Geoff Johnson: Goals, Changes, and Lessons Learned During His First Year As CEO of CU*Answers

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At the end of his first year as CEO of CU*Answers, CUSO Magazine sat down with Geoff Johnson in October 2022 to discuss his favorite memories, lessons learned, and what he looks forward to in the coming year.

CUSO Magazine: Thanks for joining us Geoff, and congratulations on a successful first year!

Geoff Johnson: Thank you, glad to be here.

To get us started, what was your favorite memory from your first year?

My favorite part of the year has absolutely been my video series Two for Tuesdays. My original desire was to find a unique communication channel to connect with our teams, credit unions, and network partners, and this was a home run.

The feedback has been incredibly positive. I’ve had credit union employees come up and say Two for Tuesday rocks, not to give up after the first year, that they love the message, etc. I sat down with the EVP of Lending at a newly converted credit union and he goes, “Don’t freak out, but I sat down and watched every one of your Two for Tuesdays. I believe in total immersion, and what a cool way to understand, as a new credit union employee, who you guys are.” These interactions are a great affirmation of the connection we are working to build.

We’ve had fun with it, too. The 2/22/22 one in particular was a great time. We had nine people in the room you couldn’t see, all working together. And the thought, effort, and creativity that people put in ahead of time to make it work were astounding. All in all, that communication channel is working well, it’s a good way to connect with people both on a professional and somewhat personal level. Definitely a highlight for me.

What are some lessons you have learned over the last year?

One lesson I’ve learned is we can always communicate more. We have such a diverse audience in our network, from owners to credit union team members, new credit unions looking to join us, other network partners, etc. You’ll see our focus in 2023 is specifically around our desire to communicate with them in a different way than we’ve done in the past.

And as we get more geographically dispersed, we have to work harder at maintaining that communication. It is about making those very specific outreaches to start strengthening those connections and making sure we achieve what we need to. We have the capacity, we have the people, and we have a great network to work with.

What is the biggest challenge you have had in the last year?

I’d say the biggest challenge over the last year for our entire network has been the economic factors that are impacting our credit unions, and understanding where things are really going. Inflation, the stock market? Interest rate changes? And the current labor market. But we are all working our way through this together. That’s what is important to remember!

the challenge is how CU*Answers and credit unions adapt to a rapidly changing economic and employment market, getting creative to overcome change and challenge ourselves.

It is still such an unusual time for both CU*Answers and our credit unions. Even when we talk about doing projects, it’s not just about what it looks like for us, but what does it look like for our credit unions if they’re down 10% of staff? What does that mean for their communities? How do we creatively evolve and make necessary changes?

So ultimately, the challenge is how CU*Answers and credit unions adapt to a rapidly changing economic and employment market, getting creative to overcome change and challenge ourselves. What used to be the norm can’t be anymore. We are not just accepting but embracing that.

Did you have any goals for the first year?

For me, my first item internally was interaction and communication with our teams across CU*Answers. I recognize that it was a big year of change, and although I have been around 18 years, I wasn’t Geoff Johnson the CEO before. That is a different style of communication.

Just like the Two for Tuesday videos, a lot of this was about letting people get to know me and what my voice as a leader sounds like. Challenging myself in little ways such as Two for Tuesdays or having an open-door policy and encouraging people to come see me if they have questions was really an important personal and business opportunity.

I recognize that it was a big year of change, and although I have been around 18 years, I wasn’t Geoff Johnson the CEO before.

Overall, I feel that it’s gone well; we have roughly 300 people in the organization, and I have had more feedback from people than ever before saying, “Hey, I didn’t know X,” or “I hadn’t seen you, it’s nice to hear your voice, style, or approach.” I think Leadership [Conference] was great for that purpose as well.

Speaking of, how did hosting your first June CU*Answers Leadership Conference go? 

From an event standpoint, it went great. I was excited to be up there. Certainly, I was nervous about being on stage for eight hours. But wow, things really flowed. You could definitely sense it; there was a nice rhythm and people on the floor felt the positive energy.

Furthermore, I was excited to have the opportunity to have other team members up there and experience that natural interaction and flow, which is what we were hoping to accomplish. From all the feedback I’ve received, and from what it felt like on the stage, I’d say we succeeded. There was a good give and take.

All in all, for a transition year, it came together very well. It was a great few days with a big celebration at the end. I’m looking forward to having another great 2023.

Finally, what are you excited about as you go into your second year?

First of all, I’m looking forward to capping the year off with our November CEO Strategies event. Having dozens of credit union CEOs from across the country in one room, hearing what they’re encountering, and having a chance to have an open dialogue with them is really a homerun from my standpoint. I can’t think of a better experience.

Looking into next year, we are excited about new markets opening up, new products in development, and as I mentioned before, really working on how we communicate with our network and making that communication part of our DNA as we kick off 2023.

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