Laura Schulte, president of Wells Fargo’s Eastern U.S. community banking operations, who moved to Charlotte four years ago amid the bank’s acquisition of Wachovia, on Friday accepted Queens University of Charlotte’s BusinessWoman of the Year award.
Schulte, 53, kicked off her acceptance speech at Queens by talking about that acquisition, acknowledging the disbelief that swept through the community when it was announced, in 2008, that the San Francisco bank was planning to acquire Charlotte-based Wachovia in a $15.1 billion deal.
Schulte told about 200 luncheon attendees that she’d been unsure of the reception she would get when she moved to Charlotte in January 2009, the same month Wells announced that the merger had been finalized. It would be the largest bank merger in U.S. history.
“The team at Wachovia and the community were in a state of shock,” Schulte said. “No one could believe what had happened during a very short time at the beginning of the financial crisis. People were mourning the loss of Wachovia – and rightly so.
“Our mantra in Charlotte and in the East Coast was ‘Don’t break it,’ ” she said. “My main concern ... was that we do not lose the practices or the service culture or, most importantly, the people that came with Wachovia.”
Schulte, who called Wachovia a “world-class company,” said it was tough for her when the last Wachovia sign had to be taken down.
“I definitely had a hard time keeping the moisture in my eyes,” she said.
In a video played at the luncheon, Charlotte leaders said they were impressed with Schulte from the start. She became active in boards, such as that of the Foundation for the Carolinas, as well as fundraising and philanthropy, they said.
According to the bank, Schulte has been with Wells for more than 20 years. She had been president of Wells Fargo’s Western region before making the move from Los Angeles to Charlotte. She is a native of Omaha, Neb.
She now oversees community banking in 14 states and Washington, D.C., a region that includes roughly 2,700 Wells branches and 4,600 ATMs, according to the bank.
Schulte is the 28th woman to receive the honor from Queens. The university said it gives the award to female professionals who show leadership through competence, character and commitment to their community.
Other winners of the Charlotte BusinessWoman of the Year award since it was established in 1986 include Time Warner Cable’s Carol Hevey, Bank of America Corp. executive Cathy Bessant, and Observer publisher Ann Caulkins.
Schulte, in offering leadership advice to the audience, said one lesson she’s learned over the past four years is the importance of winning the hearts and minds of the members of a team.
“You’ve got to tell them why they’re important to the mission and purpose of the company,” she said. “You have to listen. You have to learn.
“I stand here today knowing that this recognition is not really about me. It’s about what Wells Fargo has come to mean to this community, and it’s about ... resilience and the dedication of all of my Eastern teammates.”