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Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan on Fixing the Bank's Reputation

July 22, 2017 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated September 02, 2020 11:45 AM UTC

Tim Sloan says Wells Fargo's culture needs some changing.

Tim, you were tapped to be CEO of Wells Fargo at a very difficult time. You were thrust in a job because your predecessor resigned abruptly over the fake accounts scandal. What has been the most important lesson that you've learned about being a leader in a time of a crisis? Sure. I think first, responsibility in that one of the first things that I did in stepping in the role was be very clear to all of our stakeholders that the senior leadership team, including me, took responsibility for the mistakes that we made. It's also about the responsibility of making things right and fixing what was broken. So that's number one. I think number two, it's optimism, right? When you get the opportunity to be the CEO of such a terrific organization-- we have a wonderful 165-year history-- you've got to be optimistic about the future. And I'm very optimistic about Wells Fargo's future. And then thirdly, it's about resiliency because a page doesn't turn and everything is fine the next day. You can make progress one day, and then you have a setback the next. And that certainly happened over the last year. But reinforcing responsibility, optimism, and resiliency has been important. Have you talked about any of this with Warren Buffett? Not only because he's your biggest shareholder, but he's so famous and respected for his strong views about trust and protecting reputation. Well, we talked about the importance of reputation. He's been very famous for saying it takes years to build a good reputation, and it can disappear in a minute. And to some extent, that's what's happened for us. And it's a good perspective. But he's also very optimistic about our future, too. And he's been public about that. So that's been very helpful. Was there any one thing that he said to you that was a real takeaway and stuck with you when you talked to Warren Buffett? Well, he was kind enough to say that he thought I was doing a good job, so I'll take that. I think what really stood out for me was how he walked me through the challenges that he inherited at Salomon Brothers and how he handled them. And he also gave me advice in terms of looking at other difficult situations and learning from the mistakes that other companies made. Let's talk a little bit about culture. Do you need to change the core culture at Wells? I don't think we need to fundamentally change the core culture, but we need to massage it a fair amount. Now having said that, I've been at this company now for almost 30 years. And I have a perspective of how we want to make changes in the culture. But one of the responsibilities I have in terms of a good leader is to listen. So I'm going to listen first before we make any changes. You brought up that you've been with the bank your entire career, 30 years. Almost, yeah. Yeah, well, does that help or hurt you as you try to change culture? Well, I think it helps when you've been thrust into the role as CEO in a very short period of time. Because you know people. You understand the mistakes that we made, and you're able to move forward and fix them. I think the danger there is to have blinders on and not be a good listener in terms of what your view of the company and culture might be. And that's why it's really important to listen to the team, listen to other stakeholders, be very open minded, even when sometimes their advice is constructive to say, to be polite. But that's important. So you set the tone as the CEO. But how do you get 270,000 employees to follow your lead and to make changes wholeheartedly? I mean, most people just don't like change. They like to keep things just the way they were. I can't do it alone. I'd love to be able to say that I can wake up in the morning, send out a note to the whole team. They'll look at it and say, this is terrific. Let's just change. That's not the way it works. It's about making sure that the leadership team is absolutely together in terms of the strategy and the changes we want to make. And then executing and communicating, communicating, and communicating. Tim, when you stepped into the CEO job, what was the best leadership advice you received on how to set Wells Fargo right? From my mom and dad, which is you know what? We've got a lot of confidence in you, right? We know you're a hard worker. And you have a high level of honesty and integrity. And if you just be yourself, you're going to be fine.