Gene's Note: Thinking Forward

Wow! There is so much to write about this month…the System Upgrade, my retirement announcement, and the promotion of Matt Stephenson to President of Rogue Credit Union. The System Upgrade is behind us and for most of our members, it was a small change. For some of our members it was a major pain. The announcement of my retirement early next year caught some members by surprise and others are asking what Matt’s promotion means for the future of the credit union. All are important things for me to discuss in this month’s blog. 

As I was thinking about this month’s message, I realized these events are the result of our credit union’s strategy to constantly think forward. What is thinking forward? It is the ability to scan the horizon and imagine a bright future for all those you serve. One of my favorite quotes is by Peter Drucker, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” I remember being cautioned early in my career to think forward or fall behind. Since those days back in 2006 when it was announced that I would be the new CEO, replacing Tim Alford after his incredible 12 years of service at Rogue (and nearly 25 years total), I knew it was my duty to think forward. Why? Because the community had supported Rogue Credit Union and it was our duty to ensure southern Oregon would always have a local credit union.  
So, every year since 2006, your Rogue team, leaders, and board have been thinking forward. As financial institutions consolidated and local institutions disappeared, our team dug in to ensure Rogue would not only survive, but also thrive. Through the financial crisis, the team was constantly thinking forward. It was the board’s foresight and focus on better serving the needs of our members and our community that has resulted in Rogue being one of the only two remaining local financial institutions.  

Systems Integration Upgrade 

As we were constantly thinking forward, there was always one obstacle to our future success…our core operating system. A system that was state of the art in 1992 and served the credit union well for nearly 30 years. However, it was a system written in an old programming language, which was creating significant difficulty in communicating with the technology solutions demanded by members today. The system was no longer being updated to serve credit unions like ours, and it was time for a change. However, we put this change off for a number of years because we knew the disruption it could create for our members.  

Over three years ago, our team decided we could no longer delay this necessary system upgrade. We embarked on a project to identify the best system to serve the credit union for decades to come. Therefore, for the last 18 months, our team has been working and preparing to make the transition as seamless as possible. While many of our members were satisfied with the way things were working, even more members were demanding access to the latest digital tools. While many members said the system works just fine for me…many more said they wanted more. I know the change was dramatic for you, but it was a planned change as a result of thinking forward. The change really was the investment in a long-term insurance policy of connectivity and capability to ensure that Rogue would create its future, instead of becoming a victim of the future.  

I want to thank you for standing by Rogue as we worked, and continue to work through, some member pain points. The dedication and commitment of our team is incredible. They are working around the clock to solve outstanding issues. Please show our team members grace as they work an entirely new system to help you with the changes. As our team members become more familiar with the new system, they will be able to help you take advantage of the new features available and give you the opportunity to think forward for your personal financial objectives. 

In the same way, my retirement early next year is a result of thinking forward. However, let me step back a bit to share a story of how this has been a hallmark of the credit union’s history. I started in financial services with a scholarship from an Oregon-based (at the time) bank. I spent eight years with them, earning a degree in Business Administration from Southern Oregon State College (now Southern Oregon University). When I finished my degree, the real opportunities for growth were in the Portland area. However, I had a young family and was raised in a small southern Oregon town and wanted to raise my family in a small town. 
Serving Rogue and our Community 

I started looking at my opportunities locally. Friends said I should apply at the friendly bank, which I learned was not actually a bank, but our own Rogue Federal Credit Union. So, I did! I had a great interview, but did not get the job. I did get a job at another credit union, but I could tell there was something special about Rogue. So, over the next 18 years I pursued my career at other credit unions, always working to serve members and staff the way I would wanted to be served. Throughout those 18 years, I always kept in touch with Rogue. Little did I know they were keeping an eye on my progress as a leader. Then the fateful day came when I got a call and they said their long-term CEO Tim Alford was considering retirement and asked if I would be interested in joining the Rogue team. I jumped at the opportunity and joined the credit union in 2003 as the Executive Vice President. I still had to prove I was the right person to lead Rogue.   

