It’s been 19 months since Jason Peach moved from chief financial officer (CFO) to CEO of $200 million asset West Community Credit Union in O’Fallon, Mo.
The longtime CUNA Councils member shares his road to leadership and how he has adapted his outlook and responsibilities as a result of that change.
CU Mag: What’s the main message you give CFOs who are transitioning to CEO?
Peach: Don’t be a CFO in a CEO body. I really enjoyed being the CFO. I also love the responsibility and the opportunity to lead as CEO, and that meant the job needed to be different. I needed to be different.
You move to a different chair and you get a lot of freedom to be in a different place, and you have to be comfortable with that.
I focus on delivering the message about our mission to our workforce and to our board, and put the focus on what we do every day instead of trying to make the financials work or figuring out the accounting rules.
I don’t come in carrying that responsibility anymore.
CU Mag: What career experiences best set the stage for you to become CEO?
Peach: I had a mentor who would not let me come in to the accounting space without first going out into the retail environment.
If you’re going to be in a business that’s about serving people, especially in the retail channel, and you want to lead people, it really helps to know what they’re experiencing—to know the value of those contributions and their challenges.
I think it makes me a little more empathetic and a little more focused on that critical touch point with our members.
In terms of the other skillsets, it really was about networking; about building relationships.
In the CFO world, you get to interact with a lot of numbers and you get to interact with a lot of spreadsheets. There are always jokes about that.
I’m not an introvert, but walking to a room where you don’t know anybody and trying to make a connection isn’t easy. Those relationships foster future business, future growth, and future opportunities.
My approach is to try to help other people. That’s a great way to start building a relationship rather than just asking them to help us.
CU Mag: What has been the most challenging aspect of your transition?
Peach: The minute you walk into your office the first day, it hits you that you’re no longer dealing with hypothetical scenarios—you carry the responsibility of leading the organization and making the final decision.
You don’t have those feedback loops in the CEO position that you do in other positions.
Also, so many jobs deal in measurables where you’re task-oriented or deadline-oriented. In the CEO role, it’s a longer focus.
It’s more the culmination of interactions with members or the workforce in a way that, if you’re doing your job well, should lead to meeting the goals of the credit union.
You don’t have a way to know if you’re off-base or if you could have made a better decision. I’m still coming to grips with being OK with that.
CU Mag: What resources do you lean on to address that uncertainty?
Peach: We’re fortunate to have a key partner who is an organizational psychologist who has worked with West Community for years. He has been involved in our strategic planning, and he understands our commitment to the Malcolm Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, a business leadership model.
He helps me think through decisions in a way where I don’t feel judged and it’s truly safe. I don’t know how I would do this job without that resource. I encourage that for others.
Also, the CFO Council was a great mentoring tool. I have friends who became CEOs ahead of me that I continue to talk to.
Having that network is really important.
►Hear more about Peach's transition from CFO to CEO in this CUNA News Podcast interview.