Sixteen years ago, credit unions in Edmonton were sinking like the Titanic. But one extraordinary man believed he could rescue the sinking ship.
“At the time I took the job of turning it around, a friend of mine told me the only difference between Capital City Savings and the Titanic was that the Titanic had a band,” quips Harry Buddle, chuckling.
The government-ordered transformation of eight failing credit unions has become a huge success story, thanks to the indefatigable Buddle.
While raising nine children, Buddle has spearheaded the phenomenal resurgence of Capital City Savings and Credit Union into the largest credit union in Alberta and the fourth-largest in Canada, with $1.7 billion in assets under management, 600 employees and 135,000 members.
|Jack Dagley, for Business Edge|
|Capital City Savings and Credit Union CEO Harry Buddle turned around the company using the same philosophy he applies to training for marathons.|
The CEO since 1987, Buddle may not have a band as the Titanic had, but the ringing cash registers at Capital City have been music to his ears. And you might say the affable 62-year-old Hamilton native with dirt-poor roots is laughing all the way to the bank.
1. Can you reflect a bit on your memories of growing up in Hamilton?
“I got to work in those steel mills and glass factories when I was going to school. I started work when I was eight years old because our father (Fred) died when I was four. He was killed in an industrial accident. I had a two-year-old sister and six-year-old brother and we used to deliver papers in the morning and at night. We also delivered groceries on the weekend. You know, the funny thing is that I paid board to my mother (Ena) from the time I was about 10 or 11, but that was OK. She did a great job of raising three little kids all by herself with no money and no insurance. She’ll be 91 in June and she’s in wonderful health. My brother (John) is president of (Massachusetts Share Deposit Insurance Corp.) and my sister (Joan) has just retired as a nurse. My brother and sister have done well so two out of three kids turning out OK, I’d say that’s pretty doggone good, eh?”
2. How do you think working and taking responsibility at such a young age shaped your character?
“I developed a tremendous respect for people who have the guts to overcome adversity and not just give in to feeling sorry for themselves or taking up the crutches of liquor and tobacco. I smoked for years so I’m probably not a good example there, but liquor is not a good one (crutch). I developed a tremendous respect for people who say, ‘Nothin’ doing, I’m going to dig in and work harder and make sure I stay healthy and have a sense of responsibility.’ I’m not so sure that losing my father was as tough for me as people might think. I honestly believe that in life if you get one person who loves you and is willing to take care of you, you don’t have much to want. My wife (Judy) and I have had five kids born to us and we’ve adopted four. I always thought that there were some disadvantages of only having one parent and if you had none, well, you had a lot more disadvantages proportionately.”
3. How did you meet your wife?
“I was my wife’s paperboy. We lived on the same street. Her dad owed me $3.50 and couldn’t pay so he said: ‘What do you think of the daughters?’ (laughing). The funny thing was, even though I was her paperboy, we didn’t meet formally until we had a blind date when I was 21. I’ll be married 40 years this summer if she lets me live that long.”
4. What drew you to a career in finance and banking?
“We had no family finances that would encourage me to go to university, so when I was in Grade 13, a chap I had worked for at that time who was a druggist (Bill Bourque) suggested I article as a chartered accountant. I was pretty good at math so I spent five years articling for two (chartered accountant) firms and did my university courses by correspondence. The druggist was a role model and a father model for sure, because he went to bat for me at school when I needed to have a champion. He steered me on the right course.”
5. Who were the other major influences in your life?
“There was my mother, my wife, a high school teacher (Gord Allison) who tutored me to help me through some rough times and my brother. Then, there were two CEOs I worked for at B.C. Central Credit Union and B.C. regulatory body (for credit unions). They were Peter Podovinikoff and Ross Montgomery. They both had tremendous people skills that included real empathy for you as a human being. They went out of their way to help me through things.”
6. Why did you choose to take on the challenge of Capital City in 1987?
“I was just finishing doing my master’s of business administration at nights and, when you put that much effort into something and make a big family sacrifice, I started thinking: ‘What am I going to do with this?’ I thought: ‘Am I going to just keep going to the same job and play more golf?’ I decided I needed to put this increased knowledge to work. The challenge in Edmonton was big enough, it was complex enough and it couldn’t go any further down. I had one guy tell me that I must be out of my mind. They were right. It was a terrible situation.”
7. What was the key to the Capital City turnaround?
“Getting the right people and having the loyalty that works in two directions – me supporting them and them supporting me. The economy has certainly been favourable, and the sheer concept of a credit union that is a banking business which is owned by the customers has been favourable. Every time you look across the counter, you’re not only seeing a customer but an investor, an owner and someone who lives in the same area as you do. A chartered bank has a separate group of customers and a separate group of investors and they’re generally not in the same geographic area.”
8. Has turning around the company been as difficult as running marathons?
“First of all, I should tell you that I have a bad knee. When I was a kid, I was in a tobogganing accident at age 10 and my leg from the knee down got turned backwards in the socket so I have struggled through traction, been in seven casts and had an operation. But I have still managed to run nine half-marathons and 11 full marathons on that leg. It’s not in very good shape right now, but I’m training right now to run a marathon the first weekend in May in Vancouver and I plan to run a marathon in Edmonton in June. The thing about marathons is that it takes a lot of preparation. You have to condition yourself, build up mental stamina, train and about nine-tenths of it is in your head. It’s overcoming difficulty by mentally toughing your way through things. It’s the same when you’re trying to turn around your business. You have to visualize what it will look like and you look for that sign that says finish. If you’re a smart runner, you train with a group and get the support of the group and that’s the way it is when you’re trying to turn a business around.”
