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Dr. James Likens, former longtime president of Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) and distinguished speaker at the Richard Myles Johnson Colloquium in Credit Union Philosophy last week.
Dr. James Likens, former longtime president of Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) and distinguished speaker at the Richard Myles Johnson Colloquium in Credit Union Philosophy last week.

Dr. James Likens Champions ‘Head and Heart’ Philosophy at WCMS Colloquium

Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) students and alumni were honored to gather for the Richard Myles Johnson Colloquium in Credit Union Philosophy last week to hear former WCMS school president Dr. James Likens speak about his reflections on credit union philosophy.

“For us credit union people to achieve our full potential, we must combine our heads and our hearts—both are critically important,” Likens said. “When credit unions are at their best, the most important aspect of credit union philosophy is an authentically emotional concern for the well-being of members. This is the deep meaning of ‘People Helping People.”

Likens spotlighted just how many credit union leaders and employees formerly worked for a bank. Those at banks are stereotyped with having “all head and no heart,” while those at credit unions are characterized with having “all heart and no head.”

Both matter, he stressed. Operations, accounting, compliance, technology, human resources and other business functions are important. “But heart matters as well. The sweetest rewards, both large and small, often come from the heart,” he said.

Likens implored WCMS students to heed his advice for their credit union careers and personal life leadership. “Be sure you take away from the WCMS experience lessons of both head and heart,” he added. “Use it in your work at credit unions—and take it further. In your friendships, in your relationships, and in your marriages. In all aspects of your life.”

The former president retired from WCMS in 2015. Since the founding of the school, more than 4,000 credit union professionals have graduated.

Likens joined Western CUNA Management School in 1972 when its annual enrollment was less than 100. Today that enrollment is more than 400. The school was certified for college credit in 1979 by the American Council on Education, which it has maintained, enabling graduates to apply for credit toward their degree from colleges and universities. In addition, Likens implemented testing and comprehensive mid-term projects.

Under Likens’ direction, WCMS was incorporated as a 501c3 organization in 1995. Likens—the Morris B. and Gladys E. Pendleton Professor of Economics at Pomona College—has served on the board of directors of First City Credit Union for 40 years. He received the California Credit Union League’s Outstanding Volunteer Award in 1998 as well as its highest honor, the Leo H. Shapiro Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2002.

He was also awarded the Herb Wegner Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Credit Union Foundation in 2005. The Credit Union Executives Society has honored him twice—with National Director of the Year in 2002 and inducting him into its Director Hall of Fame in 2009.

In 1991, the WCMS Alumni Association created the annual James D. Likens Alumni Award, given to a WCMS graduate who has gone on to distinguished service in the credit union movement.

Likens launched his personal memoir during the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ REACH 2017 annual convention last year: “Head and Heart: My Life in Credit Unions.” The book is full of leadership insights, key historical credit union stories and facts, and special recognitions to six other professionals. In 68 pages, he notes historical and momentous change through his own eyes. From the national credit union cause to volunteer service—and from the economy to political action—the book shares “notables and quotables” on everything Likens experienced as a credit union icon.

“Jim has impacted more lives of credit union members than anyone else by empowering leaders of change-makers,” said Dr. Michael Steinberger, dean and chief academic officer for WCMS, during his time on stage at “Philosophy Night” last week. “He developed the head-and-heart philosophy of our school and has dedicated his life in the service of credit unions and their members.”