CEO Spotlight: Gary Grinnell, Corning FCU

As the subject of this month’s CEO Spotlight, Corning FCU President/CEO Gary Grinnell recently answered a series of questions on his advocacy efforts, leadership strategies and more.

Q: How did you get started in the credit union movement, and what is your history with Corning FCU?

A: While I was attending college, I interned with a local bank where I was later hired full time. Corning FCU has always had a great reputation in our community, and that is what drew me to them initially. I started as a collector 17 years ago and held various positions in member service and lending. Lending has always been my “first love.” I have been the CEO for seven years.

Q: How would your staff describe your leadership style?

A: I think they would describe me as very member-focused and team-focused. Yes, we have to have strategies, business plans and solid financials. However, our business model for more than 30 years has always been to value our members and our employees first. If we continue to operate with these high standards, the financials will follow.

Q: Why do you think it’s important for credit unions, and credit union leaders, to be advocates for the industry?

A: The power of advocacy comes from the grassroots level. Of course our trades need to play a role, but they can’t do it alone; nor would that be effective. We have more than 90 million members as an industry, many of whom love their credit unions and would advocate for us if we just took the simple steps of educating them and requesting their assistance. However, not all credit unions and credit union leaders have been united in this effort. Actually, I think the percentage of credit unions who engage their members in advocacy is very small. If we really want to protect and move the movement forward, this grassroots effort is a necessity.

Q: Your credit union has been very successful at engaging members in grassroots advocacy. Why do you think that is?

A: We ask! And we keep it simple. A successful effort requires simple communication and education. It’s our responsibility to make it very easy for members to participate. We have had tens of thousands of members agree to assist us with advocacy, and we’ve rarely had any barriers to overcome when asking members for their assistance.

Q: Why is MBL reform so important to credit unions like yours that actively serve small businesses?

A: If we could get the MBL cap lifted, I believe this would be a huge opportunity for credit unions. It is very frustrating for us when we have more demand than capacity. We are actively trying to grow new markets, and our limited capacity with MBL stifles these plans. Business lending growth helps all credit union members by making the credit union stronger. It is a very profitable business and would allow credit unions to grow and expand their product and service offerings to all members.

Q: What are your credit union’s key goals/priorities for 2014?

A: We will continue to devote significant resources to our mobile applications and services. We will be opening two new branches in our remote markets (Wilmington, N.C. and Chambersburg, Pa.) in 2014. Growing membership and growing loans are priorities.

Attracting younger members has also been a major priority for at least the past five years. And while attracting younger members is a challenge, retaining them is another. There are many opportunities to lose relationships as young people transition from high school to college, college to career and so forth. If you don’t retain members through these stages, all of your efforts to attract them early on are meaningless.

Q: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

A: Running. I ran a marathon recently and qualified for the Boston Marathon. Snowmobiling is my favorite stress reliever—I’m thrilled to see it snowing outside!

Q: What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

A: There are many things I’ve learned from the talented people I work with. I can’t pick a “best,” but here are a few of my favorites:

  • Maintain financial discipline in the best of times, and there will not be a worst of times.
  • Focus on long-term results. Anyone can be successful short term.
  • Communicate effectively with your team, and engage their hearts in the mission of the credit union.
  • Set high standards, and be relentless in ensuring they are followed at all levels of the organization.

About CEO Spotlight:
Each month, the CEO Spotlight column features credit union leaders from around the state, offering an inside look at their experiences and insights. Previous CEO Spotlight columns are available on the Credit Union Association of New York website.