CEO Success Stories

Taking Action In A Crisis

Steve Renock

Steve Renock knew he faced hard work when he accepted the position as CEO and President of Kern Schools Federal Credit Union in Bakersfield, California in October 2009.

The financial storm was in full “sand-state” force there, particularly affecting the region’s major employers—agriculture and oil. The lessons about community Steve learned growing up in Watsontown, a small town in central Pennsylvania on the banks of the Susquehanna River, served him well. His experience at Mellon Bank, Shearson Lehman, CU Mortgage (a CUSO of the California Credit Union League) and as Executive Vice President at Schools First Credit Union, with $8 billion in assets, also enabled Steve to step right in and make a difference at Kern Schools.

He recognized that it was imperative for Kern Schools to remain the primary financial institution in the community. Dramatic action was essential. “Strategically, it was clear we were going to go through the stages of Survival, Recovery and Growth. We are on the tail end of the recovery stage now and starting to grow again with our community.” Steve and his team took action, and the results have been extraordinary with net worth growing nearly 300 basis points to 7.72% and an ROA of 1.7%. (See the excellent article detailing tactics in the Credit Union Journal of February 20, 2012.) Steve and his team closed seven branches, reduced the ATM network by over 50% and carried out layoffs.

“As anyone on either side can tell you, there is nothing harder than layoffs,” says Steve. “With Board, staff and community, the only way to go is to be transparent and respectful. Hope is not a strategy. Honesty is. Our team rose to the occasion and our community understood. While Bakersfield is a city, it is also a small town, and word travels fast from person to person and family to family. The challenge is not over for any of us here, just as it never truly ends in any well-intentioned business. Yet we are solid again financially, our culture has stayed intact, our community continues to trust us, and we are looking forward to the future. We all are respectful of the regulator’s role.”

We asked Steve what he credits for his success in the midst of such challenge. He laughed and said, “Luck plays a role. Yet you have to work hard and get along with people. Maybe I’m lucky that my mother’s heritage is Italian. So I’m half Italian: I talk with one hand, and really do like people! It’s about showing respect and being direct. At the heart of it, I don’t ask my team to do anything I wouldn’t do. You have to stay vigilant. Things change like the wind. As Rudy Hanley taught me, nothings fails like success.”

What advice does Steve have for those who would like to become CEOs? “Read voraciously. Not just business journals. You can learn much from biographies. What I learned studying the lives of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Churchill and others is to persevere through adversity. As for the fundamentals, in credit unions you do need to know economics and accounting. Analysis and strategy are also key. You just have to be well-rounded, and to be well-rounded you need to listen and study as well as take action. Our work and our lives reflect how we treat one another. Credit unions are a convergence in the best interest of the member. A CEO’s role is to guide people to where they believe in the mission. In credit unions we have a mission in which we all can believe.”

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