"Good problems" have kept Paul Becker at the helm of Citizens Community Credit Union since 1976.
"We've never had to deal with seriously bad problems," Becker said. "They've always been expanding problems, growing problems, new services and things like that. That's probably why I have stayed as long as I have. It's really been a pleasure to be here."
But, Becker added, people always told him that he would know when it's time to retire and for him, that time will be April 9 - his birthday and his last day as chief executive officer at Citizens.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Paul Becker, chief executive officer of Citizens Community Credit Union, stops to chat with Tammy Jones, teller manager, at the facility. Becker, who has led the credit union since 1976, is retiring April 9.
"You just have that feeling," that it's time to go, he said - but added he got an additional push when he attended his last class reunion.
"I and another person were the only ones who weren't retired," Becker said. "That's probably what really got me thinking about it."
Becker isn't leaving the credit union in the lurch. Knowing that he would retire "some day," the credit union's board of directors created a succession plan and hired Sean Hanley as executive vice president and chief financial officer, a position he has held for five years.
If you go:
What: Retirement open house for CEO Paul Becker
When: 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday
Where: Main office of Citizens Community Credit Union, 2012 First Ave. S.
About Paul Becker
A graduate of Mankato State University in Minnesota, he served in the United States Air Force.
In 1976, he was named chief executive officer of Hormel Credit Union, which became Citizens Community Credit Union in 1981. He retained his position for 36 years and has held many leadership positions within the Iowa credit union industry and Fort Dodge community.
He and wife Candie have been married for 46 years. They have three married sons, five grandchildren and are expecting their first great-grandchild.
Becker said he told his credit union staff, "The first time I talked to Sean, I knew he was going to be my successor - without going any further. He sounded like the person who would really fit well, and he has."
Hanley is equally complimentary about Becker.
"Paul's been great to me since I've been here. He's been a great mentor and has prepared me very well to take over," Hanley said.
As they got to know each other better, Hanley said he's become aware of how well-regarded Becker is.
"I don't know anybody who has a negative thing to say about Paul," Hanley said. "Everybody has respect for him. There's respect in the community for things he's done, and he treats everybody with respect. It doesn't matter their position in life."
That sentiment was echoed by board President Kelly Hindman, who has served on the board twice for a total of about 10 years.
Hindman said Becker is "very well respected locally" and statewide; within the credit union industry, "he is equally well regarded."
Becker has held statewide leadership roles, including serving as chairman of the Iowa Credit Union League and as a charter board member of the Iowa Credit Union Foundation.
Hindman described Becker as being "an extremely down-to-earth and approachable person, which lends itself well (to be involved) in the credit union industry where we have a large membership and people of different means. We cater to everybody, and his ... approach has served him well."
Having Becker as CEO has made it easier to serve on the board, he said.
"He has a very intelligent financial mind" which has contributed to Citizens' continued growth during tough financial times. Hindman said. "We just get out of his way."
When Becker arrived in 1976, he said the institution was about a $3 million credit union.
He and the friend, who suggested he apply for the job at Citizens, joked about the institution's potential, Becker said.
"I'll always remember, he said, 'You know, Paul, someday that credit union could be a $25 million credit union.' I looked at him, and he looked at me, and we both laughed and said, 'No, it will never be that.' Today, we're about $153 million. I wish he was still around to enjoy my retirement," he said.
Becker worked in the insurance industry in Charles City after serving in the U.S. Air Force. He initially turned down the suggestion from the president of the board of directors of a credit union there that he would be a good fit for running the institution.
However, "I'm really of the belief ... that things happen for reasons and things come about in our lives for a meaningful purpose," Becker said.
"Things coincidentally happened within a few weeks - and not so good in the insurance business - and I was back making a phone call to him.
"I was there for about a year and a half, in Charles City. It took them 15 years to make the first million and about a year to make the second million, so I think having a full-time manager does make a difference in a financial institution," he said.
Becker's presence in Fort Dodge has definitely made a difference at Citizens.
"From the safety and soundness standpoint, I think we are in the top 10 percent of credit unions nationwide," he said. "We've been recognized a number of times for our safety and soundness," including five-star ratings for the past 15 years from the independent rating service BauerFinancial.
While Becker will happily extol the strength and growth of Citizens, he said he is most proud of his staff.
"Many of them have been here just about as long as I have," he said. "Those people have stayed. It's a commitment they have made, certainly to our financial institution and the communities we serve. We've also had a board of directors over the years that have made some very good contributions to our organization, set direction and policy for us.
"If I have left any type of legacy ... it's just been one of having a solid financial institution that they can go forward with and be proud of, and I will be proud of them, keeping the financial services available to folks in the communities that we serve," he said.
Contact Barbara Wallace Hughes at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org