CEO Onboarding: Laurie Butz, Capital Credit Union

Listen before acting, and honor the past while embracing the future — words of wisdom to help a new chief executive settle into the role.

For more than 30 years, Laurie Butz held roles of progressively increasing responsibility in financial services and other businesses. In November 2021, she became president and CEO of Capital Credit Union ($2.3B, Green Bay, WI).

Laurie Butz, President & CEO, Capital Credit Union

Before joining the team at Capital, Butz held senior vice president roles at Community First Credit Union ($5.2B, Neenah, WI), where started in human resources in 2010 and moved to organizational development, investments, and insurance services in 2014.

Her HR and organizational development work extends back to 1992, when she joined Associated Bank. She held similar roles at a health insurance company and a major business process outsourcing firm before moving to Community First.

Butz knows onboarding, but taking the helm was a whole new experience. It can be lonely at the top, the new chief executive says, but it doesn’t have to be. Butz relies on a network of mentors and colleagues as well as peers inside and outside the credit union industry to forge a bright future for her members and her team.

Listening is critical. I started by going to every department meeting across the organization. I didn’t ask for more time than we needed to introduce ourselves. I worked to make it clear that I care about what’s going on in their areas, that I’m not one-dimensional.

Laurie Butz, President & CEO, Capital Credit Union

On withstanding the scrutiny of others  …

People are paying close attention. They’re watching, observing, judging, and interpreting. They’re all trying to understand their new leader. I’ve been in a lot of senior roles and seen this before but never to this extent.

It’s not just employees — members and the community are watching, too. Every moment matters. Words matter. I’m careful about how I position things, about how I introduce changes, and about how we recognize when things are going well and when they might not be.

Listening is critical. I started by going to every department meeting across the organization. I didn’t ask for more time than we needed to introduce ourselves. I worked to make it clear that I care about what’s going on in their areas, that I’m not one-dimensional.

Being comfortable with being vulnerable is also essential. If you haven’t made a mistake in the past week, you’re probably not working hard enough.

Laurie Butz, President & CEO, Capital Credit Union

On establishing credibility and authority …

Establishing credibility and authority begins by focusing on the relationship. I spent a lot of time asking questions about what’s working and what isn’t — my only agenda was to understand.

I try to show the value proposition I’m bringing to the table is to help everyone be stronger, smarter, more successful. I also make sure to demonstrate a willingness to have collaborative conversations. If you’ve surrounded yourself with really talented people, you don’t need to know everything, you just need to know how to use the resources you have.

Being comfortable with being vulnerable is also essential. If you haven’t made a mistake in the past week, you’re probably not working hard enough. Mistakes are OK. You need to demonstrate that about yourself and about your team.

On CEO onboarding …

I know some new CEOs want to start everything anew, but you need to recognize and embrace the overlap, especially in situations like mine. Tom Young had been our CEO for 32 years, and he couldn’t have been better to me through this whole process.

We went to every branch together, and he connected me to every vendor and community partnership we have. I’m following in his footsteps by doing regular podcasts to share what’s going on at Capital Credit Union. I use them to show my personal side, too. Tom rode off into the sunset, but we’re still in touch. He’s coming in this afternoon, in fact, to help me think through some staff ideas.

Past president/CEO, Tom Young, and current president/CEO, Laurie Butz, sit down to answer questions about the past, present, and future of Capital Credit Union. Listen to the podcast.

Speaking of mentors, I need to give a shoutout to Cathy Tierney, my CEO at Community First. I hope to honor both her legacy and Tom’s with the mark I make here at Capital Credit Union.

On moving on from the past …

Honoring our past doesn’t mean clinging to it. That feels safe, but it can get in the way of positive change. That’s true for me, too. It would be annoying if I told people that’s how we always did it at Community First or Associated. I don’t do that. I’ve asked my team to give me the same honor.

If people feel like the ground is safe — that there are no secrets, that you can take your blindfolds off, that you can make mistakes — then we can get beyond the “we always did it like this” mentality. That was yesterday. We’re here today. Let’s decide together what’s best for tomorrow.

On board onboarding …

We have a nine-person volunteer board. With the exception of one or two, they’re a long-tenured board combined from a merger in 2014 that’s still divided in some ways.

CU QUICK FACTS

CAPITAL CREDIT UNION
DATA AS OF 09.30.22

HQ: Green Bay, WI
ASSETS: $2.3B
MEMBERS: 118,365
BRANCHES: 24
EMPLOYEES: 424
NET WORTH RATIO: 11.1%
ROA: 1.03%

The first thing I did was get to know them and their expectations. I spent a lot of time with the chair and vice chair and then with the rest of the board in a one-on-one social environment. We got to know one another better, and that helped tremendously. We’ve developed a new model for our board meetings based on the understanding we reached on what was working, what wasn’t, and what we wanted out of them.

On building rapport with the senior staff …

I think the big challenge was getting people to feel comfortable and safe in the new environment. Tom (Young) was here for 32 years, and our longtime COO retired at the same time.

I’m very different, but I made it clear they didn’t have to be afraid of me. I wasn’t here to wipe out the whole senior team and bring in my own people. I’ve helped onboard CEOs a couple of times in my previous jobs, and I know you need to take the time to assess your senior team. It’s important to me to do that and to create opportunities for these individuals to rise to new levels and take on new roles.

Since I arrived, we’ve had one executive-level departure. It was a contract position that ended with the contract. I just didn’t feel the contract element was a good fit. We’ve also added new positions, including a new chief digital experience officer and a new chief marketing officer. These new positions were created to get us to the next level in member service and market growth. Those are important new strategies for us.

On the first steps as a new CEO …

It’s not just about meeting people. With an eye on the heart of your mission, you need to get your strategic objectives in place. Part of my background is in facilitation, so I quickly stood up a strategic planning session with our senior team. We had our former CEO there because I wanted his insight about where he was taking the company before he handed it over to me.

Several weeks later, we did another strategic planning session with our board. We brought in Callahan & Associates to facilitate that. Together, those sessions helped us understand our budget and our resources as we decided on the tactics to meet our goals. We put together a scorecard to cascade out to the entire workforce, so everyone understands how they impact the organization as we move forward with these plans. We continue to keep everyone involved.

Every once in a while, I can forget why I’m doing this. You need to know the why for this journey you’re on, and you need to regularly revisit it. I do now.

Laurie Butz, President and CEO, Capital Credit Union

On biggest surprises … and biggest mistake …

Before I threw my hat in the ring for this job, I interviewed CEOs in other industries. One thing I was consistently told was how lonely a place that office can be. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many CEOs from other credit unions and organizations across the country have offered their help and camaraderie. Some of them are new CEOs who offered to get together regularly to talk about what we’ve learned so far.

My biggest mistake? Well, every once in a while, I can forget why I’m doing this. Why have I pursued these expanded roles? Why am I trying to move up the ladder? People can lose their passion for things when they forget why they’re doing it in the first place. You need to know the why for this journey you’re on, and you need to regularly revisit it. I do now.

A room with a view? Laurie Butz’s office looks out over Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

January 23, 2023

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