Leading the Big CU that Stayed Small

A Q&A with Wegner Award-winner Gary Oakland.

January 21, 2014

In recognition of his visionary approach to leadership and extraordinary commitment to the credit union movement, the National Credit Union Foundation is presenting Gary Oakland, a 2014 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Oakland is the retired president/CEO of $11.7 billion asset BECU in Seattle, Wash.

Credit Union Magazine recently chatted with Oakland about the award and his career.

What does this award mean to you?

I'm very honored by the award. It means, to me, that many of my peers—people I have learned so much from over the years—think I did some good things.

What are you most proud of in your credit union career?

I'm not so much proud of any one project but that BECU continued to focus on the member and the movement even as that focus allowed us to grow and serve more members.

I've always said that we're just a small credit union that happens to have a lot of members.

What was the most challenging issue you had to deal with during your CU career?

Early in my career, I would say economic cycles, especially big layoffs at Boeing when our members were virtually all Boeing employees.

Overall, I think the biggest challenge was how to introduce change appropriately—not too slow, not too fast and in a way the members and employees could understand and accept.

What’s your best leadership idea/advice?

Think differently. 

Don't let others define who we are as a movement. Stay vital to members and they will come. Then credit unions will be able to help even more consumers. 

We can continue to grow by being vital to our members.