Long before Laura Schulte was running Wells Fargo’s Eastern U.S. community bank operations, she was trying to get a job as a teller for a predecessor bank.
Schulte, 17 at the time, said she applied for a teller position with U.S. National Bank in her native Nebraska – but was turned down for that position and given a job encoding checks instead.
Now, Schulte 55, will retire by the end of the year as one of Wells Fargo’s highest-ranking executives in Charlotte. She oversees roughly 2,700 Wells Fargo branches and about 32,000 employees across 14 states and Washington, D.C.
Schulte arrived in Charlotte in January 2009, a harrowing time in the city’s banking history. It was one month after Wells Fargo’s merger with troubled, Charlotte-based Wachovia. Through the acquisition, Charlotte lost a major headquarters but became the East Coast headquarters for Wells Fargo.
Schulte will be replaced by Michelle Lee, head of Wells Fargo’s community banking operations for the Northeast.
The Observer spoke with Schulte last week about her retirement. Here’s what she had to say on that and other topics:
•Her next plans.
Schulte said she is still figuring out what to do in retirement after more than 30 years in the financial services industry.
Among other things, she said she wants to spend more time with her family, which will remain in Charlotte. Her husband, Mike, still works for Wells Fargo in its private banking operation in Charlotte.
Schulte said she is interested in doing more work in the community. She serves on various boards in Charlotte, including for the Charlotte Chamber.
She is considering serving on the board of at least one for-profit company. Not on her to-do list: going back to work full time.
“For me, retirement is really about being in retirement.”
•Wells Fargo’s future in Charlotte.
Schulte’s retirement follows another significant departure from the company’s Charlotte operations this year with the retirement ofStan Kelly
, lead regional president for the Carolinas.
Kelly has been replaced by Rick Redden, previously Wells Fargo’s regional president for South Carolina. Schulte said Wells’ community banking operations in the East is in “great shape” as Lee and Redden take their positions.
Wells Fargo will remain “a very significant employer” in Charlotte and the company has “no plans to abandon the number of employees we have in Charlotte.” It employs about 22,100 in the metro area, making the region its largest employment hub.
•Living in Charlotte.
Schulte has lived in Charlotte since relocating from the West Coast. That switch was “quite a change” but a good one, she said, describing Charlotte as a “dynamic” city.
“We found that you can get a lot of the same things that you can get in a much larger community, like Los Angeles or New York. ... There’s a lot of things you can do here. And then there’s also a lot of benefits: You don’t fight the traffic (found in other cities) – although I think native Charlotteans would say there’s a lot of traffic.”
•Not chairing the chamber.
Schulte was in line to chair the Charlotte Chamber in 2016, but because of her retirement she won’t fill the role. That’s because any officer of the board must also be an employee of a chamber member company, she said.
Ned Curran, president of The Bissell Cos., will be chairman in 2016.
As the economic recovery continues, Schulte said some medium-size companies in the Charlotte regioncontinue to hold back on investing in their businesses.
That’s because some businesses are cautious about health care costs and taxes, among other things. Rather than take out loans, some businesses are funding investments with cash.
It’s important that Charlotte’s leaders continue to take a regional approach to growth, not just focus on the city itself, Schulte said, “because it really is becoming one big metropolitan area.”
She said it’s also important that Charlotte continues to focus on ways to diversify its economy beyond banking, which will remain “an important contributor to the economy and to job creation here.”
Wells Fargo is seeking to boost the number of its products purchased by its customers. Its goal is to “cross-sell” eight products per household.
That practice has led to allegations that Wells has opened accounts or credit lines for customers without their permission to meet quotas.
But Schulte said the point of cross-selling is only to offer customers products or services they need or want.
“We just need to do a better job of helping team members understand that connection between the mutual value exchange we give customers and they give us.”
•Reflections on Wachovia.
One of the biggest tasks Wells Fargo faced following the acquisition was building trust with the community and Wachovia employees, Schulte said.
“We really had to step up and demonstrate how we were going to commit to the community, how we were going to be active in the community, because Wachovia had done great things,” she said.
“We had to prove who we were as a company.”
Has Wells Fargo done that?
“I’ve heard that we have. I hope we have. I’ve certainly tried hard,” she said.