Politically Active CEO Counts Blessings

‘Building relationships with lawmakers is critical.’

March 01, 2012
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“Political involvement is key to any industry or movement, but especially one like the credit union movement,” he explains. “You have to build relationships.” Doing so is “not only an ongoing but a lifetime commitment and effort. You can’t be going to your representatives only when you want something, and then the rest of the time sitting back.”

Hanley maintains a personal relationship with long-time credit union supporter U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif. “I had a wonderful relationship with Ed when he was a state senator,” he says, “and that has survived now for 25 years. He understands not only our credit union and the personal relationship, but he also understands what credit unions stand for. And he’s a staunch supporter in Washington because of that level of understanding built up over the years.

“I really think it’s an obligation we have,” he adds. “Political action and building relationships is critical. As credit union CEOs, we’re in the relationship business. So we have the skills and abilities to really be effective.”

There’s nothing to be afraid of, he says, and “it’s interesting and exciting, as well as productive and beneficial.” Hanley recommends mentoring with seasoned CEOs who’ve already established political relationships.

Back to the Beginning

Revisiting one’s roots can be a difficult experience. For Rudy Hanley, president/CEO of SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, Santa Ana, Calif., the first time back to his birthplace in Hungary was “very emotional.” His family fled the Soviet-occupied country in 1956.

When he returned more than three decades later, “in many ways it was very much the same,” he describes. His childhood school was “exactly the same,” the sidewalk was still dirt, and the little church hadn’t changed. The family’s house had been repainted, but otherwise unchanged.

On the return trip, family members retraced their escape route through Austria and on to the U.S. Later, Hanley returned to Hungary several times. He and his wife, Catherine, have traveled extensively, including trips to Greece, Turkey, Italy, and France.

But his feet are now firmly planted in Southern California where he’s lived most of his life. The U.S. has been good to him, he says. “I don’t feel like there’s anything special about me. I’m just a lucky recipient of a lot of good things.”

Mentoring is a big part of Hanley’s career as a CEO. SchoolsFirst Federal historically has supported smaller credit unions. It also played a significant role in developing Santa Ana’s $3 million asset Comunidad Latina Federal Credit Union, a community development credit union (CDCU) for Spanish-speaking residents.

SchoolsFirst Federal covered the CDCU’s operating expenses for the first five years. And with the participation of 14 other credit unions,
they provided $1.5 million in 0% deposits to help Comunidad Latina Federal fund loans.

The CDCU serves real needs, he says, because Spanish is the primary language in about 74% of Santa Ana’s homes. Many residents are customers of payday lenders and check cashers.

“Our philosophy is that we need to live the purpose and structure of credit unions,” he says. “These are the people credit unions were really created for. We had limited resources, but we wanted to do something to help a segment of the community not being served by other financial institutions.”

Hanley also has been active on numerous committees and organizations throughout his 32-year credit union career. He’s a founding member of the Filene Research Institute. And he has served on the boards of the National Credit Union Foundation, CUNA, CUNA Strategic Services, CUNA Mutual Group, and the Consumer Federation of America.

But he sees it all as paying it forward. “The credit union movement is such an exceptional opportunity for anybody. I believe in hard work and doing your best. That’s the least you can do to show your appreciation for everything that has been given to you and all the blessings that you receive.

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