Leadership + People: Episode 37 - Nathan Anderson - Part 1 of 2

In this episode Nathan Anderson, Executive Vice President of Mountain America Credit Union, explains how to show employees what good customer service looks like while constantly reminding leadership groups and employees of the bigger picture. Nathan reminds listeners to look for examples in all industries even those outside of our expertise.

Show Notes

  • How his marketing and sales experience at Black and Decker and Newell Rubbermaid converted to a financial institution [01:27]
  • The triple A philosophy: Assess, Advise, Assist moves employees from order takers to proactive educators [03:38]
  • Tools to identify the needs of the consumer and the why or your work [06:00]
  • Get out of the office and see for yourself what is actually happening [08:24]
  • Hire the right people, demonstrate and explain all expectations, provide frequent reminders [11:38]
  • Modeled after the Ritz Carlton, daily huddles provide big picture reminders [15:28]

Show Audio


  • None of note
Nathan Anderson 1

This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: June 5th, 2018

Show Transcript

[BEGINS] 00:00

Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies.  And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.

JL: Today on the show, we’ve got Nathan Anderson. He’s the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating officer at Mountain America Credit Union.

Nathan Anderson “So in some cases you have to actually, not only look for people that can understand that, but you have to actually tell them what it looks like. You have to help them understand, here’s a good experience and this over here is not good experience. And really delineate between the two”

00:45 JL: I know we’ve had your colleague on the show. Talked about almost 8 billion in assets and 90 plus locations. You guys are a big presence out in the region. What is it that attracted to work for this organization?

NATHAN ANDERSON: Well I’ve been at Mountain America now for 14 years. And I was actually a member of the credit union first. And I always received great service. And they had an opportunity that was appealing to me, working in sales and marketing. And so again, 14 years ago I decided to come in and learn a little bit more about the organization. And again I had experienced it as a customer or a member, and once I learned a little bit more I found it it was a culture and environment that I wanted to be a part of.

01:27 JL: Yeah. And you had experience at big organizations; Black and Decker, with obviously the reputation they’ve got. How do you feel like that added to what you brought to the table here?

Changing a Marketing Approach

NATHAN ANDERSON: Well it was interesting. Because I had, I spent 9 years in consumer product marketing for Black and Decker and also for Newell Rubbermaid. And so for me it was- I had great experiences and learned a lot of different things from different industries that I was able to bring in and use in the credit union industry. Which in the past you know, from what I saw early on, was a little bit slower to respond to do things from a sales and marketing side of things. So it was really taking initially what I had learned from both those company and bring it to Mountain America that helped me really work with Mountain America and change and improve and do things differently.

02:18 JL: What’s an example?

NATHAN ANDERSON: Well one of those things for instance would be initially the way that the credit union did marketing. As far as reaching out to the membership, was really through a monthly- or a quarterly newsletter. And that was about it. I mean there was a number of campaigns and things that occurred. But not really. They didn’t really spend a lot of time or effort getting out or interacting with the membership. And so the time I spent with both Black and Decker and Newell Rubbermaid we did a lot of interactions with people. Whether that was at events that we were apart of our sponsoring or our own created events. And we utilized a number of different things to get people excited about what it was we could do for them. And so rather than sitting back in an office and waiting for people to come, we began to do a lot more reaching out and interacting with people in a number of different environments. Not only being more proactive in the branch when people came in. Reaching out to them on the phone. But also going to sporting events and doing a number of things where we had the opportunity to interact and really help people understand that we were here to educate and help.

03:24 JL: Can you talk about this principal? This last thing you brought up. You know, there’s the old Dale Carnegie quote about; the only way to get what you want is to help other people get what they want first.


03:38 JL: But yet we live in such an efficiency minded society, and there’s always just such a temptation to ‘oh I have a microphone. Let’s sell.’ Talk about this educate and help first.

The AAA Philosophy

NATHAN ANDERSON: Well again, as I came to the credit union I felt like at the time, 14 years ago, that we were really order takers. People would come in and we would say ‘Hey it’s great to see you. Thanks for coming. What can I do for you?’ And we would do what they asked and then we would send them out the branch on their way. And we really kind of changed that philosophy and changed it in a number of different ways. But one that has really has stuck and is still here today is we created a new philosophy of how we interact with our members. And we call it our AAA philosophy.

