Laura Schulte said one of the biggest leadership mistakes she made in her career with Wells Fargo resulted from asking too few questions.
Working for the bank in Las Vegas at the time, Schulte said she faced a challenge: determining how much attention to give the various businesses she oversaw. One of those was a commercial real estate lending division.
Schulte admits it was a complex division that she knew little about. But she had put in charge someone she thought was very qualified to run it.
“Long story short, it turned out that he wasn’t a great manager,” she said. “He wasn’t minding the store at the time. And we ended up making some really poor credit decisions on my watch that resulted in very large losses. I could have gotten fired.”
Schulte, who described the experience Tuesday at a Queens University of Charlotte event on leadership, said it taught her an important lesson.
“What I learned is that you always have to be able to ask the questions that will tell you how much people really know,” said Schulte, who today is president of Wells Fargo’s Eastern U.S. community bank operation. “Today, I will ask questions that I either know the answer to, or people wouldn’t really be able to answer them unless they were really knowledgeable…”
Schulte, Queens’ 2012 BusinessWoman of the Year, shared that and other leadership advice as part of the BB&T Distinguished Leaders in Action lecture series, which is organized by Queens’ McColl School of Business. The lecture series is open to the public.
Relocate, if necessary
Schulte, who moved to Charlotte amid Wells Fargo’s acquisition of Wachovia, a purchase announced in 2008, encouraged relocating, if necessary, to pursue career opportunities.
A native of the Midwest and an accounting major, she said she has worked for the San Francisco-based bank for 31 years – “for my entire career,” she said, starting work for the company in its audit division.
“The company, for me, has had the right culture. It’s had the right set of values,” she said.
Leaders always give credit
Among the other career advice Schulte shared:
• There are benefits to staying with one company for a long time. “There really is something wonderful about working in a place where you make connections over time and you know a whole lot of people and you build sort of a family at that company.”
• Be careful before switching companies. “You think, ‘If I jump to the next job, I’m going to get a bigger salary.’ ... There is some truth to the statement ‘grass is grass,’ ” she said. “It is not always greener.”
• Don’t focus on how far from the top of the career ladder you are. Instead, focus on how you can contribute to your company as a whole.
• As a leader, give credit when it’s due. Schulte described her leadership style as “servant” leadership. “Someone once said, ‘Don’t believe your own press clippings,’ ” she said.