‘Leaders Eat Last’: Distinguished WCMS Alum Addresses Students at Colloquium

John Janclaes, past James D. Likens Alumni Recognition Award recipient, former Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) board director, and distinguished alumnus.
John Janclaes, past James D. Likens Alumni Recognition Award recipient, former Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) board director, and distinguished alumnus.

Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) students and faculty gathered this week for the Richard Myles Johnson Colloquium in Credit Union Philosophy to hear a special address from John Janclaes, a past James D. Likens Alumni Recognition Award recipient, former WCMS board director, and one of many distinguished alumni serving credit unions today.

“If you’re a leader, you need to learn how to marshal the power around you wisely,” said Janclaes on Wednesday evening on the campus of Pomona College in Claremont, CA to a packed auditorium — the current and future leaders of the credit union movement. “Take calibrated risks and be courageous in all things. Be the architect of how people learn and grow. And be smart about your ‘asks’ to get your needs met.”

Janclaes — formerly CEO of Burbank, CA-based Partners FCU for nearly 17 years, which serves The Walt Disney Co. — is president of Nymbus, a credit union service organization (CUSO). The Jacksonville, FL-headquartered CUSO helps credit unions, financial institutions, fintechs, and other financial brands accelerate growth through new innovations in modern channels and digital optimization.

The longtime WCMS alumnus is known in the credit union movement for his acclaimed and dignified leadership over the past several years, as well as being a loyal supporter of the school’s work in building, shaping, and developing credit union leaders. Since the school’s founding more than six decades ago, well over 5,500 credit union professionals have graduated, excelling through academic tests, mid-term projects, and a host of rigorous activities so they can be molded into better leaders and discover more about themselves.

Janclaes implored WCMS students to have a healthy self-regard for themselves and the individuals they work with each day. He also noted the imprint that technological applications continue making in the lives of households and credit union members every year. Navigating operational hurdles and member needs will be an essential tool for any future credit union leader.

“There’s a leadership arc where leaders emerge,” he said. “Always be open in your leadership to the unknown. Get going, jump in, and choose progress over perfection.”

He believes in the importance of strategic planning, partnerships, and “the power of what you can accomplish with these.” It’s up to credit union professionals and leaders to cultivate the kinds of business and cooperative partnerships they want to see in their operations to benefit their members.

When it comes to serving members as owners, Janclaes has put words into action in his own career and inspired WCMS students to do the same — one step at a time. He has served on several boards in the credit union system throughout his career, helping bring together credit unions in service to their members.

Janclaes beseeched students to aid their credit unions in bridging the movement’s strength of collaboration toward new ways of thriving and leading-edge disruptions that advance and advocate for the financial wellbeing of all members and households. He said that working through today’s challenges faced by credit unions — while simultaneously constructing the next generation of solutions that opens new doors to the future — should be a leadership priority for senior managers and volunteers in credit unions everywhere.

“Strategic planning, augmentation, and enhancement should always be the focal point of your strategy,” Janclaes said. “How are we going to learn what we need to know? Be the designer of how you want to do this.”

He also noted the importance of journaling, a tool he described as having immense implications for thinking-through opportunities, working amid challenges, trade-offs, and properly balancing long-term versus short-term goals.

When asked by a student what his biggest regret was, he candidly admitted “the sin of omission,” such as not jumping on opportune moments that could’ve sparked even more catalyst for change. Nonetheless, there’s a way to overcome this. In all circumstances, be audacious and resolute, and extend oneself through difficulties and events to new heights, he said.

“Leaders eat last,” Janclaes added, who credited WCMS several times for assisting in his own leadership arc. “But if you become more (within your leadership), you receive more. At the end of each day, culture is the most important thing.”

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