When Rudy Pereira left Hewlett-Packard in 1990 to work for a credit union, he had no idea he’d eventually lead one.
“It was the first time I’d been introduced to credit unions, and I absolutely loved the idea of having a direct impact on members’ lives,” says Pereira, CEO of $1.4 billion asset Royal Credit Union, Eau Claire, Wis., and chair of the CUNA Council Forum. “I was hooked from the start.”
Pereira credits much of his success to continuous professional development, particularly through the CUNA Councils. The organization recently reached an important milestone: 6,000 members.
Pereira discusses the implications of that milestone, how professional development has advanced his career, and what it takes to become a CEO today.
CU Mag: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Pereira: I once asked an executive at Hewlett-Packard, “What’s the one thing you look for in people?”
He replied, “I look for people with an insatiable desire to learn.” That stuck with me. So throughout my career I’ve tried to keep myself learning and growing so I wouldn’t stagnate in any way.
CU Mag: How has professional development helped your career?
Pereira: I was pretty shy a few years ago, and becoming a CUNA Technology Council chairman taught me so much about leadership and facilitating a group of leaders that weren’t my direct reports. That experience gave me confidence.
Being CUNA Council Forum chairman, with all of those vice chairs, is not too different from having a conversation with your board of directors. It has been a wonderful experience from a CEO development standpoint—and it’s no coincidence that the last four CUNA Council Forum chairs all became CEOs by the time they’d left.
CU Mag: What are the implications of the Councils reaching the 6,000-members milestone?
Pereira: It’s a significant number. In the past few years alone membership has nearly doubled—and that was during the financial crisis.
Our members were seeking information, resources, collaboration—the kinds of things the councils have to offer our wonderful industry, which is already geared toward collaboration.
All six councils have contributed to this growth, and that says a lot about the industry. With all of the mergers in the last few years, you’d think we’d have fewer members. But more people have joined—they’re seeing the value of the councils.
CU Mag: What have you learned from your council peers?
Pereira: I’ve learned to be able to express opinions, and that it’s ok to be passionate about what you believe in. And I know I can rely on my peers.
That’s why I love our industry—we can call any credit union for information. And when you already have a connection through the councils, there’s already an instant bond because you’re seeking the same things for yourself and for your credit union.
CU Mag: What does it take to become a CEO today?
Pereira: Certainly, you need to have a good understanding of how a credit union operates financially and how it generates revenue. That’s why, traditionally, you see a lot of chief financial officers become CEOs.
But you also have to be strategic and visionary—and you need courage because you have to make decisions about direction and make tough choices.
You also need to surround yourself with the best people to be an effective CEO today.
CU Mag: What career advice would you offer other CU leaders?
Pereira: Get involved in the councils—particularly young leaders. You may work in accounting but you’ll get exposure through the councils to human resources, marketing, lending, finance, technology, and more. It’s a wonderful way to make you a better person and return greater value to your credit union and members.
Once you get involved in our industry, you really feel its magic—our not-for-profit, people-helping-people approach. Every day I feel great about what we do for members. We have to keep attracting talent to our industry so we remain relevant, competitive, and valuable to our members.
A lot of talented and committed people are starting to retire in credit unions, and we need people who are not just looking for a job but want to make this a career.
Many young people want to work for a values-based organization, so all we have to do is tell them what our purpose is: We’re not just another financial institution; we’re really about helping people. I think that resonates with young professionals today seeking a purposeful career.
Bill Merrick is deputy editor of Credit Union Magazine. Follow him on Twitter via @CUMagazine.