Politically Active CEO Counts Blessings

‘Building relationships with lawmakers is critical.’

March 01, 2012
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A quick review of Rudy Hanley’s formative years sounds similar to those of many young Americans—paper route, three years in the U.S. Army, a bachelor’s degree from the University of California-Irvine (UCI).

But that’s just part of the story. Hanley, president/CEO of $8.8 billion asset SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Santa Ana, Calif., was born in Hungary. When his family fled the Soviet-occupied country in 1956 and immigrated to the U.S., the children didn’t speak any English. Hanley and his brother spent six months in a “foreign adjustment” program before being mainstreamed in public schools.

Hanley describes moving to this country as “traveling from the Third World to the First World. I always saw the U.S. as paradise—the land of opportunity.”

For Hanley, through hard work—and what others call charm and integrity and he calls luck—opportunities abounded. Hanley worked his way through college, attaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and later a law degree. At points before his credit union career, he worked as a supermarket stocker to put himself through college, and as a high-school teacher.

“I taught high-school math for eight years,” he says. “I loved teaching. It was the most rewarding and fulfilling job.”
Unfortunately for the students and fortunately for the credit union movement, Hanley switched careers. He’d planned to be a corporate tax attorney. But shortly after he graduated from law school and set up a tax preparation business, CUNA hired him to develop a white paper on retaining credit unions’ tax-exempt status. That was a defining career moment.

“I decided the ‘people helping people’ philosophy on which credit unions are built was the perfect match for me,” reported Hanley in an interview for the UCI alumni paper. After the CUNA project, he joined the California Credit Union League, as head of its research and information department.

Then he took the helm of SchoolsFirst Federal in 1982. The credit union’s charter has expanded over the years to serve public and private school employees in 10 Southern California counties.

“Being able to come to a credit union that was such a perfect fit because of my teaching career and serving school employees here” was a great opportunity, says Hanley. “That’s why I really don’t feel I’m deserving of awards. Because you fall into it, you’re kind of the beneficiary of the team and the culture they’ve built.”

Those around Hanley, though, say his accomplishments are due to more than simply “opportunity” and “luck.” Commenting on his 2011 Herb Wegner “Lifetime Achievement” award from the National Credit Union Foundation, several cohorts weighed in.

John Annaloro, CEO of the Northwest Credit Union Association mentions that Hanley spends time with all new credit union hires to make sure they understand the meaning of the credit union difference. “In doing so, he spreads the system’s philosophical objective and economic improvement for all.”

“The most impressive thing about Rudy is his integrity,” notes Tom Dorety, president/CEO of $5 billion asset Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, Tampa, Fla. “Integrity means everything to Rudy, and he lives his life and runs SchoolsFirst Federal accordingly. He is incredibly generous and humble to a fault.”
Both Annaloro and Dorety attest to the great benefit of Hanley’s political involvement efforts. And Hanley agrees it’s important.

Next: Build relationships

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