‘You’re Worth More Here’

CEO presides over remarkable growth during 38-year career.

June 13, 2011

When Ron Kase retires from his post as CEO of Landmark Credit Union in January 2013, the New Berlin, Wis., credit union will be ready for the transition.

Kase started the process back in 1999, when he wrote his own succession plan. He identified five candidates as potential replacements. They received training and educational opportunities, and in April, Landmark named its new president, Jay Magulski. Kase will serve as CEO until he retires and passes the torch to Magulski.

All senior managers at Landmark have sim­ilar succession plans. But Kase admits not all credit unions can achieve such a broad-based goal.

“You have to have a certain size for your organization to be able to do this,” he says. “But we have an excellent long-term board. We created this together. We’re also currently in the midst of a board succession process. So we have a lot of fresh faces there, too.”

Kase has seen numerous transitions in his 38 years at the helm of Landmark. The credit union has grown from four employees, $2 million in assets, and 2,500 members in 1973, to its current 450 associates, $1.6 billion in assets, and 165,000 members.

Landmark’s original field of membership in 1933 was employees of the Rexnord Corp. But under Kase’s leadership, the credit union acquired a community charter in 1983 during the last major recession. Its field of membership now encompasses anyone who lives or works within nine counties in southeastern Wisconsin.

One of his biggest challenges and rewards over the years has been “hiring people who are smarter than I am and who are able to manage all the changes we’ve been through,” says Kase. All three of his original employees have now retired, but several managers who started with the credit union in the ’70s and ’80s are still on staff.

One of his proudest accomplishments is the creation of 450 jobs in southeastern Wisconsin. But, he says, “I’m most proud of the fact that through my years here at Landmark we’ve been able to help many people help themselves at the start of their economic lives.

“I’ve had people call me and say, ‘You helped me out 20 years ago, can you help me again?’ or ‘You helped me out 20 years ago, can you help my son or my daughter?’ Those are the highlights.”

Part of that service has come through several unique programs for specific member needs, including:

  • First-Time Homebuyer Program, which waives all closing costs for qualifying first-time buyers;
  • Rescue Refinance Program, which helped members at the beginning of the recent recession break free of subprime mortgages;
  • Investment services, to encourage members of all means to save regularly;
  • Home-buying and credit counseling seminars, offered in English, Spanish, and Hmong;
  • Hispanic initiative, which includes hiring bilingual staff, serving as an authorized Internal Revenue Service representative in issuing individual taxpayer identification numbers, issuing Matricula Consular cards, and offering inexpensive ($5) wire transfer services.

Most members who ask for Spanish-speaking staff actually are bilingual themselves, says Kase, but they appreciate being able to speak and con­duct financial business in their native language.

Kase understands this preference because English is his second language. He and his family emigrated from Germany to the U.S. when he was 13. He still speaks German, travels to Europe every few years, and regularly speaks by phone with family overseas.

Kase’s leadership and dedication to commu­nity service helped Landmark win second placein the national 2008 Dora Maxwell Social Responsibility Award program.

“Though Landmark is one of the biggest credit unions in the state, because of Ron’s dedication to serving members in the best way possible, Landmark still has that small credit union devotion to members,” says Landmark’s vice president of marketing, Pat Ransom, who nominated him for the award.

In 2010, Kase accepted the Midwest Urban Empowerment Award in the finance category, for his leadership in developing financial services for Milwaukee’s urban community.

Landmark’s mortgage servicing portfolio currently tops $1.6 billion. And for nine conse­cutive quarters, Landmark has been the No. 1 auto lender in southeastern Wisconsin. It has offered indirect and direct auto lending since 1983.

“Even during the recession, when other lenders quit lending, Landmark continued to lend,” says Kase. While Wisconsin wasn’t hit as hard as some states, Landmark “saw delinquency levels we hadn’t seen in a decade,” he says. Before the recession, Landmark’s delinquency rate was less than 1%. It swelled to 2.75% at the peak of the recession, and has dropped back to its current rate of 2.5%.

Fortunately, the credit union has had earnings to support it. And it also went through four mergers in the past few years, adding $100 million to its assets.

Kase has served in other leadership roles with the Waukesha United Way, the New Berlin Lions Club, the New Berlin Industrial Association, the Wisconsin Credit Union League, the Wisconsin Shared Service Center Corp., and the Credit Union Executives Society, among others.

He and wife, Cathy, have been married for 41 years. They have a son, a daughter, and four grandchildren who live nearby. Spending more time with family and friends will be a priority when Kase retires, as will enjoying his numerous hobbies, including golf, flying, playing piano, and curling (“Bonspiels and birdies”).

Throughout his career at Landmark, Kase has focused on two main ideals:

1. His belief that home ownership is central to a stable society, especially in urban areas. Because of this, Landmark continues to help members from all walks of life save for and achieve the American dream of home ownership.

2. His continuing goal to serve all members from all neighborhoods.

Through these actions and his organizational leadership, Kase endeavors to live the Landmark message, “You’re worth more here.”

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It’s never too late to try something new. That was what Ron Kase discovered when he took up both golfing and curling at the age of 45. The two sports are ideal for a Wisconsin resident—golf outside in the spring, summer, and fall; curl at an indoor rink during the long winter. Kase, CEO of Landmark Credit Union, in New Berlin, Wis., is a member of the Kettle Moraine Curling Club, and has served on its board of directors.

Curling has been described as shuffleboard on ice, though curlers might argue it’s more strenuous and competitive. Kase travels to “bonspiels” (curling tournaments) during
the curling season with his team and compatriots.

Of course at this time of year he’s off the ice and onto the putting green. “I’ve excelled at many things,” he admits. “Unfortunately, thus far golf has not been one of them. But there’s always next time.”