I joke with staff it took me 18 years, plus three years of an on-the-job interview to prove to the Rogue team I was worthy of serving our members and staff as the President/CEO. So, why do I share this story? Because it is another example of how the credit union was thinking forward even back in 1985. You see, I interviewed with Tim Alford even before he was the CEO of the credit union. While I wasn’t ready to join the credit union at that time, Tim saw potential in me. I learned later he watched me progress in my career as a leader throughout those 18 years. While faithfully serving the members as their President/CEO, he was thinking forward to who the best credit union leader would be to become the 4th President/CEO of Rogue Credit Union. And they chose me!

It was an incredible honor to be selected to serve the members in 2007 as the President/CEO, and an even greater honor to see how the members and community have supported us through my tenure. It was also my duty to ensure I was thinking forward to when it was time for me to retire. Just like Tim, I thought forward to the type of leader necessary to lead the credit union into the rapidly evolving technology and changing service models credit unions are facing today. Even more importantly, to make sure our future leader would be able to guide us through the financial services evolution they will face tomorrow. I have been working with the board for over four years to identify the skills and abilities of the leader Rogue needs for the future. The board has looked at the top leaders in the credit union movement to determine who best demonstrates the skills, abilities, and connection to our strategy. Throughout this process, the board was thinking forward to the type of leader they could trust to faithfully serve our members, staff and community.  

Introducing Your New President 

Fortunately, the first person I hired at Rogue has proven to be the leader the credit union needs for the future. The first person I hired at Rogue was Matt Stephenson.  He was hired to fix a significant problem with our core system at the time. It is ironic that he was hired to fix the system in 2004 and now is overseeing our System Upgrade to secure our future. Matt has excelled at every challenge I have presented him with. After getting our technology in order, I asked him to help oversee our branches. He helped us reorganize and refocus to ensure consistent and high quality service delivery. Just as the financial crisis was becoming a reality, I asked him to serve as our Chief Financial Officer. His leadership in this role not only ensured the credit union would survive; he built the foundation for us to thrive. Then I asked him to be our Executive Vice President and lead the purchase and assumption of Chetco Federal Credit Union. His work to integrate people and systems allowed us to build the strength necessary to grow the credit union at a pace never seen before in the history of Rogue. With his ongoing success, I made Matt the Chief Operating Officer at the beginning of 2020. 

Each new challenge I provided Matt with was part of my process of thinking forward. He demonstrated he understood technology, but did he understand branch delivery? Once he proved he understood delivery, could he master the complexities of financial management? Once he checked the financial box, could he master a major project that included the day-to-day oversight of another credit union? With project management firmly in his skill set, could Matt effectively guide our leadership team as the Executive Vice President? By being a leader of leaders, could he oversee the day-to-day operations of the credit union as the credit union’s Chief Operating Officer? 

With each challenge, Matt has excelled and his success has led to his selection as our President. The next year provides him the time to ensure the measured and methodical transition in leadership our members and team deserve. By the time he is confirmed in 2022 as the 5th President/CEO in the history of this credit union, there will be no more boxes to check. His 18-year job interview will finally be complete and he will be thinking forward to continue the member focus and community engagement Rogue is known for. As with each of the previous CEO transitions at Rogue, it became clear that each leader was the right leader for the right time. Matt’s hard work has proven he is the right leader for this time! 

In Closing 
I still have a year to go and will take the opportunity in my blogs to share my thanks and appreciation for those that made my journey as the President/CEO of Rogue Credit Union so special. It is incredible to think back to 2007 and realize how honored I was to have just been given my dream job, with my dream credit union, in my hometown. I have been blessed throughout the journey by the loyal members I have served and the incredible people I have had the opportunity to work with. This is a special time to think forward to all the opportunities for me and the credit union in the next chapter!

I truly enjoy the messages I receive from our members in response to these posts and suggestions for future topics. So, please share with me how this message resonates with you at