What are successful credit unions paying attention to?

“Apple is a boat. There’s a hole in the boat, and it’s taking on water. But there’s also treasure on board. And the problem is, everyone on board is rowing in different directions, so the boat is just standing still. My job is to get everyone rowing in the same direction.”

That was a statement made by Gil Amelio, Apple’s CEO prior to the return of Steve Jobs for his second round at the company he founded.

Larry Ellison, a leader in tech during this era asked one important question about Amelio’s statement:

“But what about the hole?”

So, what in the world does this have to do with credit unions?


After reading that story in the book, “Becoming Steve Jobs,” I had to put it down and mull it over. I could take my finger and point to so many times I have encountered one of two scenarios in my work with credit unions:

  1. “We need a better culture!” Indeed, a wonderful goal that is accomplished will be great for your team and your credit union, but they forget about the hole in the boat.
  2. “What hole? Keep rowing!” The actual obstacles standing in the way of growth and success are ignored.

It’s like taking a car to the mechanic because it won’t start and asking them to try putting on a new tire. It’s cheaper and easier to throw a new tire on the car than any engine work (or replacing the engine) would be. You’ve taken action, but that car still isn’t going anywhere. I see leaders tackle smaller problems where the solutions won’t make an impact, but just acting on something makes the leader feel accomplished. The problem is, just like the car with a blown engine won’t start with a new tire, the credit union won’t grow and succeed with the wrong solutions to the real problems.

I recall sitting in an onboarding meeting with a brand-new client several years ago. There had been several consecutive years of declines in loans and membership.

“Why?” The CEO kept responding that everything was fine, we just needed to focus on marketing.

Red flag.

I knew issues existed. I made the mistake of pressing forward anyway, despite offering to refund them their onboarding fee and excusing ourselves. That engagement lasted all of 60 days and ended in an unnecessary merger for that particular credit union.

“What hole? Keep rowing!” was that credit union’s response.

I see so many credit unions adrift like the boat Gil Amelio described. There’s treasure on board. That treasure is an opportunity to serve the credit union members and that community well – perhaps with something unique that fills a void in your community.

But the hole in the boat is often overlooked. Tires are changed instead of engines being replaced. Those in the boat are rowing, and even if they become unified in where they are rowing, they go nowhere fast and keep taking on water, because they continue to overlook the real problem(s).

I challenge you to present this story at your next credit union leadership meeting or board meeting and ask if there is indeed a hole that is being overlooked, keeping you from successfully reaching your credit union’s goals.

Contact the author: Your Marketing Co

Contact the author: Your Marketing Co

Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald

Bo McDonald is president of Your Marketing Co. A marketing firm that started serving credit unions nearly a decade ago, offering a wide range of services including web design, branding, ... Web: yourmarketing.co Details