As president and chief executive officer of Idaho Central Credit Union (ICCU), Kent Oram oversees operations of the 50th largest credit union in the nation and one of the country's fastest growing for five consecutive years. Its net income last year totaled $18 million, and its assets amount to $4.2 billion. Its 36 branches serve more than 353,500 members, making it Idaho's largest credit union.
During an informal presentation Wednesday night, May 22, Oram told a small group gathered at the Portneuf Brewing Co. for a Think B.I.G. (Bannock Innovation Group) fireside chat in Pocatello that ICCU officially opened on May 1 its new multi-million-dollar data processing center adjacent to its Idaho headquarters in Chubbuck, where more than 700 employees work.
The data center is replete with all-new infrastructure and hardware to manage more than 1,000 ICCU servers and countless electronic functions. “The complexity of all that is nuts,” Oram remarked, noting when he started as ICCU's data processing manager in 1985 “the world wasn't connected to anything. Our computer was connected to a wall.”
One of the largest employers in the Pocatello/Chubbuck region, ICCU has been rapidly opening branches throughout Idaho, most recently in the state's Panhandle, bringing its total work force to about 1,150 – a far cry from the few dozen on the company's payroll some 35 years ago. When Oram was promoted ICCU's top executive 11 years ago, the company's total employment was in the 260 range.
(photo: Idaho Central Credit Union CEO/President Kent Oram converses with a couple at the Portneuf Brewing Co. in Pocatello/Mark Mendiola)
In 2000, ICCU's board decided against moving the company's headquarters to Ada County, instead keeping it in Bannock County, prompting a director to resign. Over 36 months, ICCU invested $65 million in construction projects in the Pocatello/Chubbuck area, Oram mentioned, praising Chubbuck for its planned construction of a new city hall.
From 1985 to 1995, Pocatello suffered a “sour attitude about itself,” he said, adding the Gate City now seems much more upbeat and optimistic. “We've had enough negativity already.”
Oram said he believes the Northgate Project under development as a master planned community will prove to be a success and a major new LDS temple there will be a boon to the local economy. ICCU has committed to constructing a new branch there eventually.
Lamenting the lack of affordable housing in the area, he cautioned: “The housing shortage is very dire and real,” noting less than 100 homes are for sale in the local market. “Trying to find the labor and builders is so tough.”
Idaho Central re-invests up to $750,000 each year in local communities, charities and economies, a large amount his financial industry counterparts find astounding, asking how ICCU can afford to do so, Oram said.
When an ICCU employee told him that she could not afford tickets and a hot dog at an event, he said he was determined to resolve that issue. At the company's annual strategic planning session, it was decided that up to $4.5 million would be allocated annually so salaries and wages of ICCU employees could be increased. Most of them have been educated at Idaho State University (ISU), he noted.
Oram pointed out that Bank of America announced Tuesday that it will raise the minimum wage for its employees to $20 an hour the next two years, which he called “a very expensive proposition.” The bank also said it would freeze health care cost increases for lower-paid employees.
Oram said he regrets not addressing a weakness in ICCU's internal culture with his boss 20 years ago or sooner than he did after assuming its helm 11 years ago. The company, however, has made a dramatic turnaround and was voted the best place to work in Idaho for five years straight. “We could have been double our size if we had confronted a cultural change,” he said.
Calling himself a voracious reader, Oram said he typically starts his day reading Twitter news feeds while riding an exercise bike. He then goes to work where “Handle Daily Logistics” or HDL (pronounced “huddle”) meetings are held each day at 8:30 a.m. He estimates he attends 80 percent of them. An ICCU innovation department was created 3½ years ago in which seven employees pore over data and suggestions.
Reared in Blackfoot, Oram said he “grew up on a car lot washing cars” at his father's vehicle dealership and moved irrigation sprinkler pipes, which he called a character builder. His mother was a school secretary. Both his parents achieved only eighth and ninth grade educations, but three of their five children earned college degrees.
Oram attended Ricks College – BYU-Idaho's predecessor – for 1½ years and then transferred to ISU's College of Business, where he earned a degree in information systems management. “I would do it again 100 times over,” he said. “College provides critical thinking.” He recommended that high school graduates major in technology, health sciences or a combination of both.
Asked about his greatest achievements, Oram praised his wife of nearly 40 years, his three daughters and 13 grandchildren. “They're always the number one source of my pride and joy,” he said.