Westminster Savings boss to retire
Barry Forbes was talking to one of his management staff shortly after he announced he was retiring as president and CEO of Westminster Savings Credit Union.
"When did you start here?" the staff member asked.
"1970," said Forbes.
"1970! I was born in 1970!"
That's right, 1970. That's back when Forbes had long hair and wore a jean jacket with holes in it.
Forbes grew up in Edmonton and after finishing high school worked in the Northwest Territories making oodles of money. He made enough for him to pursue a commerce degree from Simon Fraser University, where he was a charter student. (He can still reel off his student number without hesitation.)
As graduation neared, he was looking to get a job to finance a trip to Europe. One of his classmates in his fourth-year marketing class was Westminster Savings CEO Pat Grant, who was taking the class just out of interest.
Grant asked Forbes if he'd ever considered getting into the credit union business. "There's all sorts of people retiring these days, and you should have a look at it," said Grant.
Forbes was intrigued because he'd always had an interest in finance, but he was also broke. When he asked how much it would pay, he wasn't impressed with the answer. The wages up north were substantially better. But the phrases "broke," "out of work" and "I can't pay the rent" kept popping into his head so he went for it.
When Forbes joined Westminster Savings, it had 14 employees and $6 million in assets. From a young age in the workforce, he'd been involved in supervising people. He'd also been quarterback of his high school football team and class president. Forbes quickly climbed the management ladder and seven years later, at the age of 31, he was appointed president and CEO.
"I did expect I could move up pretty quickly. Having said that, if you had asked me if I would start running the credit union at 31, I couldn't have predicted that," says Forbes, whose retirement will take effect on Dec. 31.
Under his guidance, the New Westminster-headquartered company has grown to more than 400 employees serving over 60,000 members and customers with $2.7 billion in assets. That makes it the fourth largest credit union in British Columbia with 12 retail branches and leasing offices in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. In addition, it owns vehicle and equipment leasing subsidiaries.
Forbes says the secrets to his success revolve around customer service, treating employees well and marrying the needs of the two groups together.
When he was in charge of a 40-man crew in Hay River, N.W.T., he didn't hire anyone younger than him because he needed people with experience and knowledge that knew more about the jobs than he did.
He took the same philosophy to Westminster where he tells employees, "I will not make you a lot of promises, but I will keep all the promises I make."
As CEO and president, Forbes developed a no-layoff policy even during severe economic downturns.
"Ultimately the economy turns and you need all those people that you didn't lay off," says Forbes.
Although he's been headhunted by other financial institutions, Forbes has remained loyal to Westminster Savings because its board has allowed him to participate in other activities. He's been chair of the Burnaby Hospital and Fraser Health boards, and SFU's business advisory board. He is also currently a member of TransLink's board and other community organizations.
"I've had an opportunity to do many things without having to leave the job," says Forbes, who has a wife and two sons.
Now that he's 65, Forbes feels it's a good time to step away because he has a great deal of confidence Westminster has people that are capable and can deliver the service.
Once his successor is found and in place, Forbes plans to not only continue serving on community boards, but he's going full circle to what he was doing 41 years ago—traveling and taking university courses.