9. When you started with Capital City, did you envision the phenomenal growth that you’ve enjoyed?
“When I got here, our loan portfolio, which is a true measure of our real assets, was about $400 million. This year, our assets are around $1.7 billion. When I got here in 1987, I told people that I could see us passing through a billion dollars. Well, they said: ‘You’re really nuts.’ We’ve been profitable since our first eight months.”
10. What’s your vision for Capital City?
“We’ve probably grown 50 per cent in the last three years and we could do well to continue on the way we are, that is, refining the process and expanding the model we have. Another scenario is that some other credit unions look at us and say: ‘Collectively, we could all do a lot more for our members if we came together.’
"So there could be some mergers. The third possibility would be that the good Government of Alberta could say they’re finally getting out of the business where it concerns banking and getting out of ATB (Alberta Treasury Branches). If that were to happen, we and the other credit unions in the province would no doubt be very interested in purchasing them. I’d get together with all the other credit unions in the province and put together a very logical bid where the assets would remain with certainty in Albertans’ hands, where the branches would largely stay in place throughout the province and where the government could get a good return back for the transfer of ownership.”
11. How would you describe your management philosophy?
“I’m a businessman. I look for the profit motive. I think I’m a reasonable human being in that I don’t personally believe in amassing profit by layoffs and treating people poorly. I believe in treating people very well, but holding them very accountable for results. I’m driven by the business mandate to generate a surplus, create employment, expect a lot from people, be willing to invest in people and hold them accountable. We put people through university and when we hire people to go on our teller lines, we hire them into a school where they’re paid, but they’d better graduate from it. We also have a heavy emphasis on profit-sharing for employees, heavy commitment to volunteerism in the community and a good social program. And, believe it or not, we still give people a certificate for a turkey at Christmas. And I still hand-write a birthday card for (600 employees). I write out birthday cards when I’m travelling. You’ve got to squeeze every minute out of the day.”
12. What character trait has had the most to do with your success?
“Discipline. Discipline. Personal Discipline.”
13. What’s the best advice you give to young people entering the business world?
“I have some of those coming out of my family right now, and I think the best advice is to be human in your approach to people and do random acts of kindness for people. Be driven to be good at what you do yourself. In other words, have a lot of pride and responsibility and don’t necessarily do whatever everyone else is doing. For instance, one of our children is a mortician, another is a PhD (student), another is a teacher, another has written a law-entry exam and another is going to be a fitness instructor. And I think it’s important for people to have a long-range view of what life is all about.”
14. What’s one random act of kindness that has given you a great deal of gratification?
“Adopting the kids has been pretty good. It’s not always the most rewarding task, but you do know at the end of the day that they’ve got a home, a family and a life they didn’t have. . . . I’ve seen lots of people do lots of really generous things in life. I’m very active in a Rotary Club and I have seen people doing fabulous things for other people. When you see what some people do on a daily basis, it makes you feel very humbled.”
15. How do you define success in life?
“I think it’s being able to go to sleep at night with a clean conscience. It doesn’t necessarily mean being rich and it doesn’t necessarily mean being poor. It means being able to see that you made a difference.”
16. What’s your perception of those business people who don’t go to sleep at night with a clean conscience?
“There’s an old expression that God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike. You are going to meet up with people who are very well-to-do, but you know it was kind of ill-gotten. There are opportunities to lay people off where some business folks didn’t have to do it if they’d worked harder to develop another product line. I think you have to look at those folks and say: ‘My job isn’t to judge them, but my judgment is to see what they’ve done and not repeat it myself.’ ”
17. What’s your outlook for the Alberta economy?
“I think the prospects are outstanding. I’m very positive on it, particularly when you look at the oilsands and see that huge reserve that is well in excess of Saudi Arabia’s oil. And the biggest customer is the U.S. It’s a gold mine and we lucked into it.”
18. What are you personally investing in these days?
“Kids. And Isotechnika (an Edmonton drug research and development company).”
19. What’s your next great challenge?
“This next marathon is – because my knee isn’t in very good shape. I can visualize the finish line, but I also have to be a realist and visualize a fair bit of pain too. I’ll make it.”
20. Are you contemplating retirement?
“I think about it a little bit. I wanted to work a little longer so my board and I have struck a wonderful arrangement where I will be here for from four to six years, and I will gratefully not be CEO for the last year.
IN PROFILE: Harry Buddle
* Born/raised/age: Hamilton, Ont.; 62.
* Title: CEO, Capital City Savings and Credit Union Ltd.
* Family: Wife Judy, nine children.
* Education: Master of business administration, Simon Fraser University (at age 47), chartered accountant.
* Career: Buddle began his career as an accountant before moving into sales and management positions with Sperry Univac (now Unisys) and General Foods-Nabisco. He held executive positions with British Columbia Central Credit Union and the Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corp. of B.C. before joining Capital City Savings as CEO in 1987.
* Moonlighting: Buddle has won a Paul Harris Fellow for his work as Rotary Club member and is a booster of numerous organizations, including the United Way, Salvation Army, Edmonton Northlands, Alberta Cancer Board and Newman Theological College.
* Passions: Running marathons, computers,
reading, photography, golf, Okanagan Valley vacations.
THE COMPANY: Capital City Savings and Credit Union
* Brass: Harry Buddle, CEO; Peter Galloway, chairman.
* Profile: Member-owned Capital City is Alberta’s largest credit union with 25 branches in northern Alberta, including 14 in Edmonton.
* Stats: Capital City has increased earnings for 15
consecutive years, boasted net earnings of $17.6 million in 2002, paid $5.2 million in dividends to its 135,000 members and manages $1.7 billion in assets.
* Website: www.capitalcitysavings.ca
* Business Banking Centre: 11104 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, AB T5K 0L1.
* Member Contact Centre: 780-496-2000, toll-free 877-496-2151.