CU Mag: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
Williams: It’s a cliché, but I’ve always refused to acknowledge obstacles. While some people are negative and see obstacles, I only see opportunities.
When opportunities present themselves, you can: 1. be smarter than your competitors, 2. find a creative solution to capitalize on the opportunity, or 3. cheat. I never saw myself as being smarter than anyone, and I refuse to cheat.
Therefore, I always tried to surround myself with people smarter and more creative than me. Together we were fairly successful at finding creative solutions and seizing opportunities.
One on my favorite sayings is, “Don’t give me excuses, bring me creative solutions.” That approach has served me well through the years.
CU Mag: What’s your approach to lending?
Williams: I always found it a privilege to be a lender, as it gave me the opportunity to look for creative ways to help people solve a financial crisis or achieve their dreams.
I never looked at myself as a “lender,” per se, but rather as a “purveyor of hope” or a dream merchant.
Rather than being an “obstacle” in the borrowing process, I tried to be compassionate and understanding to those members going through a financial crisis and, on the flip side, share in the member’s excitement and become a transparent part of their experience when they were buying a car, home, etc.
CU Mag: What are the biggest lending opportunities and challenges for CUs in the months ahead?
Williams: Lending opportunities have and will always be the same: ask and listen to your members and find out their wants and needs. Then, develop and offer creative products to meet those needs, whether it’s for home loans, automobile loans, small business loans, etc.
As far as challenges to the industry, it appears to me that far too many credit unions are trying hard to be banks. It is imperative that credit unions remember their origins and reasons for existence.
We’re simply in the service business, and our business model is simple: hire talented, passionate, caring employees with a servant’s heart, and take care of them.
My philosophy has always been simple: hire talented employees, train them, and give them the necessary resources, products, and services to succeed, and they will take care of the members. Together, they will take care of the bottom line.
CU Mag: What are your plans going forward?
Williams: As I told those who attended my retirement celebration, I retired for two reasons: one is eight years old and the other is six. I want to spend more time with our two grandsons, Dan and Nick.
Additionally, [my wife] Lynn and I plan to travel the world with even more frequency, and I’ll continue to be active in my community activities.
CU Mag: What advice do you have for your successor?
Williams: I’ve always passed along the same two pieces of advice: Do everything within your power to make your boss and team look good, give all the praise to your team when things go well, and personally take the blame when things go sideways.
Choose your team members wisely and the praise will far outweigh the blame.
CU Mag: What parting advice would you offer the CU movement?
Williams: Never lose sight of our two most important things: employees and members. Take care of them and they’ll make you successful beyond your wildest dreams.
Look at everything you do as though you’re looking through a pair of binoculars. One lens represents the employees while the other represents the members. Focus the two correctly and you have the vision for success.
CU Mag: What’s one thing your colleagues might not know about you?
Williams: I dropped out of high school after my father died. I was out one semester and my principal, Mr. McReynolds, came to my home one day and spent the morning convincing me of my potential.
His parting words to me that morning were, “You’ve suffered a great loss and I can’t begin to understand how you feel. Take as much time as you need to sort things out. When you’re ready to come back and finish your education, as long as I’m there, you’re welcome. No questions asked.”
I returned the next semester and he lived up to his word. I’ll never forget that man and the lesson he taught me about the positive impact a caring person can have on someone’s life and destiny.
Bill Merrick is deputy editor of Credit Union Magazine. Follow him on Twitter via @CUMagazine.