Tips To Help Internal Candidates Succeed As CEO

Andy Grimm has been with Apple FCU for more than 20 years, but he's been CEO for less than two months. In this Q&A, the chief executive offers advice for old-timers taking on a new role.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Andy Grimm became CEO of Apple FCU on July 1, 2017. He’d been with the credit union for more than 20 years, most recently as EVP/COO.
  • Grimm advises internal applicants to approach openings as any other competitor does do the homework and earn the promotion.

When Andy Grimm took the helm at Apple Federal Credit Union ($2.4B, Fairfax, VA) in July 2017, he brought with him more than 20 years of service at the mid-Atlantic credit union.

Andy Grimm, CEO, Apple FCU

As executive vice president and chief operating officer, Grimm was a natural successor to retiring CEO Larry Kelly. The credit union’s succession plan even named Grimm the temporary CEO. However, the vetted employee who had overseen branch openings, mergers, and more still had to earn the role in the top spot.

In this Q&A, Grimm discusses the ins and outs of transitioning from executive suite member to holder of the corner office.

Is it important to have experience within an organization before becoming its CEO?

Andy Grimm: It helps in assessing talent and helps ease the transition in some ways. For example, I’ve overseen every department at one point or another in my career, so I’m now saving time in the area of discovery. ContentMiddleAd

That said, you can’t take things for granted.

A new role requires a new look at everything and the establishment of new relationships. For example, I have worked with Apple’s board for the past 20 years but never as CEO. I still need to establish that kind of partnership.

Talk about the selection process for the CEO. Were you named the successor well in advance?

AG: I knew the job would become available, but it was a long process. Selecting the right CEO is a big responsibility, and the process should reflect that.


Apple FCU
Data as of 06.30.17

HQ: Fairfax, VA
MEMBERS: 193,613
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 10.0%
ROA: 0.95%

As executive vice president, I was the natural successor on a temporary basis according to the credit union’s succession plan. However, I knew the credit union would conduct a nationwide search and rightfully so for a permanent replacement when the previous CEO, Larry Kelly, retired.

The board began planning and discussing the transition approximately two years ago; the selection process lasted six to nine months. A recruiter who specializes in leadership development worked closely with Apple’s board to identify top leadership characteristics, and a series of tests focused on candidates’ leadership styles and pinpointed gaps in leadership characteristics.

Did you pursue any specific training before or during the transition?

AG: I’m a continuous learner and participated in leadership training outside the credit union even before the selection process began. I’ve worked with Jim Cardwell to network with other No. 2s from credit unions throughout the country and participate in face-to-face leadership training sessions.

It’s not your right to have the position. You have to prove you’re the best candidate for the job.

Andy Grimm, CEO, Apple FCU

I’m now working with Apple’s board of directors to establish a strong onboarding program. Although it’s not a training program, per se, it is critical for the transition process.

Talk more about the onboarding process.

AG: The overall goal of the process is to establish a strong working relationship with the board, identify gaps between how the board and how the executive management view the organization, and work to align everyone in the organization.

I’ve met with the chairman and am meeting with individual board members, covering the same topics with everyone. Namely, their experience on the board, what’s most important to them, what they feel needs to change, what they hope I do as CEO, and their concerns.

This is still in process, but the meetings are a good way for the board members to understand my vision and see what it’s like to work with me as CEO. These meetings also give us a chance to speak candidly about things like the board meeting, changes to make, or more education to offer on certain topics.

There’s a fine line between operations and strategy. What’s most important to me is that the board understands the why behind what we’re doing.

What’s’ your advice for other internal candidates looking to transition to a CEO position at their credit unions?

AG: Don’t take anything for granted.

It’s not your right to have the position you have to earn it. Approach the role as a competitor. Do your homework. You’ll be evaluated against other candidates, so you have to prove you’re the best candidate for the job.

You must also develop a vision for your organization. If you’re an internal candidate, this might be different from your current responsibilities. However, having that vision ready to start pushing throughout the organization is important.

Lastly, once you get the position, there are still things you need to work on. For example, you need to make yourself known and establish yourself in the external world. You are now the face of your credit union and will need to be strategic about networking and other outside opportunities.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

August 30, 2017

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