Wells Fargo’s retiring head of Eastern community banking told the Observer Thursday that a key task for her successor will be maintaining the company’s reputation with customers at a time when the public’s trust for banks is still recovering from the financial crisis.
Laura Schulte, 55, announced last week that she plans to retire by the end of the year. From her office in Charlotte, she oversees about 2,700 Wells Fargo branches and roughly 32,000 employees across 14 states and Washington, D.C.
Michelle Lee, 53, who has been president of community banking operations for the Northeast and reported to Schulte, will be her replacement. Lee will relocate to Charlotte from New Jersey.
“The challenge for her is to continue to help our team build relationships with customers,” Schulte said. Lee’s tasks will also include “maintaining our reputation is an era where banks don’t have ... a high level of trust.”
Schulte has been in Charlotte since moving from the West Coast five years ago, right after the lender completed its merger with the troubled Wachovia.
In an interview with the Observer Thursday, Schulte called Lee a “great leader” and said she has “no doubt” her successor will be successful. Both have worked for Wells Fargo and predecessor companies for more than three decades each.
“I feel that I have given all that I can give to Wells Fargo, and I also feel like I have prepared some leaders to take on what I’ve been doing and take the company in the East to even a higher level,” Schulte said.
Wells Fargo has maintained an Eastern U.S. headquarters in Charlotte since its purchase of Wachovia. The San Francisco-based lender employs about 22,100 in the Charlotte metro area, its largest employment hub.
Schulte said she is still determining how she wants to spend retirement. At this point, she does not plan to return to full-time work for another company, she said.
“What I’d like to do is step back and kind of assess how I’d like to allocate my time for the next half of my life,” she said.
Schulte said she wants to spend more time with her family and is interested in doing more community work. Another possibility, she said, is serving on the board of at least one for-profit company.
She currently serves on the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce’s board, as well as the boards of the Foundation for the Carolinas, Charlotte Center City Partners, UNC Charlotte and Charlotte Country Day School.
Schulte, who lives in Charlotte with her husband and a son who is expected to enter college next year, said the family plans to remain in Charlotte. Her husband, Mike, will continue to work for Wells Fargo in its private banking operation in Charlotte.
Read more from the Observer's interview with Schulte in Sunday's Observer.