Rae Thiede enjoys a challenge. When she accepted the position of vice president of education and administration at the Mortgage Bankers Association of Minnesota in 1990, she knew nothing about association business. She had to learn fast, because soon after she started, the executive director left. It was up to Thiede and the two other staff members, "to find a way to bring life into the association before it was pronounced dead," Thiede recalls. They succeeded, organizing the association's first state convention, which drew 890 attendees.

Six years later, the Mortgage Bankers Association was in good shape, and Thiede craved a greater challenge. She became manager of education for the Minnesota Bankers Association (MBA) in July.

Founded in 1889, the MBA has 523 members, with Thiede's department generating 20 percent of the association's revenue. Compared to her previous job, where she planned the annual meeting and about 25 seminars a year, she now will coordinate MBA's annual convention, 280 American Institute of Banking (AIB) classes, 100 seminars, and six banking schools. "It's making me think," Thiede says. "I was getting stale."

The hottest issue in education-and Thiede's biggest challenge-is setting up cost-effective, technology-driven education. MBA held its first interactive video classes this summer. Thiede is impressed with the ability of technology to bring education to Minnesota's rural banks, but MBA ran the expensive training at a heavy loss. A private source had provided the space, equipment, and technical assistance, driving up the cost. Thiede recently found a much cheaper option. By using the facilities at a technical college, costs will be cut from $273 to $25 an hour.

Creating a cost-effective delivery system is only one obstacle Thiede faces. Marketing virtual seminars to people who don't understand the technology is another difficulty-attendance at MBA's summer video training fell far short of expectations. Some of those who did participate, missed the classroom setting. "A few people said they liked hard copies and live bodies," Thiede notes. "Whether that is the feeling of the majority, I don't know. I'm about to find out." Through a member survey and meetings, Thiede will discover which education delivery systems members prefer.

Virtual training won't replace live sessions. "I expect the MBA will get heavily into technology, but still use the good old-fashioned classroom venue," Thiede predicts. "The best means of communication is one-on-one, but when you are dealing with masses and less accessible communities, you have to go with technology."

Regardless of the method, Thiede believes education is critical. "If we don't continue to educate ourselves and our staff, we end up with our heads in the sand and get left behind," she says. Thiede's goal is to attend all of MBA's schools and as many sessions as she can. "To learn what [members] are learning will make me a better manager," Thiede stresses. "You can't preach education without doing it." Thiede also plans to have her CAe designation by 1998.

Not everyone shares Thiede's passionate stand on education. "Unfortunately, we fight two battles-in the mortgage industry, in any industry," she says. "If things are good, we hear, 'We're overloaded.' If things are bad, training is cut first."

Thiede accepts no excuses. For busy members, she recommends offering evening sessions rather than week-long seminars. When budgets are tight, Thiede campaigns against cutting education funds, pointedly asking members, "Do you want well-trained staff-or not?"

Another objection Thiede hears: If we train them, they will leave. "That's the one I love the most," Thiede says sardonically. She responds with a line she heard at a seminar: Imagine if you don't train them, and they stay. "I should needlepoint that and hang it in my office," Thiede quips.

Banking's in Her Blood Born in Aransas Pass, TX, Thiede, 45, grew up in Detroit. She began her banking career at age 16, selecting a job with the National Bank of Detroit because her sister was a teller. She then found she liked "the paycheck and the people." After marrying, she moved to Minnesota and worked part time at various banks while raising her children. She tried a few other professions, including a stint with a commodities trading firm."I was bored to tears," Thiede says. "Mortgage banking is in my blood, and I can't get it out."

Thiede's four children, aged 15 to 25, have "a good idea about what Mom does," Thiede says, because she involves them with her work-one strategy for balancing career and family needs. They've attended conventions, and pitched in at Mortgage Bankers, assembling registration packets and stuffing envelopes.

Thiede extends her education philosophy to her leisure time. After years of organizing golf tournaments, Thiede recently decided to learn the game herself and joined the executive Women's Golf Association. "It's great to network with other professional women," she says.

No matter what her future brings, Thiede will continue to educate herself and promote education. "education will never go away," Thiede contends. "If it does, life stops, history stops, development stops, technology stops. everything stops. Think about it."