First, the first A stands for Assess. We really want to take the time to assess what their needs are. Ask them what it is they are doing. Maybe it is for what they came in today but also to understand the whole picture. And really see what else we can do for them.

The next A is Advise. We want to advise them once we understand their particular situation. We want to advise them about what options they have and how we can help them. That’s the education piece. Because we are not here to force or push anything on anybody. We’re here to educate and provide people with options.

And then that last A is to Assist. Whatever it is that they have decided they’d like to do or they feel would be in their best interest. Then we’re going to help them and follow up and make sure that gets done for them.

So really focusing on that aspect for us has allowed us and enabled us to grow significantly over the last 14 years. We’ve really had that focus on the member. And ensuring that we are not being someone who sits back and takes an order but we are being proactive in educating and helping the membership really achieve their financial dreams.

05:25 JL: So talking about that growth. You guys are 7 something billion in assets now? Does that sound right.

NATHAN ANDERSON: Yep. 7 and half billion.

05:34 JL: 7 and a half. What do you think it was 14 years ago when you were….

NATHAN ANDERSON: Gosh. When I got here I want to say we were about 1.1.

05:41 JL: Holy Cow.

NATHAN ANDERSON: Yeah. We’ve seen quite a bit of growth in that 14 year period.

05:47 JL: Yeah. What if somebody today listening; you know, could be a CEO, could be an executive, if they want to be asking themselves like, what can I learn from the consumer world or what can I learn from what Nathan did in finance? What would be the principles, knowing the listener could be from any industry, what would the principles be? Lead the kind of questions we would want to ask ourselves.

Identifying the WHY of What You Do

NATHAN ANDERSON: Well I think it goes back to our focus initially. The why. Why you’re doing what you do. So at Mountain America for being a not for profit, member owned cooperative, our owner is our customer, it’s our member. And you know, because of that that’s our focus. Our focus is not on how much profit we can make with a certain product. And how many times it should be presented. Our focus or our why is what we’re trying to serve the member in front of us. And this member will potentially have very different needs than the previous member that I spoke with. So our goal is to make sure that we have that interaction and we can, from that, ascertain what their needs are and from that we can take our next step. You know the time I spent at Black and Decker and at Newell it was similar in that whether it was power tools, the Dewalt division at Black and Decker, in that case it wasnt that we were just trying to create the most profitable product. We went out and did research with end users. We spent a lot of time on the job site. We put drills in construction workers’ hands. And then really took the notes from that to say; Okay. Where were they getting fatigue? What did they like? What didn’t they like? The goal was to produce or create a drill that was ergonomically correct, it met their needs and it was something they wanted to use. At Mountain America it’s the same kind of thing. We really want to understand what our members needs are. And from there, help them accomplish whatever it is they are trying to do. And I think for any company it should be the same thing. The more you focus on the profits, the less successful you’ll be. The more you focus on your customer or your consumer, whatever it might be. Whether that’s a business you are selling to or an individual, the more you focus on them and what their needs are, definitely the more you’ll grow and the more successful you’ll be.

08:03 JL: It makes me thinking of a couple of things. The first guy to ever… the first music store before itunes, was this one called CD Baby. The guy who built that, you know, built it up to 21 million bucks and sold it to Derek Sivers. Interesting guy. He talks a lot about, like you know, profits are a natural byproduct of service.


08:23 JL: So double down on your service and you’ll get the byproduct, kind of approach. There’s something else you said that I really like. You think about some of the most elite organizations in the world. Whether it’s Toyota becoming the number 1 car company in the world. And they don’t just look at reports. They have this big emphasis on go and see in person. Walk the floor in person. Right? Don’t just rely on what the computer says.  Or like… you look at the design firm Ideo, that invented the Apple mouse and all this stuff for Steve Jobs. Just world renowned. And they don’t rely on customer surveys. They go and watch. Like what you were talking about with the Dewalt drill. They don’t just say ‘what do you want in a drill?’. They physically go watch and… They’re observing things that the customer isn’t even realizing. And it sounds so simple but yet you look at their outsized results of being there in person observing.

