BECU Board Chair Mike Sweeney: Director Service Carries ‘An Incredible Fiduciary Responsibility’

When Mike Sweeney joined the board of directors at BECU almost 10 years ago, he brought with him legal and financial expertise, years of service to nonprofits and a longstanding commitment to the credit union philosophy of “people helping people.”

It was a perfect fit.

During his tenure on the board, Sweeney has helped BECU become the largest non-government-employee credit union in the U.S. and the fourth-largest overall, with more than 825,000 members and more than $11.5 billion in assets. In March, he was named board chairman; in January, he will start getting paid for that job. 

BECU announced this week that it will begin compensating directors for their service, with stipends ranging from $14,000 to $25,000 a year. Washington state law allows “reasonable” compensation for directors and supervisory committee members at state-chartered credit unions; BECU will pay its stipends based on each board member’s position and committee service.

On the eve of BECU’s announcement, Anthem asked Sweeney to reflect on his role at the credit union and to talk about the time and expertise required to be an effective director.

Q. Tell us a little about your background and what brought you to BECU.

A. I’ve been with The Boeing Company since 1997. Currently, I’m the managing director of the Northeast Asia and Boeing Business Jets contract organizations. I work in the commercial airplane division, where I lead a team of professionals that negotiates and manages all agreements with our airline customers in those areas.

Before joining the BECU board, I had considerable nonprofit board experience at both Seattle Emergency Housing and Youth Advocates, and I thought that experience would lend itself well to board service at BECU. Several colleagues of mine, who were involved with the BECU board, agreed.

Although a lot has changed at BECU over time, the operating principle that attracted me to the board has not: providing our members with great value and excellent service with complete trust. Our culture and positive impact on our members makes the difference.

Q. What skills are required of a director at a large credit union? How does your background square with that?

A. The credit union industry is becoming more and more complex, requiring a very broad set of skills at the director level. Generally, our directors are expected to understand and assess this increasingly complex financial, business, legal and regulatory environment. We expect them to have executive-level business experience with a strong sense of community, previous nonprofit board experience and a passion for the credit union movement. My community involvement, business experience and law background supports my role on the board.

Q. How much of a time commitment is required of directors, both in terms of preparation and meetings?

A. The time commitment is substantial. In addition to preparing for and attending regular board meetings, we generally assign each director to additional committee work. We also require our directors to participate in an annual off-site strategic planning session, and to attend at least one industry conference each year.

Our directors are also members of the National Association of Corporate Directors, and they are expected to become an NACD Board Professional Fellow within the first two years after election to the BECU board.

Q. You mentioned that directors are assigned to other committee work. How much additional time does that require?

A. Considerable. Each director is usually assigned to two of our standing committees. They are also asked to support other ad-hoc committees, including our nominating, IT and special-events committees, to name a few. Committees typically don’t meet as frequently as the board, but they still require considerable time and effort to support.

Q. Washington law allows state-chartered credit unions to offer reasonable compensation to directors. How important is that to you? How important is that to attracting qualified directors?

A. Rather than compensation, we’d consider the pay to officials—directors and committee members—as more of a reasonable and modest stipend. This stipend is in recognition of the considerable time and effort our officials give in service to BECU. Payment of a modest amount to our officials also enhances our ability to attract and retain well-qualified individuals.

Being on the BECU board carries with it an incredible fiduciary responsibility, not only to safeguard our members’ assets, but also to ensure the future strategic direction of the credit union. Payment of a stipend is a small gesture in comparison. 

 

Editor’s note: Compensation for officials is likely to be a hot topic when credit union executives gather June 6-8, 2014 for the NWCUA’s Directors Conference at the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver, Wash. Mark your calendars now and watch for details in future editions of Anthem.

Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.  

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