One of Buddy Gill’s favorite stories to tell credit union audiences is about his time as a congressional intern.
The chief of staff pulled him into an office and said, “There are three things you need to do.”
Gill doesn’t recall the first two, but the third directive was to join Wright Patman Congressional Federal Credit Union in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.
He joined, and credit unions have been a big part of his life since. They’ll no longer be his profession, however, as his 25-year credit union career will end Jan. 15 when he retires after five years as a CUNA engagement consultant.
“I'm ready,” says Gill, a Louisiana native who now lives in Austin, Texas. “But it's not because I didn't like what I was doing. I told them, ‘Don't worry about the exit interview, it's going to be glowing.’”
Gill, who also worked at the Texas (now Cornerstone) Credit Union League and NCUA, gave a different type of exit interview to CUNA News, discussing key career moments, his passion for advocacy, and how he’ll spend his newfound free time.
Buddy Gill: In 1997, I was working in a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C., that was hired by the North Carolina Credit Union League to build a strong state coalition amid H.R. 1151. In theory, if the banks won a lawsuit, 10 million credit union members could have been kicked out of their credit unions and we'd no longer have multi-employee group credit unions. We really had to pass this bill in Congress to overturn a 5-4 Supreme Court loss.
My job was to pull all the elements together to integrate the back-home, grassroots “outside game” effort and the “inside game” lobbying effort.
In August 1998, President Bill Clinton signed it. Since 1998, you can literally see the trendline trajectory of the growth of credit union assets and members visibly tick upwards. If it had gone the other way, it could have been the death of us.
That was my arrival in credit union land, and still the biggest thing I've done in the movement.
A: It's built into the Constitution. Our founders wanted a government that wasn't tyrannical, where people had a legitimate way to petition for the redress of grievances.
But federal and state credit union charters exist only because a piece of paper legally allows it, so you have to have ongoing, vigilant advocacy.
Credit unions have to make a connection. You want lawmakers to call their staff and say, “Hey, ask the credit unions what they think about this bill.”
A: The seamless three-legged system—CUNA, leagues, and credit unions—makes us powerful. It's the envy of all other trade groups.
Credit unions are among the few institutions in America that bring both parties together. All sides agree credit unions are advancing communities and helping their constituents.
As long as we stay true to the mission, policymakers will go out of their way not to hurt us because of the good that we do.
A: I plan to spend more time with my aging parents and my nieces and nephews.
Plus, I want to do some bucket list items, particularly while I have the energy and strength. For example, I jumped out of a plane this year! Next is to travel to Ireland, London, Paris, and maybe the Netherlands.
But I’m still going to be home in Austin a lot. My house has a soundproof recording studio, along with 30 guitars, drum sets, etc. I had an Aerosmith cover band rehearsing in 2021, but we never got out to gig because of the pandemic. I’d like to resurrect that.
A: Before joining CUNA, I started a side business, AustinBuddy, making electric guitar sounds for a digital guitar amp modeler unit made by Fractal Audio™.
It's cool when artists like Aerosmith, Justin Bieber, and Trent Reznor use my sounds on stage! It's one of those, “How did I get here?” things.
A: While there are certainly threats driven by technological change, I feel good about the future because the younger people I see in the industry are smart, capable, and passionate.
It’s OK for me to retire—everything is in great hands. I loved every minute and thank Jim Nussle, (former Texas League CEO) Dick Ensweiler, and (former CUNA CEO) Dan Mica for believing in me.