How Wells Fargo’s CEO built the team at the world’s most valuable bank

July 23, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC
Wells Fargo & Co.

The Fortune 500 Insider Network is our newest online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. John G. Stumpf, chairman, president and CEO of Wells Fargo & Company, has answered the question: How do you build a company’s culture?

A lot of attention gets lavished on the topic of corporate culture, but to me it all comes down to understanding what you need to do each day — and why.

I learned that early on as one of 11 kids on our family dairy farm in Pierz, Minn. The “culture” (although we didn’t call it that) was to work hard, be a team player, and persist in the face of difficulty. As a result, I woke up at 4:30 every morning to milk cows and smelled like Holstein Friesian cattle until I was 18. I shared a bed with two of my brothers. We had tough times, and we were poor, but we got through it because we were in it together. That experience really helped me see the value of what we now call culture.

Today, as CEO of Wells Fargo (WFC), I am proud to be the keeper of our company’s culture. And the similarities to what I learned on the farm are many. We are focused on the team. We are about plural pronouns — we, us, and ours instead of I, me, and mine. The team works together to help our customers succeed, and we are in the habit of doing the right things.

Of course, a company’s culture is rooted in how people behave. And believe me, they notice what you do as much as what you say. So one key to building the culture you want is to hire people who aren’t afraid to demonstrate that they care about customers and about each other. (At Wells Fargo, we often say that we don’t care how much you know until we know how much you care.)

I have personally benefitted from working for someone who cared. Early on in my career at the company, I was terrified of public speaking. My boss picked up on this and said, “You’ve got to fix this. If you can’t, that’s a career disabler.” So I joined Toastmasters, a nonprofit organization that works with members to improve speech skills. During my first meeting, I set the club record for the number of “uhs” and “ums” I said in a two-minute speech — but I learned to speak. And to this day, I appreciate that my boss took an interest in me and cared enough to help me. That’s the Wells Fargo culture at play.

Now when I speak with new team members, I inevitably give them this advice: Think of your career as a three-legged stool. One leg is to work for a company that shares your values, because life is too short to be one person at home and someone else at the office. The second is to make sure you ask your boss to help you be better, because that’s how you grow. And third, invest in yourself and keep learning at every point in your career.

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