First Tech’s Porter to Succeed Oakland as BECU President and CEO

The BECU board of directors announced Tuesday that Benson Porter will be the credit union’s next President and CEO, replacing Gary Oakland, who filled the role for 25 years.

Porter became the president and CEO of Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2006 before leading this year’s merger with Oregon’s First Tech Federal Credit Union.

“BECU is a leader in the industry, and my first reaction was, ‘Wow,’” Porter said, describing having learned of BECU’s interest. “It was a real honor to be considered to lead an organization with such a strong culture and track record of success. Having spent most of my life in the Seattle area, I have admired BECU for many years, so the opportunity is particularly humbling.”

Oakland said he admired the way Porter was able to transition into leadership roles at his last two credit unions, both times replacing long-tenured, well-respected CEOs.

“He respected both cultures,” Oakland said of Porter’s role in the merger, “and when the changes were over, no one felt disenfranchised. It resulted in a sense of all of us doing this together.”

Porter will take the reins at BECU in April. Oakland expects to be on-hand for a transition period of at least a couple of months before sliding into an on-call role through the rest of the year.

“I have known Gary for about the last 25 years, and for anyone who knows BECU and the accomplishments of Gary over his 32 year career at BECU, you know that the next CEO has really big shoes to fill,” Porter said. “Under Gary’s leadership, BECU has developed a very strong brand in the Puget Sound region and is well respected in the credit union movement. While it would be foolhardy to try and fill Gary’s shoes, I look forward to the opportunity to continue to build upon BECU’s legacy of providing outstanding value to its members and service to its communities.”

The change in leadership comes during a pivotal time for BECU and the entire financial services industry. The last several months have seen hundreds of thousands of consumers joining credit unions, and BECU has seen its membership swell at an unprecedented rate. With Porter at the helm, BECU appears primed to continue to work at the forefront of the ever-expanding credit union movement.

“The past few months have resulted in unprecedented awareness of credit unions as a great option for consumers and the benefits that they provide, not only to the members, but to the communities in which they reside,” Porter said. “Credit unions are stronger when we combine our resources and work together to raise the awareness of credit unions and the benefits of the cooperative alternative to the ‘big box’ financial superstores. If we could figure out a way to create awareness for credit unions on a broader scale, much like BECU has done in their market, it would go a long way to raising our profile with potential members.”

The move to BECU also represents a homecoming of sorts for Porter, a Washington native who graduated from Whitman College before earning his law degree at Seattle University. Prior to becoming CEO of Addison Avenue, he worked for the Washington State Senate Banking Committee and held senior management roles at KeyBank and Washington Mutual in Seattle.

“The opportunity for me and my family to return home to where we have family and many friends was a big factor in my decision to be considered,” Porter said.

Of course, the decision also means a change of leadership is in order for First Tech. First Tech Board Chairman addressed members in a statement this week.

“Over the past five years, the Board of Directors has enjoyed a wonderful and productive relationship with Benson and although we’d certainly prefer that he continue to lead First Tech, we understand and appreciate Benson’s desire to be closer to family,” Weidert said.

“Benson will join BECU in April 2012, and the Board of Directors is working closely with him and our Executive Team on a transition plan. We’ll be sure to keep you informed as we work to identify a new president and CEO that will bring the same dynamic, forward-thinking leadership to First Tech that Benson has provided. I want to assure you that during this transition period, all of us here at First Tech remain committed to serving you, and we’re confident in our Executive Team’s ability to continue to lead the institution during this transition.”

The coming year will represent a different sort of homecoming for Oakland, who plans to spend more time with his family while remaining involved in the credit union movement as a volunteer.

“I’m excited,” Oakland said, “and not just because it puts some reality on my retirement, but it puts some relief on it, too.”

That relief stems from the confidence in Porter that is evident throughout BECU’s ranks.

“On behalf of the BECU Board of Directors, I want to emphasize that under Benson’s leadership, BECU members will continue to receive the value and service they have come to expect,” said Desiree Serr, chair of the BECU Board, in a statement on Tuesday.

“I think the board did its job,” Oakland said. “I think they got it right.”


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