Inspiring new leaders

CUNA Finance Council 2020 Professional of the Year Bill Kennedy builds up others.

September 16, 2020

Over a 32-year credit union career, Bill Kennedy has excelled in turning around troubled financial institutions and mentoring future leaders.

During that time, the current chief financial officer (CFO) for $429 million asset Securityplus Federal Credit Union in Baltimore has simultaneously served, at least initially, as CEO and CFO at multiple credit unions.

The CUNA Finance Council named Kennedy its 2020 Professional of the Year. The award recognizes excellence in financial management and significant contributions toward credit unions’ success.

A 2019 Credit Union Rock Star, Kennedy shares his philosophy on leadership, networking, and mentoring others.

Credit Union Magazine: What’s your leadership philosophy?

Bill Kennedy: It’s my mission to help develop other leaders who will go on to do bigger and better things—hopefully in the credit union movement in some form or fashion.

Spending time with my teammates is critical. I make myself accessible to mentor, teach, and coach each of my teammates and demonstrate that I care about them.

Something I learned from my first mentor has been critical to my development: You must be the CEO of your own personal services corporation and create value in everything you do. Every year, you must strive to become more efficient, effective, and knowledgeable in what you do.

I try to empower my employees by setting a solid example. I realize my teammates are always watching, so I do my best to maintain a positive, celebratory, and often humorous demeanor.

I recognize, encourage, and applaud them publicly. Through these actions, I seek to be a shining light and a blessing to others.

Q: You’re active in multiple organizations outside of work. Why is this important to you?

A: My first mentor taught me to put myself in situations where I could learn from other leaders outside of the office while at the same time creating value for the work I do. He suggested I volunteer to serve on the boards of local organizations and network on the golf course.

These two activities have provided opportunities throughout my career to develop relationships and gain insight from perspectives beyond my day-to-day worldview.

At Justice Federal Credit Union [Chantilly, Va.], another mentor encouraged me to pursue an executive MBA, to join the faculty of a local community college, and to mentor young professionals.

My mentor arranged for Justice Federal, under my leadership, to sponsor internship-type projects for MBA students. That’s how I got hooked on mentoring my credit union teammates—initially on an informal basis and later through formal internship and management training programs.

CUNA Finance Council

Teaching college students was one of the most significant developments in my growth outside of the credit union space. I learned how to present and communicate ideas and topics to a group of people from varied backgrounds who had different ways of learning.

Being academically challenged by students kept me on top of my game intellectually. This experience helped me improve my presentations to the boards I was involved with and I spoke more frequently at both credit union and non-credit union events, especially those involving students and young professionals.

Besides genuinely thanking each and every mentor who has helped me along the way, giving back and paying it forward is another way I can show gratitude to those who have played a significant role in my journey, especially as it pertains to volunteering.

Q. You are dedicated to leadership and training. How do you implement that philosophy at Securityplus?

A. I encourage everyone to get involved. I stand by the Wayne Gretzky’s quote, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

We encourage our teammates to be actively involved in training. That has opened a lot of doors for our employees.

All credit unions, particularly smaller credit unions, were at a critical crossroads before COVID-19. Now the situation is even worse for many of them.

A large percentage of credit union C-suite executives are expected to retire soon. Many credit unions fail or merge out of existence because there are not enough young professionals waiting in the wings to step in.

I felt I could do a small part in possibly addressing this issue through our programs.

Q: What is the key to lifting struggling credit unions?

A: First and foremost, ensure that the financial foundation is solid. My accounting, finance, and asset/liability management experience help in this arena because you can’t “lift off” if the launch pad foundation is cracked and falling apart.

Second, you want to be that forward-moving train that folks want to be on. Creating passion and energy is key.

I want to make myself accessible to mentor, teach, and coach every teammate to demonstrate I care about them. Together we can become the solution the credit union needs.