Gary Oakland, retired president/CEO of BECU in Seattle, Wash., is one of three winners of the 2014 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement.
The National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) cited Oakland’s visionary approach to leadership and extraordinary commitment to the credit union movement in its announcement.
“Gary is a slam dunk as a choice,” says John Gregoire, chair of NCUF Wegner Awards selection committee and president of The ProCon Group in Madison, Wis. “Gary’s contributions to the credit union movement were so obvious as everything he touches turns to success for the average American consumer. It’s evident in the growth of BECU, the state supervision system, dual credit union chartering, Biz Kid$, NCUF, and much more.”
Oakland’s award will be one of four Herb Wegner Memorial Awards presented at a special dinner NCUF will host during CUNA’s 2014 Governmental Affairs Conference.
A tireless supporter
Over the course of his career, Oakland supported the credit union movement in a myriad of ways, including service on the boards of CUNA, Washington Credit Union
League, National Association of State Credit Union Supervisors (NASCUS), and NCUF.
During his time as CEO of BECU, Oakland guided the credit union to provide aid for more than a dozen low income credit unions across the country, often single-handedly locating the funds to keep his fellow members-first organizations afloat in times of hardship.
With his leadership, BECU played key roles in the founding of two low-income designated credit unions: TULIP Credit Union and Express Credit Union. Oakland also oversaw BECU’s creation of Prime Alliance (now Mortgage Cadence), a credit union service organization that provides mortgage solutions to approximately 600 credit unions.
“Until his recent retirement, [Gary] ably served as an intellectual thought leader on every important issue facing credit unions,” says Mary Martha Fortney, president/CEO of NASCUS. “Of particular note and importance are his dedication and efforts to make supplemental capital a reality for all natural person credit unions. We are seeing the result of Gary’s work on this issue today as supplemental capital in being considered on Capitol Hill.”
Commitment to member value
Oakland is hailed for his unfaltering dedication to improving value for the credit union member.
Exemplifying the impact of this commitment, BECU grew from 108,000 members when he became CEO in 1986 to more than 775,000 members at the time of his retirement in 2012.
Oakland was known for accommodating the needs of Boeing employees and providing guidance in responsible financial practices.
He also led the credit union to a statewide field of membership to allow more consumers to benefit from the credit union advantage: member-focused service with better rates and fewer fees.
While this growth trajectory could have changed the organization’s culture, Oakland held BECU true to its founding principles and the credit union philosophy of “people helping people.”
In 2006, BECU had an opportunity to return a portion of its reserves to its member base. He instated the Member Advantage account, which reversed the interest rate tiers, providing more return for smaller savings accounts and creating an incentive to save at a time when U.S. savings rates were at or below 0%.
“At the local level, Gary advocated for the member at every turn,” says Rae K. Miles, president of Innovative Resources LLC. “He changed policy to help Boeing employees when they needed it most and led by example in promoting the importance of thrift to the membership. His ‘people helping people’ efforts went well beyond the membership of BECU.”
Among Oakland’s most influential accomplishments was the role he played in the launch of the PBS program, Biz Kid$, an award-winning financial education show for youth.
Through leading the production initiative, committing $500,000 initially and $1 million overall, Oakland has become the face associated with the show’s success.
After five seasons, Biz Kid$ has won two Emmy Awards and was nominated for 11 more. It claims nationwide recognition and makes a daily difference in the lives of its youth audiences.
“Had it not been for Gary’s effort, leadership, and financial and personal commitment, [Biz Kid$] would never have happened,” says Rudy Hanley, president/CEO of SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union. “The result has been overwhelming. The stature of the credit union brand has been greatly enhanced thanks to his vision and leadership.”
Dedication to employees
Despite countless other commitments and initiatives, Oakland still managed to earn the full respect and gratitude of his employees for his supportive and encouraging approach to leadership.
He put his employees before himself and made concerted efforts to urge them to embrace personal and career growth opportunities. As a result of Gary’s compassion and attitude, BECU claims one of the lowest employee turnover rates in the industry—and five former BECU employees are now CEOs of other credit unions.
“Gary understands that ‘People Helping People’ begins at home,” says Roger Mauldin, BECU director. “It was always important to Gary that employees have a healthy work-life balance, be paid a fair wage, receive good benefits and know they are appreciated.”