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Bring Them Aboard

May 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 5
by Katie Larson

Elevations CU has recruited directors from each age decade from their 30s to their 70s using a commitment to board diversity—and readiness to support their development.

Group of people help another person step upCredit unions have a great opportunity to find energetic, intelligent, qualified younger board members who are passionate about the credit union movement and wish to contribute to their CU and community by serving on the board.

Indeed, individuals in their mid-20s to mid-30s may have gained a solid educational foundation in graduating from college programs, but still be in the earlier stages of their careers. This is a time in which they can give back to their communities, learn through interaction with experienced board members and senior management, and add to the breadth of their experience. The board and credit union, in turn, benefit from the perspectives young directors contribute.

I do not believe younger board members should be recruited purely based upon their age, but rather based upon the skill sets, experience, and demographic representation they bring to the board.

Board Breadth

At 34, I am the vice chair of the eight-member board of $1.4 billion Elevations Credit Union in Boulder, Colo. I’m the youngest, and we have at least one director in each of the next four age decades—40-something, 50-something, 60-something and 70-something.

Our diversity doesn’t stop there. We have five men and three women; two CPAs; a retired head librarian of the William M. White Business Library at the University of Colorado at Boulder (our founding select employee group); a current professor in the department of integrative physiology and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Colorado at Boulder; a local manufacturing company owner; a former board chair of St. Vrain Valley Credit Union (which merged with Elevations CU in 2011); and a 40-year CU executive who served as CEO for the Colorado CU system for 30 years and as president of CO-OP Shared Branching.

I work as a treasury manager at the corporate headquarters of Chipotle Mexican Grill where, together with a team, I oversee domestic and international cash management functions for more than 1,595 restaurants in the United States, Canada and Europe.

Having a retired university librarian, a current university faculty member and me (a relatively recent college graduate) on the board is representative of our CU membership’s faculty, staff and student demographics. Our partnership with the university, including a branch on campus and scholarship activities, lead many university students and families to join Elevations CU. Their memberships contribute to a lower average member age than national credit union averages.

In addition, our board members live in cities across the Front Range metropolitan area, an oblong region of urban population located along the eastern face of the Southern Rocky Mountains in Colorado. This allows us perspective into the breadth of our geographic field of membership, which spans four counties.

Our board members with business ownership experience are representative of our member small business owners. Our chair, Carroll Beach, has a wealth of knowledge, experience and passion for the credit union movement, to which he has devoted much of his career.

Board Recruitment

Our board and nominating committee members periodically review and recommend criteria for directors that would best represent our membership, complement existing board composition, and lead to a vibrant board culture. These criteria are not set in stone, but serve as a framework that evolves along with the organization.

We strive for, but have yet to completely achieve, balanced board composition by such demographics as age, race and gender. At the same time, we value leadership experience, community involvement and progressive thinking. We interview candidates to ensure they are passionate about representing the membership, contributing to progressive dialogue, committing to continuing education, and helping to drive the organization’s strategic direction.

Our CEO conducts the initial stages of board search and recruitment activities in line with the criteria established by the nominating committee. Candidates are interviewed by the board’s nominating committee prior to meeting with the full board.

Elevations CU has established term limits of 12 years, composed of four consecutive three-year terms per board member. We appreciate both the value of tenure and the revitalization generated by the addition of new directors.

No current board members have yet reached their 12-year term limitation; however past board members have been term-limited and retired from their board service. We intentionally stagger board terms to ensure continuity of institutional knowledge.

Of our current board, one director is serving in his first three-year term, and two board members have five to six years remaining. Overall length of service to Elevations CU exceeds 12 years for several board members when prior committee involvement is taken into account.

Onboarding and Director Education

New board members complete board orientation with the chair and CEO, covering board bylaws, policies, governance approach, as well as the credit union’s structure, field of membership, history, and community involvement, including the activities of the Elevations Foundation.

New directors take a tour of credit union operations and several branches. A significant amount of time is devoted to discussion of the organization’s strategic planning process. New board members are introduced to the board portal site, which runs on Microsoft’s SharePoint. The portal aids with distributing consent agenda items (approved together with one vote) and dialogue prior to onsite board meetings. Lastly, the chair outlines resources for continuing education available to our board.

Given the importance of CU legislative advocacy, members of our board attend CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., annually. We held our spring strategic planning session last year in conjunction with CO-OP’s THINK conference, with the intention of cultivating innovative ideas.

Our board also has benefited from attending CUES’ Directors Conference, during which we network with directors from other credit unions and learn from industry and governance experts.

I recently attended CUES’ inaugural Board Chair Development Seminar, where I valued the opportunity to learn from the expertise of Les Wallace, Ph.D., and to engage with and be inspired by board chairs and vice chairs from credit unions around the country. This conference provided a great introduction to progressive board governance models and the role of the chair. If the board voted accordingly, I became chair after our annual meeting and board reorganizational session in April.

One Young Director’s Story

I joined Elevations Credit Union in 2002 after graduating from college in Minnesota and returning to Boulder, where I attended high school. My mother encouraged me to sign up for an account because she believes in the credit union model and difference.

Later that summer, as a recent college graduate faced with a competitive job market, I was grateful for the opportunity to work as a teller for Elevations CU for almost a year. That experience taught me much about the credit union and broader financial services industry.

Two years later, I had reached a point in my career where I wanted to develop my leadership skills and volunteer in my community. I responded to a call for volunteers on Elevations CU’s website, and was interviewed and appointed to serve on our then-finance committee. (The committee has since been disbanded, as its functions are covered by board, supervisory, and asset/liability committees.)

I later served on the supervisory committee, and was subsequently interviewed and appointed to an open board seat. The board members made a concerted effort to recruit a younger board member with the right educational and experiential background. They were welcoming and supportive of my contributions, capabilities and development, for which I am most appreciative.

Katie Larson is treasury manager for Chipotle Mexican Grill, Denver, and vice chair of $1.4 billion Elevations Credit Union, Boulder, Colo., a member of CUES’ Center for Credit Union Board Excellence.

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