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Norlarco prepares for life after Mabry retires

Expansion among many priorities for local credit union


Source: Northern Colorado Business Report

Author: Maryjo Faith Morgan

The region's largest credit union faces a potentially large problem.

In a matter of months, Norlarco Credit Union must replace CEO Chuck Mabry, who has declared his intent to retire by June 2006.

Replacing Mabry, and planning for a future without the longtime leader, now weighs on the minds of Norlarco's board of directors and its chairman John Olienyk.

"When Mabry does retire, we'll be looking for someone with outstanding leadership skills, someone who has a good solid vision both in regard to what's happening in the industry and what role Norlarco can and should play," Olienyk said. "In an industry that is constantly evolving and becoming more competitive, leadership must be both sensitive and responsive to those trends.

"Our direction is somewhat dictated by changes in the marketplace and members' needs. We strive to stay on top of those trends as much as we can."

For instance, Norlarco's range of products is expanding, including auto, personal and education loans. First and second mortgages and equity loans are a big part of its lending activity.

As to what's next for the organization, Olienyk mentions staying on top of things in terms of technology, in achieving the highest possible level of customer service and maintaining a quality staff.

"We're very proud of our staff and the level of service we provide," he said.

Olienyk confirms Norlarco will continue to engage in business activities that enable it to broaden services and contain costs, such as partnering with other credit unions to form a separate service organization, then sell computing services to them. By sharing these expenses each credit union doesn't need its own system.

Speaking to growth, Olienyk says merger or acquisition is only one way to grow. "Certainly there has been lots of consolidation in financial services in general."

If a merger would mean more branches available to Norlarco members who are spread all along the Front Range, they would look at that. If a merger partner and the situation would result in a better level of service to existing members, Olienyk said, "It would be incumbent on us to consider it."

The latest example of that strategy is the pending merger with the K.C.D. Credit Union in Windsor, which serves Kodak and Kodak Polychrome Graphic employees and retirees.

Asset size grows with a merger and so does the ability to withstand economic downturns; there is more diversification in loan portfolios and a more varied geographic and economic strata that could make them financially healthier. "Obviously, if the right opportunity presented itself, we would take a good hard look at it," Olienyk said.

Mabry asserts, "Certainly if competitive conditions dictate that we need to be larger, we'll do what we have to do to get us there. Growth for its own sake is not what we are about. Our overriding goal is the best interest for our members."

Mabry, who started at Norlarco in January 1998, appears not to be saddled by a "short timer" mindset and remains actively committed to their priority, providing the highest level of service and the best value to members. Going from good to great is what he calls it. "We consider ourselves to be a good organization but we believe we have both the potential and desire to be a great organization."

Norlarco is learning its way through this evolutionary process right now. "We're not afraid to give up the good to go to the great."

Federally chartered credit unions have to be either employer or community based, but credit unions chartered by the state can be both. Initially Norlarco membership was limited to the staffs of Poudre School District and Colorado State University, both based in northern Larimer County, as the acronym suggests.

In July 1979 the charter was changed. Membership parameters expanded, and anyone living or working in Larimer County or designated parts of Weld County could belong. Currently it serves a group of 200 employers.

Mabry calls community involvement the "lifeblood of our business" and Norlarco maintains a wide variety of community connections. When pressed for his definition of retirement, Mabry distills it down to one key element, "I get to choose the what, the time, the place. And that place is right here. For years my wife and I looked all over the country to decide where we wanted to retire. It seems one day we opened our eyes and realized we already live in paradise. This is where we want to stay."

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