Three tips for building your Board/CEO relationship in 2014

It’s been almost a full year since I became CUES’ president/CEO. Previously an executive vice president at PSCU, I had experience managing staff. But, not having been a CEO before, working for and with a board of directors was new to me. So I’ve been paying special attention to building a great business relationship with Teresa Freeborn, who was CUES chair through the end of October, and the rest of the CUES Board.

So far, I’ve found it all boils down to ensuring good and appropriate communication. For me, three main strategies have worked well. Whether you’re a new or a long-time CEO, you may find some actionable ideas in these:

1. Know when the board needs to know/be involved.
During this first year, I was figuring out what information to keep Teresa (president/CEO of $800 million Xceed Financial Credit Union, El Segundo, Calif.) in the loop on, what to go for guidance on, and when to handle issues myself.

For a long time, CUES has had a decision matrix that describes when a decision is up to the CEO and when the board should be involved. During the financial turndown, the matrix had been changed to heighten board involvement overall. This year, the matrix was updated to once again give me, as CEO, more latitude. (There are several decision matrices/level of authority agreements in CUES Members Share for members to download. Get help with your members-only password by emailing

While the decision matrix is an important guide to how decisions need to get made, my working criteria is: If the matter at hand is “day to day,” that’s stuff we need to handle as a staff; if the issue is investing in an institute—like CUES’ new Strategic Innovation Institute™ with MIT and Stanford University—or in new technology­­, that’s probably something the board needs to be aware of. Getting the board involved is important in these cases both because of the investment and change, and also because the board is part of the marketplace and can be an important sales channel.

2. Ensure the chair and the board are never surprised.
The last thing I want to do is blindside my board chair or directors by surprising them during a board meeting. In fact, I take that to the extreme. When I have a new idea to share with the board, I’ll seek Teresa’s insight and buy-in before the meeting. This goes along with all of my sales training. Before going into a sales meeting, a best practice is to find out who is your supporter in the group and develop concepts and ideas with that person. That way, the person will support you in the meeting—and day to day when you’re not there. Likewise, when I’m going to be presenting to the board, Teresa—assuming she agrees with my direction—can coach me on how to proceed based on her deep knowledge of the needs of the board, and help to facilitate the board discussion.

3. Make time to communicate.
Teresa and I have spoken often during the past year. Now that she has passed on the gavel to CUES’ 2013-14 chairman Robert Ramirez, CCE, Bob and I have had the first of the regular meetings we have planned. President/CEO of $1.2 billion Vantage West Credit Union, Tucson, Ariz., Bob and I will also be together at CUES Symposium: A CEO/Chairman Exchange, the CUES conference designed to help develop strong board/CEO relationships. The event provides engaging sessions about leadership, plus relationship building activities in the afternoons.

With 2014 right around the corner, have you been reflecting on your board/CEO relationship?  Consider making your new year’s resolution to improve the effectiveness of your exchange. Your credit union and your members can only benefit.

Charles E. “Chuck” Fagan, III became CUES President and Chief Executive Officer, effective January 2, 2013. Prior to joining CUES, Fagan served as executive vice president of PSCU’s national sales and client relationship teams and helped pioneer the company’s role in bringing emerging payments technologies to its Member-Owner credit unions. Prior to PSCU, he served as account manager at Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and as manager of card services at Virginia Credit Union (VACU). Fagan earned a BSBA in finance from Longwood University in Farmville, Va. He and his wife, Kathy, have two daughters.

Charles Fagan

Charles Fagan

Charles E. “Chuck” Fagan, III is President and CEO of PSCU, a credit union service organization that leverages the cooperative model to better serve credit unions and their members through ... Web: Details