Operations

From Dairyland to Down Under

A Wisconsin CU CEO on sabbatical in Australia finds clues for dealing with challenges facing U.S. CUs.

October 02, 2010
KEYWORDS australia , board , credit , unions
/ PRINT / ShareShare / Text Size +

Be a sponge.

That’s the best way to approach a leadership sabbatical in another country, says Kim Sponem, CEO of $1.5 billion asset Summit Credit Union, Madison, Wis. In other words—learn from your hosts, don’t offer unsolicited advice, and don’t be judgmental.

Sponem spent three months in Australia in 2010. She first worked with Abacus, Australia’s credit union trade association, then with mecu, a $2.2 billion asset credit union based in Melbourne. This was all part of a pilot exchange program launched by the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU).

Dairyland to Down Under

Focus

In Australia, CUs are taxed, there’s one regulator for all financial institutions, and board members often are paid.
Successful CUs in Australia have a clearly articulated vision and brand.
•  Board focus: Australian CUs have experienced many challenges now facing their U.S. counterparts, including reduced interchange income and accelerated industry consolidation.

video Videos

Photos

View photos from Australia

Australian credit unions have experienced many issues now facing U.S. credit unions, including challenges to their tax-exempt status, reduced interchange income, and accelerated industry consolidation.

“This was an opportunity to step into the future and see how Australian credit unions have been able to survive and thrive in a very bank-like environment,” Sponem says.

She tells Credit Union Magazine about what makes Australian credit unions successful, key differences between U.S. and Australian institutions, and what U.S. credit unions can learn from their counterparts Down Under.

CU Mag: How did your sabbatical come about?
Sponem: I was talking to Dave Grace [WOCCU’s vice president of association services] at a meeting, and asked if WOCCU had a sabbatical exchange program because they’re fairly prevalent in other industries. He said no, but they’d been thinking about starting one.

He contacted some folks in Australia, including Louise Petschler, CEO of Abacus. I proposed it to Andy Faust [Summit’s former CEO] and the board, and everyone thought it was a great idea.

I spent two weeks at Abacus and met with regulators and industry leaders. Then I joined mecu’s senior management team. I went to board and committee meetings, attended all senior management meetings and board planning sessions, led a project team, and met with community leaders. It was great.

Next: What did your family think about moving to Australia?

Post a comment to this story

heroes

What's Popular

Popular Stories

Recent Discussion

Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

Your Say: Who should be Credit Union Magazine's 2014 CU Hero of the Year?

View Results Poll Archive