Jeff Disterhoft On Leadership

The CEO for University of Iowa Community Credit Union shares how developing relationships, solving problems, and uncovering opportunities have helped the cooperative thrive.

Jeff Disterhoft, CEO, University Of Iowa Community Credit Union

The first time Jeff Disterhoft visited the University of Iowa Community Credit Union ($4.5B, North Liberty, IA), it was as an auditor. His career in public accounting led him to focus on banks and credit unions, and he performed audits on both kinds of institutions throughout Iowa and Nebraska. But Disterhofts future was about to change.

I felt I had something more to contribute, says Disterhoft, who left public accounting to become chief financial officer of the Hawkeye State cooperative.

Disterhoft now has been with Iowa Community Credit Union for more than 20 years serving as chief executive officer for the past 18 and finds it difficult to imagine doing anything else.ContentMiddleAd

Over the past two decades, the credit union has grown substantially. With an approximate annual growth rate of 20%, the cooperative has expanded from $200 million in assets to $4.5 billion. According to Disterhoft, that growth is largely driven by the credit unions team taking care of members and the community.

Here, Disterhoft shares his views on leadership, how to face adversity, and his advice for the industry.

On early lessons

During my college days, I was inadvertently left off a commuter train in Cologne, West Germany, in the middle of the night with no friends, ticket, money, passport, or means of communication. This was well before the days of cell phones.

Through some patience, perseverance, and creativity, I eventually rejoined my group. Looking back, it taught me the importance of remaining calm in the face of adversity, that things are never quite as bad as they seem, and to never, ever give up.

On leadership style

As a leader, I try to model the way with my own behavior and encourage an environment of accountability within the cooperative. My personal drive to achieve the highest standards often results in strong outcomes.

Credit unions by and large are quick to collaborate, but it still feels like there are opportunities to proactively share best practices within the industry.

Jeff Disterhoft, CEO, University of Iowa Community Credit Union

However, as Im rarely satisfied, it can also rub folks the wrong way. Overall, I try to make our shop a little better each day. If we do that long enough, great things happen.

On what makes a great leader

As the years go by, the one thing that seems to separate good leaders from great ones is the ability to identify the tough decisions and have the fortitude to act on them.

Sometimes we face difficult decisions in how we lead our lives, sometimes in how we lead our organizations. Regardless, the leaders who impress me the most are the ones who have the discipline to make those tough decisions even in the face of opposition.

On what to look for in employees


University of Iowa Community Credit Union
Data as of 09.30.17

HQ: North Liberty, IA
MEMBERS: 165,295
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 23.7%
ROA: 1.62%

First and foremost, I look for passion. As the old saying goes, you can often train aptitude, but it’s hard to generate passion down the road.

I love being around people who have a natural curiosity to make things better and aren’t afraid to make difficult decisions. And, the strongest teams are usually composed of people with diverse backgrounds and lines of thinking.

On the best and most difficult parts of the job

I love the opportunity to work with people every day developing relationships, solving problems, and uncovering opportunities for the members we serve.

On the flip side, any decision that demotes an employee is difficult for me. Caring is one of our core corporate values, and striking the balance between caring for an individual employee relative to those they’re charged to serve is rarely straightforward.

Over the years, I’ve learned to err on the side of patience, compassion, and transparency. But at the end of the day, some pain is unavoidable for both parties.

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On the future of the industry

Credit unions by and large are quick to collaborate, but it still feels like there are opportunities to proactively share best practices within the industry. Several of our trade organizations periodically take the lead on such efforts, but we still seem to fall short. With all of our results easily available, we could quickly identify who’s succeeding in certain areas to help others succeed there as well.

We also need to ensure our lobbying efforts are unified around a common message nationwide if we want to be successful from a legislative perspective. Budgetary and regulatory pressures aren’t going away anytime soon, so to the extent we can approach those challenges with solidarity, it would seem to improve our odds of success.

Overall, I am hopeful for our industry, and I cant wait to see what the future holds for UICCU.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Strategy Performance 3Q 2017

Credit unions have made significant gains since the Great Recession started 10 years ago. Third quarter credit union growth trends surged past that of community banks and the overall banking industry. Measures such as loans, shares, capital, and membership have all reached new levels. These gains are all notable and meaningful; however, they are backward-looking. The important question to ask is: Where will credit unions be in the next 10 years? In this issue of Strategy Performance, learn why now is the time for credit unions to challenge themselves.

December 18, 2017

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