In week’s Principle 6 newsletter, guest author Maurice Smith reflects on the decisions that led to his career in credit unions, and how cooperators should rally to create a pipeline of emerging cooperative leaders.
“Professionals who synchronize their personal values to cooperative philosophies find enduring alignment for the long-term,” Smith writes.
Read the full newsletter below, then consider how cooperatives could work together to create meaningful connections that built careers. NCBA CLUSA is on a mission to document Principle 6 collaborations across the country so we can identify trends, document best practices and share this knowledge with you—our fellow cooperators!
Principle 6 Newsletter – A Career in Co-ops: Looking Back
February 22, 2023
“How to be used in the greater service to life? Ask this question, and the answer will be returned and rewarded to you with fulfillment, which is the major definition of success, to me.” – Oprah Winfrey
“It is also nice to feel like you made a difference—inventing something or raising kids or helping people in need.” – Bill Gates
“…success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” – Barack Obama
“I measure success by how many people love me.” – Warren Buffet
Quotes published by Global Experiences Blog, 2023
An essential decision in life is one’s choice of an occupation. A person’s decision to devote self to a particular cause says something about that individual’s interests and aspirations. Perhaps more important, the selection of a profession charts a course for how one plans to contribute to society.
Cooperatives, like other forms of business, need a regenerative source of talent. Cooperators are individuals who devote themselves to advancing a manner of business that contributes to society in meaningful ways. Persons who excel in cooperatives possess a particular commitment to a set of ideals.
After 43 years, I have retired from being the CEO of a credit union. Going forward, it is younger ambitious professionals who will carry the mantle. This Principle 6 newsletter is a personal message to readers to consider cooperatives as a career choice. Moreover, those of us who have lived this occupation should ponder how we can help others contemplate this choice.
For those who made cooperatives part of our chosen discipline, we decided so for various reasons. We would learn how the principles and ownership tenets provide a structure for practicing our discipline. In cooperatives, we discovered a special framework for business, commerce and industry.
Each of us have a story for how we came to the cooperative universe. However we entered this community, our living testimony provides a guide for others who may consider this career choice. I offer my story as an example.
At 12 years of age, my father demanded that I select my life’s occupation. Like many pre-teens, I had not fully considered the consequences. My father said that if I did not choose a purpose for my life, he would assign a career choice for me.
My father explained that I did not have the luxury of going through life without direction. If I were to live a life of purpose, I would need to be intentional about all decisions. I remember pausing for what seemed like a long time. I wanted to be sure my first choice would be a good decision. Afraid to choose wrongly, I asked if I could have a day to think about it. He said, “agreed.”
The next day, I accompanied my father on an errand to the local community bank. Inside, I noticed a man sitting in a corner office. He was wearing a crisp white long-sleeve shirt. He had papers on his desk. The large window allowed me to see the décor of his office, the certificates on his walls and the nameplate on his desk. He looked important.
I turned and asked my father who is that man. My father replied, “that is the bank president.” Without thinking further, I stated, “that is what I want to be… a bank president.” My father answered, “then you will need to go to college, major in business, and I will help you.”
During the ensuing years, I would hold fast to my first choice to go into banking. My father would talk with me about the power of money and the importance of credit. He would highlight the disparities between the economic classes. He believed that poverty is linked to many societal ills.
I would come to recognize that inequalities in education, healthcare, housing and employment were exasperated by the lack of economic power. It became obvious that people did better when they organized effort in groups, not when they acted alone. I learned that groups progressed better when they provided a voice in governance, equal access, an equity stake and commitment to a cause.
I accepted a mission to help people with financial empowerment. What remained was to find a vehicle that would help me accomplish this mission. I chose credit unions as the means through which I would exercise my life’s ambitions. As cooperatives, credit unions are more than mere financial institutions. The purpose for cooperatives is consistent with the early conversations I had with my father.
Every cooperative professional has a personal testimony. Each story points to a time when the commitment to cooperatives took hold. There is a specific moment, conversation, or revelation that crystallized one’s awareness of cooperatives as a career choice. Revealing this inflection point can help practitioners share their story with a new generation of budding cooperators.
When asked, many individuals express aspirations to leave a positive mark on the world. Most people want their life’s work to benefit society in some way. The values that matter most include those endeavors that contribute to making lives better. Cooperatives offer a pathway for using technical disciplines to accomplish a higher purpose.
New entrants to the cooperative system need motivation to transition from “just a job” to the commitment of career. A job is marked by its short-term outlook. An individual who works a job often thinks of value proposition in terms of the next paycheck or punching a clock. This perspective is shortsighted.
Career-minded individuals focus on higher ideals. These professionals know they can make a mark by maintaining fidelity to a larger cause. Professionals who synchronize their personal values to cooperative philosophies find enduring alignment for the long-term.
Professionals who synchronize their personal values to cooperative philosophies find enduring alignment for the long-term.
Each cooperator has a role to play in ensuring a pipeline of emerging cooperative leaders. Your role starts with sharing your story. Provide a chronology for how you came to know and appreciate cooperatives. Mark your career path and the steps you took to progress.
It is critical that cooperative board members and employees come to admire your heart for the movement. This is how to connect with individuals who want to make a genuine difference. The connection to heart can be more impactful than a singular emphasis on job descriptions, resumes, and organizational charts. Touching someone’s aspirations is a deeper connection that builds careers.
In addition to advocating for cooperatives as a noble profession, be a living example for aspiring persons. Use your story to connect and illustrate the benefits of the cooperative way of work.