NEW YORK—It is the “quiet” aspect of leadership that can be among the most challenging, but it is consistent core values that pay the greatest ongoing dividends. Those observations and others are shared by Kam Wong, president and CEO of the $2.1-billion Municipal Credit Union, New York, in CUToday.info’s “The Corner.”
CUToday.info: What intangible of leadership is most difficult to convey or prepare for?
Wong: I think an important intangible of leadership that is difficult to convey is that the best leadership is often “quiet” and therefore appears to be unseen by many. I believe good leadership is sticking to one's core values and not always jumping on the bandwagon of the latest trends or grandstanding in front of diverse audiences, but this means the leader may not be as visible as some would like.
However, that leader is, in fact, leading and leading the organization to success. I must admit, this is my leadership style. Throughout my tenure at MCU, from being its CFO and rising to now President and CEO, I have stuck to the non-flashy, financially sound values that have helped me grow MCU year after year, even during the various financial crisis the country and our region have experienced.
CUToday.info: Are you a fan of a management book or books? If not, why not. If so, which have resonated with you and why?
Wong: I am not particularly a fan of a specific management book or books; I prefer to read business and financial publications and magazines, which allow me to be up-to-date on the trends and issues. I think my focus on the newest news, whether I get it from business media, the credit union industry trade media, or online sources, helps me be a more effective business leader because I have to make decisions daily that are impacted by real-time information, and the more information I have and the more time I have to digest it, the better leader I can be for MCU and our members.
CUToday.info: Innovation: four syllables getting all the attention. Deservedly so? If so, can you really drive innovation? Or is it coming at the cost of implementation and delivery?
Wong: Innovation should receive all the attention it currently gets and possibly more. It helps drive the future of our business and of society's advancement, and we must continue to adapt to the ever-changing world around us, technology in particular. We will continue to embrace innovation and integrate it into our business practices and offerings. At MCU, we are placing a high priority on making sure our members take advantage of what is offered from an innovation standpoint, so that their relationship with MCU is as easy, convenient, and technologically advanced as possible.
CUToday.info: If you could go back and talk to You On The First Day On The Job, what advice do you share?
Wong: I would advise my younger self to always be ready for the unplanned. I've experienced firsthand how important it is to be ready for the unplanned and to be able to take decisive action in those situations. For me, it has been situations ranging from identifying the need to take over troubled credit unions and balance member and employee needs during massive natural disasters to some of the smallest hiccups with implementing a new service. I've learned there is always a hiccup, even in the best-planned situations, so knowing anything can happen would help my younger self to better face those situations with conviction, purpose, confidence, and a sense of humor.
CUToday.info: My Keeps-Me-Up-At-Night concern is? Why? And My-Let’s-Me-Sleep-At-Night optimism is?
Wong: Something that keeps me up at night is the fact that we are still at risk of major liabilities caused by data breaches. Despite the strides we have made as an industry to safeguard and protect member data, I am still concerned that retailers do not have to adhere to the same guidelines as financial institutions when it comes to protecting against data breaches. This inequality puts credit unions, like MCU, in a position of having to deal with the aftermath of the breaches impacting our members that these organizations could have been able to avert in the first place. I would sleep better at night if everyone was committed to making data security the highest priority.