ICCU’s Kent Oram on Leading Through Change and Planning for the Future
March 15, 2022
Kent Oram took the first job he was offered out of college to begin his career at Idaho Central Credit Union as a data processing manager. Oram confesses that he expected the job would be a stepping stone to a technology career but says he quickly became a believer in the credit union mission.
Now in his 38th year, Oram has served as ICCU’s President and CEO since 2007. During that time, he has seen the march of technology from implementing fax machines and personal computers to cell phones, web pages, online banking, mobile banking, online loan applications, and imaging systems. At the same time, Oram has overseen steady, double-digit growth at ICCU, which has quadrupled its total assets since 2015.
ICCU is a fast-growing credit union in Idaho and has consistently been one of the fastest growing in the country. The credit union has been opening new branches — 17 in the past six years — to serve its nearly 500,000 members across Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
It’s a challenging, highly competitive environment, but Oram isn’t slowing down.
“Never take your foot off the pedal,” he advises.
Here, Oram talks about his career, his passions, leading through change, and the future.
On how a background in technology benefitted his career …
I speak technology. That is extremely beneficial to not only understand tech but also enable us to hire the right people. Technology is a vital part of ICCU. The only effective way I have found to communicate technology changes is to speak early and often about the change, focusing as much effort as possible on ease-of-use and end-result benefits to both users and the members of the credit union.
On management styles and working with the leadership team …
I am not a natural delegator, but I have learned. My team is talented, and I know they will produce exceptional results. My job is to make sure they have the resources they need, which includes my support. I love leading my team. I say, “people are more important than projects,” meaning to make sure people are enjoying the process. They will give the best of themselves when they are.
Ask your teams, “How’s it going?” “What should we do next?” “Are we having fun?” Notice their behaviors and body language. Is it time for a pick-me-up? Recognize successes often, and share credit liberally.
On ICCU’s growth strategy, what’s working, and lessons learned …
We have been growing rapidly for more than two decades. I don’t know any other way. We assume that we are going to grow, and then our strategies back that belief. Fundamentally, we know we have to be relevant in the marketplace for both existing and new members. We spend immense amounts of time and money on community development. When we reach out to our community partners authentically, they will reciprocate. The more we connect with our business partners as partners, rather than vendors, the better.
On advice for keeping a growing organization motivated and able to meet challenges …
Never take your foot off the pedal. Never fall for the we-need-to-catch-up thinking. In today’s world, the organization has to be designed to keep up, catch up, speed up — all at the same time. We are always driving forward, and we attract and retain people who enjoy the process.
Recognize that perfection is an illusion and a hindrance to speed. Become comfortable with iterative design and deployment, knowing there will always be adjustments needed. We encourage our teams to be comfortable knowing we will continue growing, fixing, deploying, listening, and adapting. This is a daily struggle, but it is worth the struggle to keep pushing.
On ICCU’s approach to balancing the branch network with digital initiatives and what the future holds …
If I knew the future regarding branches, I’m not sure I would share! We are in Idaho where people drive, and distances between locations are greater. That is part of our drive to maintain branches.
We also love to engage personally. We have many branches to allow us to have deeper relationships with those members who want to visit us. We believe in being a physical part of our communities, which is another reason for branching. We spend lots of money on our digital offerings, too, and right now I think our balance is about right.
On changes in the credit union business and how leadership has responded …
Credit unions are more competitive with one another than 40 years ago when I started. ICCU has always operated as a community institution, so we are used to competition. The speed of doing business is radically different than in the past, and I think that is good for consumers. My job as a leader is to understand at least these two important long-term changes and guide us through them.
On passions outside of the credit union …
Spending time with my family, racquetball, water sports, snowmobiling, and trail riding. My wife, Dawnette, and I have three grown daughters and 13 grandchildren, and we split our time between Pocatello and Boise. I have always valued my family. The older I become, the more important those relationships are.
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