Walk the Floor. Be on Site.

NATHAN ANDERSON: Yeah. You know, when I was at Newell I spent a portion of my time working with Walmart. And at their buying office in Bentonville. And we had an opportunity on multiple occasions to speak with individuals that were around or were there not short after Sam really got things going. They would talk about Sam Walton’s desire to not sit back, and just as you mentioned, read reports. But he had his yellow notebook. He would get in his truck and he would go store by store. He would get in a plane and he’d fly to a new market. And he’d go store by store. And there were many times when his assistant would have to call a store and say, ‘hey, did you find Sam’s yellow notebook?’ The key is he wanted to experience it for himself. And he was taking notes really so he could make the experience better. So he could really understand for himself where the emphasis needed to be. And I think again he was taking that perspective not from mounds of data, but at that point in time from what he could go and observe. Obviously there is a big focus on data today. And there’s a lot of emphasis on artificial intelligence and data analytics. And that’s all very important. But I think as you mentioned, I think it’s extremely important to just sit back and observe and watch people to see where their pain points are. To understand what it is they are trying to accomplish. And to make sure that your processes are not in the way, that they are enabling and helping people to get what they are trying to accomplish and that they are not really problematic.

10:50 JL: It makes me think about; why are certain leaders more data focused versus more person observed focused. Right? I’m guessing that it has something to do with our aptitudes or just the way we are wired. But it does seem like the combo is pretty awesome. The personal experience plus, you know, does the data support my personal experience or was that a one off. Doing a mashup instead of… I just think like, it can be pretty easy to rely on what we feel more drawn to instead of bringing both in.


11:27 JL: And it’s just not convenient to go see it in person. Do you know how fast it is to have your analist team bring you an excel sheet instead of getting on an airplane or driving your truck around, right?


11:38 JL: So you guys have 2200 staff, leading people to think like this. You obviously have a deep commitment to it. You’ve seen it work. Obviously growing an organization from 1 billion and change to 7 billion and change. It’s worked over the past 14 years. When it comes to the next generation, you know, as an Executive Vice President you have a lot of leaders underneath you. Helping them build a commitment to that principle instead of just, you know ‘Nathan told me we should’. What does that look like?

Demonstrate and Remind

NATHAN ANDERSON: Well it goes back to your hiring practices. You have to really understand and through that process really look to make sure you’re bring up people that already understand a little bit about what that means. Now, I would dare say that in today’s society, many people have never in their life experienced good service. Whether that’s a fast food or wherever else, there are very few organizations that deliver the type of experience that you walk away from saying; wow, that was fantastic. So in some cases you have to actually not only look for people that can understand that, but you have to actually tell them what it looks like. You have to help them understand. Here’s a good experience and this over here is not a good experience. And really delineate between the two because I think in many cases unfortunately we don’t get to experience a lot of good things when we’re out acting as consumers. So that’s a part of it, in your hiring practices. The next thing is you do have to make sure that your training programs are-  It’s great to spend time up front. It’s important to help people understand and learn. It’s important for them to practice. But more importantly once they’re out in their role, to have that ongoing feedback. To ensure that the leaders are bought in and understand. And to also help them really know what it looks like. And what I mean by that is again I go back to the example of a good experience. If people have never experienced it themselves then how are they supposed to provide it. So you have to help that manger understand that as a coach and a mentor here’s what I expect you to do. These are the types of things I expect you to observe. This is how I expect you to provide feedback and follow up with your employees. And so that’s a big part of it. It’s an investment in the training and the ongoing coaching and mentoring that will make that happen. The other thing is people have to be reminded daily. You can’t tell them once and expect that they are going to retain that. So we have daily morning huddles. And they are 15 minutes. But it’s a reminder for our employees on a daily basis. And we go through and talk about what our core values are. We talk about what our mission statement is, what our vision statement is. And at that point, daily they’re being reminded for a very short period of time why we do what we do. So that when they stand in line and someone comes in and they are upset, they can remember who we are and why we do what we do. And I think that’s another key part of it. The other thing I would just mention as I finish that last question, is just for me it goes back to that combination of what we were talking about a minute ago. I can take data from surveys and I can see how we’re doing from the perspective of the member, in our case, but I also need to go out and spend time with our employees and and our members and see how they are feeling from my own eyes. I think that’s the other key, is I have an opportunity occasionally to go out and spend time with my employees. And ask them questions. Share my vision and and then allow them to ask questions. And for me that’s something I enjoy and also something I feel is really effective because it hasn’t been passed through the pipe 20 different times. It’s, you know, kind of like the old telephone game, right? In this case hearing it right from me, and helping them understand what my expectation is and why it’s important to the company and to our membership is important. So I enjoy that aspect of it as well.

