A Look Back With Jeff Post

Retiring CUNA Mutual CEO shares leadership insights and lessons learned over the years.

December 9, 2013

Jeff Post recently announced his retirement from CUNA Mutual Group, where he served as president/CEO for nine years.

Bob Trunzo, president of CUNA Mutual Group Insurance and Financial Services, will take the company's corner office January 1, 2014.

Post is credited with guiding CUNA Mutual Group through the Great Recession and in making a comeback where today the company is reporting steady profits and record capital. He also oversaw a restructuring of the company, which helped it become more adept and nimble in responding not only to the needs of its customers, but to the volatility of the financial services marketplace as well.

He sat down with Credit Union Magazine to reflect on his role as CEO of CUNA Mutual Group and the legacy he is about to leave to the credit union community.

Credit Union Magazine: What has been the key to your success over the years?

Post: When people ask what my mantra is, I always tell them it’s “right person, right job, right results, right now.”

Running a company the size of CUNA Mutual Group, as CEO, there’s not a lot I can do day to day to make a ship this size turn in the right direction. But what I can do is provide the leadership, provide the direction and get good people around me.

And you know what? If I can replicate that with all of my direct reports—now we have 15 good people. If they can do that with their direct reports, well, you understand how the math works.

The “right person, right job, right results, right now” approach has served me very, very well.

Credit Union Magazine: I realize it’s comparing apples to oranges, but how would you compare your experience at CUNA Mutual Group and Fireman’s Fund Insurance [where Post also served as CEO]?

Post: I believe, in your personal life as in business, there are always new things to learn. Nobody has the corner on bringing the right value to everybody at the right time.

From my standpoint, I ran a company in a publicly traded environment and then came to a cooperative environment called CUNA Mutual Group and the credit union system. I’ve learned a lot from other credit union leaders about how to be a more effective leader by simply balancing what I knew as a publicly traded company CEO versus a cooperative system CEO.

If you look at it the other way and ask, what might credit unions learn from the publicly traded space, I’ll be honest with you. I think they learned that lesson with their impressive comeback from the 2008 recession.

I used to hear a lot of conversations about, “we don’t worry about the bottom line,” or “the bottom line takes care of itself,” and so on and so forth. Well, after ‘08 and ‘09 when nobody knew what assets were worth and credit union capital ratios started to deteriorate, especially those in the sand states, they all of a sudden realized that as a credit union, unless you’re making money, you can’t stay in business. And more important, you can’t invest in your business to help members succeed.

I saw that transformation take place in the system and I now see a very healthy balance displayed by credit union leaders, just like we do at CUNA Mutual Group. Yes, we’re a mutual, but a mutual has to make money to be able to survive and thrive in the market going forward.”

NEXT: Leadership lessons learned

Credit Union Magazine: What’s one thing you might have done differently during your years at the helm at CUNA Mutual Group?

Post: Well, you never lose a game quarterbacking on Monday morning, right? I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not smart enough to do everything right. There were opportunities I missed; probably the largest was taking too long to assemble the right team.

But when I look back on the whole nine-year adventure, I’m very pleased with where the organization is.

I look at all the hard work the CUNA Mutual Group employees put in. I look at the culture that we built. We’re one of 135 most ethical companies in the world.

I look at things like that and ask, “Could I have taken a different path?” Sure. Might it have even been better? Yes. But I don’t want to diminish all the hard work people have done here.

I feel good about handing Bob Trunzo the keys to the car. At this point in time, I know Bob will do a good job with the organization going forward.

It’s going to be an even more challenging environment for Bob than it was for me simply because of the way the world is going, and I think Bob’s uniquely capable of being able to succeed in that environment.

Credit Union Magazine: When you look back at the growth of CUNA Mutual Group’s balance sheet and performance under your years of leadership, what do you consider as the crowning moment of all those years?

Post: Honestly, being voted one of the world’s most ethical companies says a lot about how we run the company. For me, it wouldn’t be one moment but a number of moments.

If you would have walked around CUNA Mutual Group nine years ago with me through the hallways or cafeteria, everybody would have stared at their shoes and nobody would have interacted with you or I.

Today, it’s an 180-degree turn. People look you in the eye. They ask you, how are things going? There’s a buzz in the organization. There’s an alignment of the staff. The staff trusts management.

We don’t always make life easy; we don’t make all the right decisions. Management trusts the staff and everyone is pulling on the same oars.

The ethics award is, if you will, the piece of metal that sits on your desk at the end of the day. But it goes hand-in-hand with changing how this company confronts the marketplace, how we treat customers, the alignment of employees with our mission, and the ability to build a culture that allows the company to perform effectively.

I consider all those to be the crowning moments.

Credit Union Magazine: There are a lot of young women and men today who are starting their careers in the credit union community. Others look for ways to advance their careers through programs like development education, the DEs. If you were to give these folks some words of fatherly advice that would be of value in shaping their careers, what would you say to them?

Post: I actually addressed the CUDE class when they were up here a few weeks ago. I reminded them that there’s only one person in the world who’s going to manage their career and that’s the one who stares back at them every morning in the mirror.

There are incredible opportunities in the credit union system. The fact that it’s a cooperative group and one that’s focused on people helping people makes it a very fulfilling place to work.

However, to maximize your contribution to the system, the members, the credit union, or whoever you work for, it really is up to you to continue to build your skill sets, to continue to pursue things like CUDE and to continue to be involved in community activities. These are all the things you need to do to build a career.

Stay tuned for an interview with incoming CUNA Mutual CEO Bob Trunzo.