Community Service

‘Focus on Members’

Wegner Award winner looks to his roots.

November 20, 2011
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William Eckhardt (pictured above), president/CEO of Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Anchorage, is one of two winners of the 2012 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement, sponsored by the National Credit Union Foundation.

Tom Dorety, president/CEO, Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union is the other winner. He was featured in last month’s Leading Edge.

Eckhardt joined Alaska USA in 1971 and eight years later was named president/CEO. Under his visionary leadership, the credit union pioneered 30-year mortgages, share drafts, commercial lending, mortgage servicing, and insurance and trust services.

He places a high priority on political advocacy and has served on the boards of CUNA and CUNA Mutual Group, and as a founding member of the Filene Research Institute and MEMBERS Development Co.

Credit Union Magazine interviewed Eckhardt about the award.

What’s it like to win the prestigious Herb Wegner Memorial Award?

It’s a great honor. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on my 40 years at Alaska USA. The award is one that I will appropriately share with the entire Alaska USA team, as our achievements during the past decades can’t be attributed to one individual.

Alaska USA’s success is the result of a longstanding and strong commitment to member service, as well as dedication and hard work on the part of the team. That team includes the officials, executives, and every employee—past and present.

What’s your greatest credit union accomplishment?

The organizational durability of the credit union. Regardless of the competitive, economic, political, or regulatory challenges confronting Alaska USA during the years, the credit union remains a reliable partner and members’ favorite financial institution. That’s supported by its 65% household market share in Alaska.

What do you attribute to your success?

This goes back to being raised in Alaska where the idea of helping your neighbor—or people helping people—is a way of life and often a matter of survival. Helping members improve their financial well-being was consistent with my upbringing and has been at the foundation of my career.

With credit unions and members economically stressed, what advice do you have for leaders? 

Stay focused on helping members and shoring up the credit union’s financial foundation. Don’t allow regulatory requirements to distract you from those goals.

Why is political involvement so important?

If you’re not involved politically, then the role you play is that of a victim of the political process. Involvement at the local level in your home state is the most effective form of involvement.

The awards dinner will be held March 19, 2012, during CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. Visit ncuf.coop for more information. 

LIBBY VERTZ is an intern in CUNA’s business-to-business publishing department. Contact her at 608-231-4096.

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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.

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