organization but were not used to making a lot of decisions on their own. I’m not speaking ill of anyone — that’s just the way things had been done.
To get us where we want to go, I needed to empower this group, to give them each the kind of autonomy to follow through on good suggestions and ideas that I want in my own position.
We use team-building software called TeamOnUp, from a company created by former PSCU CEO Mike Kelly, that has helped each of us grow into the roles we hold and meet or exceed the expectations that exist for each of us. The results have been good. Our loan portfolio has gone through the roof, our investment portfolio has grown in complexity, and we have some new marketing partners helping us do new things.
I’ve also banned the word “fail.” We don’t fail here. We sometimes find ways that don’t work, but there is no failure. This leadership team had been afraid of that. Now we’re not.
“I’ve banned the word “fail.” We don’t fail here. We sometimes find ways that don’t work, but there is no failure.”
On getting on board with the board …
Even as the EVP at Tennessee Credit Union, I didn’t engage with the board members very much. They only met with our CEO, so this was a whole new experience for me.
This board wanted something different from what it had. My predecessor’s strategy was to keep the credit union in the middle, so to speak, to not take a lot of risk or make a lot of changes. When I got here, I realized in our first few meetings the board members wanted to be in growth mode.
That’s a difficult transition, so we began educating them on how a credit union works when it wants to grow. I’ve talked a lot about being vulnerable and transparent and communicating to one other what’s important.
That’s a strategy that’s always worked for me, and it has again. We’re honest with one another about what works, what doesn’t, and where we want to go. That’s helped me develop a strong relationship with our board members. I’ve built a lot of trust with them in my first year.
On being the ONE at the top …
The biggest surprise to me as a new CEO is just how lonely it can be. My whole career has revolved around being with and engaging people. It still is, but now I can’t delegate so many of the things that come across my desk or into my email.
The buck stops with me. It doesn’t mean I can’t collaborate. I can and do, but I have to recognize that emotions can get in the way, too. My biggest mistake here was waiting too long to shift some responsibilities around because I was more concerned about feelings than I was about results. I corrected that, but it wasn’t easy.
I’m an emotional person. You might see me cry if you’re around me for any length of time. But your employees are not your peers, and that can be a lonely feeling.
But I’ve also learned that there is a lot of credit union CEO collaboration. This industry is willing to network, to share contacts, and to help one another get from point A to point B. LinkedIn has been a great source for me, too.
3 Tips For The First 100 Days
James McBride shares advice for first-time CEOs. These best practices apply to any new or experienced manager making the move at a credit union of any size.
- Don’t change anything right away. You need a plan for the first 100 days, but that plan shouldn’t be to immediately wreck the place and start over.
- Establish communication and collaboration. Your staff needs the opportunity to get to know you and vice versa. That paves the way for collaboration and trust.
- Focus on understanding the culture. Don’t assume reading call reports and websites will tell you all you need to know. You have to get to know the staff and culture yourself. That, then, should direct how you move forward.
This article has been edited and condensed.