Consistent Team Huddles

15:28 JL: You know I love this. There’s a couple of things you talked about I want to revisit. The first one is the idea of the daily huddles, where you are on a daily basis reminding them, it  kind of sounds like reminding them of the bigger purpose instead of just what we have to do today. So, you know, having our consulting firm we meet with all sorts of big companies all over. We’re both in Corporate Alliance. There’s lots of senior executive, smart people in there. If you think about conversations on some of those trips, right? And there’s so many of us in leadership who, we know we should do something like daily huddles, something like this, right. But the ruts of the old way of when we didn’t, it seems like things go good for the first couple of weeks and then somebody was out so we decide to push it a day and then all of a sudden we push it to 3 days a week. And then all of a sudden it’s like ‘weren’t we going to do those huddle things again? We gotta get back to that’. How have you, as you think about like, advice for the rest of us who, we want to make a change but we want it to stick. You know everyone can have a ra-ra meeting, we can have initial kick off training. But then like 3 months later we’re still doing it. 9 months later we’re still doing it. Any advice on that?

NATHAN ANDERSON: Well you know, the idea came from Ritz Carlton. We had an opportunity to go and spend some time with Ritz Carlton and see how they do it. Because you know they have a great reputation for providing a top notch experience for their customers. And it was interestings as we went and had the opportunity to do that. Because of the huddles that they hold each morning you can see the consistency within their organization. Consistent from the maid to the bellmen to the valet. Everybody was on the same page. And so that is the first thing. I think you first of all, leadership team, you’ve got to buy into the importance of it. You’ve got to understand the benefit of doing it. And then buy in and commit to it. We’ve been doing this now for 5 years of so. And you know the first year we probably weren’t as consistent as we are today. So I think the other piece of it is number one; you’ve got to get the leadership group really understanding and bought into it. You’ve got to get them to demonstrate it. But also I think you have to not be afraid to fail. And just make sure you keep trying. Year 2 was better than year 1. Year 3 was better than year 2. And over all if you believe in it then I don’t know why you’d ever stop doing it.

18:02 JL: I also love… that’s great advice. I also love your example of going and seeing what good looks like. You know where you’ve got that front of the puzzle box like, ok Ritz Carlton has a reputation and the results I’m looking for. Here’s instead of just all imagination, having that windshield to look through sounds like it was probably pretty valuable.

NATHAN ANDERSON: Yeah. It really was. And again that’s the key. Ritz Carlton is not a financial institution. So I think the other thing we learned through this process is you can learn from any company. And you can look at examples in any industry. And don’t be afraid to look outside your own.

18:48 JL: Well, let’s end it there for the first half of the interview. Everybody please check back in. We’re going to get more ideas from Nathan in part 2.


LOGAN WILKES: “Hi. My name is Logan Wilkes and I’m the CEO of Corporate Alliance. A few years ago I moved to San Diego to build a new market for us there. The biggest deterrent I had to success was I didn’t know a soul. I often thought to myself ‘if I just had a thriving network or influence this would go 100x faster’. To be honest with you, I had never felt so alone in my life. Because A: I didn’t have an influence. And B: I didn’t know anyone who was going through the same thing that I was. If you have ever felt like this and you were looking to grow your influence, join us at one of our upcoming events. You can check us out at CorporateAlliance.net and can request an invite to one of our upcoming experiences.”

[END] 19:48