Bill Eckhardt Wins Wegner ‘Lifetime Achievement’ Award
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Madison, Wis. – In recognition of his entrepreneurial spirit, exceptional leadership, and numerous contributions to the credit union industry, the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) is pleased to announce William (Bill) B. Eckhardt, President and CEO of Alaska USA Federal Credit Union in Anchorage, Alaska, as one of two winners of the 2012 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement.
This is the first time in NCUF’s history that two awards for Lifetime Achievement will be given. Tom Dorety, President and CEO of Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, will also receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Eckhardt’s award will be one of three total Herb Wegner Memorial Awards presented at a special dinner hosted by NCUF at the Grand Hyatt Washington on March 19, 2012 —Monday night of the Credit Union National Association’s 2012 Governmental Affairs Conference. Online registration for dinner tickets will be available later this year on the NCUF website (www.ncuf.coop).
“When you look at Bill’s achievements, you realize what an unassuming guy he is, having been involved in so many meaningful, wonderful projects,” said NCUF Awards & Recognition Committee Chairman Bob Schumacher. “It’s just that you had never put them all together until you read his biographical information. And then you have to wonder how he could have possibly accomplished all that!”
Credit Union Leader & Innovator
Soon after graduating from college, Eckhardt joined Alaska USA in 1971 as Assistant General Manager. In 1979, on his 30th birthday, he was appointed President/CEO of one of the nation’s 25 largest and most progressive credit unions, a position he and the organization has maintained for more than 32 years.
“Bill Eckhardt is and has been an extraordinary leader under extraordinary circumstances,” said David Chatfield, former President/CEO of the California Credit Union League. “Under his leadership, Alaska USA FCU has consistently achieved amazing advances in operational innovation and member services, despite what to others might seem insurmountable obstacles due to its remote location, vast geography, harsh environment, and extreme ‘boom and bust’ economic conditions. A lifetime in Alaska and exceptional management skills has enabled Bill to lead Alaska USA to not just survive, but thrive in its approach to operations and the unique ‘Alaska USA’ brand of member service.”
Through Eckhardt’s vision and leadership, Alaska USA FCU introduced many notable products and services to the industry. Alaska USA FCU was the first credit union to offer 30-year mortgage loans and one of the first to offer share drafts, was the first to serve members nationally and internationally through a dedicated member service center, and was one of the first credit unions to initiate a commercial lending division, provide mortgage servicing, and implement insurance trust services operations. The credit union also coordinated one of the first joint ventures to create the successful regional ATM Network, Alaska Option.
“These accomplishments are the result of Bill’s progressive thinking and exemplary leadership,” said Rosie Holub, former President/CEO of the Missouri Credit Union Association. “Many of the strategies Bill has employed over the years were based upon his courage to take calculated risk. And, he would certainly admit that some risks yielded the greatest successes, and some risks produced disappointing outcomes. But, Bill strongly believes that risk is required to innovate, and innovation must occur to realize progress.”
“Not only has Bill developed a long list of innovative services, but he is willing to share the creation of those services with others,” said Dennis Cutter, President/CEO of Numerica Credit Union in Spokane, Wash. “I have been in the indirect lending business for about 15 years and Bill Eckhardt is the person who provided me with all of the forms, expertise, and coaching that I needed to get started. Bill has always been, and continues to be, willing to share his knowledge.”
Credit Union Advocate in Alaska & Nationally
In addition to being a pioneer in implementing and offering products and services, Eckhardt has always placed a priority on political advocacy. In fact, Alaska USA FCU was among the first credit unions to utilize an in-house political and regulatory advocacy team at the state and national level, creating significant congressional influence in the process. Eckhardt has said that it is imperative that credit unions generate the political influence necessary to ensure a positive credit union operating environment that promotes credit union growth, enhances the federal charter, and isn’t encumbered by overly burdensome regulation. He backed his words with selecting politically astute and experienced individuals to be engaged in community service and be politically involved at the local, state and national level.
Aside from advocacy, Eckhardt also contributed to the credit union system by serving on the board of directors of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), CUNA Mutual Group, and was a founding member of the Filene Research Institute.
“During Bill’s time on the CUNA board, he provided valuable insight and input to the credit union movement,” added Cutter, who served with Eckhardt on the CUNA board of directors. “Bill always approached decision making at the national level with what would be the best for credit unions and credit union members. His opinion was well respected by everyone who served on the Board with him.”
Humbly Focused on Serving Members
Eckhardt’s personal and political credit union involvement started as soon as he started at Alaska USA FCU in 1971. When Alaska’s Natives (Inuit, Aleut, Athabaskan, Tlingit, Haida, and others) were granted millions of dollars and millions of acres of land by Congress in 1971 in settlement of their aboriginal land claims, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) asked Alaska USA FCU to temporarily expand its field of membership and provide badly-needed financial education to Alaska’s Natives. Alaska USA FCU responded by providing membership and opening offices in larger Native villages, and trained Alaska’s Natives to staff those offices. Eckhardt personally traveled widely in the Alaska bush to explain the credit union difference and also opened accounts for Alaska’s Natives, often using his lap as the desk.
In 1981, Alaska USA FCU was granted authority by congressional action to permanently serve Alaska’s Natives and the regional corporations formed out of the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act. It was the only time in history that Congress has taken action to extend the field of membership of a single credit union.
“When Alaska USA FCU was faced with the prospect of having to divest those members, after all of their work, they simply got Congress to enact legislation permanently fixing the field of membership problem, said Barry Jolette, President/CEO of San Mateo Credit Union in San Diego, Calif. “No other credit union has ever achieved such single focused legislation. And yet you do not hear them brag of such an accomplishment. They simply go about the business of serving members.”
Clearing the Way for Others to Succeed
“Much of what we all do today can be traced back to Bill as a pioneer of innovation in the movement,” said Steve Punch, President/CEO of Pacific Service Credit Union in Walnut Creek, Calif. “He may not make speeches about his accomplishments, but he is part of our genetic makeup. We all have found the path easier to navigate because of him.”
* Note to Editors: A high-resolution version of Bill Eckhardt’s headshot is available here: http://resource.cuna.org/dl/f0830S18Bau.JPG
About the Herb Wegner Memorial Awards:
The awards are named in honor of the late Credit Union National Association CEO Herb Wegner, whose tireless dedication, innovative ideas and deeds truly revolutionized the ways that credit unions serve their communities. The awards that bear Wegner’s name recognize his spirit of “innovative, creative, risk-taking” leadership. View past award recipients here.
About the National Credit Union Foundation (ncuf.coop):
The National Credit Union Foundation is the US credit union movement’s primary national philanthropic program provider, fundraiser and grant-maker. Through NCUF grants and programs, credit unions provide widespread financial education, create greater access to affordable financial services, and empower more consumers to save, build assets, and own homes.
NCUF is funded primarily by investments in the award-winning Community Investment Fund (CIF) and by generous Supporters led by the Credit Union National Association and CUNA Mutual. All NCUF donors provide support that empowers NCUF and state credit union foundations to make a real impact in the credit union community.
The National Credit Union Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization. NCUF continues to earn the Better Business Bureau seal of approval as an “Accredited Charity” for meeting all 20 BBB Wise Giving Alliance Standards for national charities.