From The Business Journals
Wells Fargo Chairman and CEO John Stumpf has said he dreams about checking accounts. This week he shed some light on how he spends his days: calling one employee and one customer unannounced every day to hear firsthand how his bank is doing.
“By the time things come to me, through five layers of management, even shoe polish tastes like ice cream,” Stumpf said, speaking on a panel at the Fortune Global Forum, drawing 300 CEOs and other senior executives from around the world to San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel this week.
Wells Fargo Chairman and CEO John Stumpf says information can be so sugar-coated by the time it reaches his desk that “even shoe polish tastes like ice cream.” He makes unannounced calls to an employee and a customer everyday to hear firsthand how his bank is doing.
Stumpf was tight-lipped on the feedback he’s getting, but he did say that the typical reaction he gets is one of disbelief as most assume it’s a prank call.
In a brief interview with the San Francisco Business Times after his formal remarks, Stumpf said his one-on-one phone calls fit with the bank’s culture of “customer advocacy.”
“It’s all about the customer,” he said.
Stumpf was joined on stage by IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty as the two discussed how technology disruption is affecting their companies.
The San Francisco banker said there are two standing meetings he won’t miss: one focused on cybersecurity and the other on how to use technology to better serve customers. He cited technology that provides for customer authentication. (Perhaps one of his calls to customers brought to his attention the need to do away with a bane of modern life: computer passwords. Wells is making headway on that issue.)
Underscoring the importance of embracing technology, Stumpf said it’s essential that Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) place “big bets, intelligent bets” on changing technology.
“If we didn’t make those bets, we’d have stagecoaches on the freeway,” Stumpf said.
“If we weren’t a mobile business, we’d be out of business,” Stumpf said, pointing to the bank’s rapid growth in mobile banking.
He also took the opportunity to discuss the competitive landscape in banking.
“The people who influence us the most are outside our industry: the IBMs, the Amazons, the Apples. They take complexity and make it simple,” Stumpf said. “If we can’t tell a customer what’s exactly in their account after they’ve had a 25-year relationship with us, and they can find out anything they want in the world after three nanoseconds from Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), how do we look in comparison?”
Fortune Editor Alan Murray, who moderated the panel with Stumpf and Rometty, said the magazine is holding this week’s global forum in the United States for the first time, selecting San Francisco as the venue because so many CEOs expressed interest in better understanding the “startup culture.”
IBM’s (NYSE: IBM) Rometty said large companies could learn from startups. She cited their speed to market and their ability to try new ideas by providing small sums of money to test ideas and then pour more money behind those that work.
Stumpf offered his firsthand experience on the proliferation of the startup culture, noting that when he moved to the Bay Area 13 years ago, the San Francisco airport was a “demilitarized zone,” where everything south was considered “Silicon Valley.”
But no more. Today, references to Silicon Valley are likely to include several companies in the heart of San Francisco.
Murray asked whether Silicon Valley companies work under different rules than the rest of corporate America.
“We’re all in the leadership business. We’re all trying to create customer solutions,” Stumpf said. “We’re all trying to engage constituents that matter — communities, customers, team members and ultimately shareholders.
“That magic of working together really has made a difference,” Stumpf said.