‘Destroy and Reimagine’

Management guru to CUs: Spend more time ‘trying new stuff.’

June 24, 2012

Don’t expect Tom Peters to be warm and fuzzy when he addresses the America’s Credit Union Conference (ACUC) in San Diego this month.

It’s not that the management guru and bestselling author doesn’t like credit unions—quite the contrary, in fact. But being cordial and reassuring isn’t his thing.

“I won’t be a nice guy—and I mean that in the best sense,” Peters said during a recent call from his farm in New Hampshire. “I’m going to be like the dog tugging on your coat who wants to go out.”

Peters won’t ask ACUC attendees to change—that term is “grossly overused,” he says, and lacking in urgency. Instead, Peters implores credit unions and other organizations to “destroy and reimagine.”

That means “spending a heck of a lot more time trying new stuff,” he says. “I’m a strong supporter of decentralized organizations that have energetic and talented people who are allowed to try any darn thing that comes to mind. You act your way into thinking more than you think your way into acting.

“In established organizations, there’s a tendency to shore up what you did yesterday rather than stick your nose into very different air.”

That’s a good reason for leaders to hire people they’re not comfortable with, Peters says. “If you sit down with your executive committee tomorrow morning and you’re comfortable with every one of them, you’ve got a problem, brother. We need some people who are disruptive—those who’ll roll their eyes when the CEO talks about [an outdated] project and say under their breath, ‘that’s so 2009.’ The alternative is obsolescence, failure, and—plain and simple—evaporation.”

Credit unions can avoid obsolescence and compete with larger competitors by staying true to their “bedrock” values of integrity and service, and connecting with their local communities, Peters says.

“The small guy has an enormous advantage” over the larger players, he says. “I tell people in retail that if you’re a local organization and you can’t beat the hell out of Walmart, there’s something wrong with you. Small, local businesses have an opportunity for intimacy with customers that Walmart can’t duplicate.”

Recently called the “Red Bull of management thinkers” by Inc. magazine, Peters will share more advice—and strong opinions—Monday, June 18, during ACUC.

Also on tap at the ACUC: Ron Kase will receive Credit Union Magazine’s CU Hero of the Year Award. The CEO of Landmark Credit Union, New Berlin, Wis., oversaw the growth of Landmark from a $2 million asset credit union with four employees to a $1.8 billion asset institution with 482 employees—helping many members along the way.

BILL MERRICK is senior managing editor of Credit Union Magazine.