Inside the Stagecoach
April 8, 2022

Bei Ling brings people-centered leadership to HR

The head of Human Resources has never shied away from adapting, a mentality that’s led her to several large transformations throughout the financial services industry.

Bei Ling is pictured on a beach

The jade bracelet Bei Ling wears is a good luck symbol from her mother. The stone, prized in her native China, is fragile but known for its protective qualities. “The notion behind it is that if you protect the jade, it can protect you,” she said. That give and take can be applied to the workplace. If managers invest in people, for example, they will do their best. It’s part of how Ling, who started in October as Wells Fargo’s head of Human Resources, approaches her leadership. “I fundamentally believe that the most important thing as a leader is to figure out a way to support your people, so they know you have their back when things don’t go exactly in the direction where you intended.”

Understanding people and what they need out of their workplace has been a focus of Ling’s career, which has taken her to workplaces across countries and cultures. A financial services veteran of more than 20 years, Ling has seen the industry evolve many times over within some of its largest institutions, from pivotal mergers to enterprisewide transformations. Being able to adapt was key.

“I was born in Shanghai, raised in Xi’an, and went to Beijing and then India for college. When coming to the United States for graduate studies, I was in Utah and then in California before coming to the East Coast,” she said. “The changing environment didn’t really bother me. I have a pretty good ability to connect with people and make friends.”

Making a personal impact

It wasn’t originally Ling’s plan to build her career in the U.S.

After spending her undergraduate years studying Indian Civilization in Beijing University — “I really didn’t want to study anything conventional” — she moved from China to get her MBA from the University of Southern California in the mid ‘90s. It was a two-year plan to learn business strategy and bring that expertise to her family’s business back home.

“That two-year plan turned into over 20 years in this wonderful country,” she said in a recent HR town hall. “The merit of the story really is that sometimes maybe having the willingness and ability to adapt might be even more important than a grand plan.”

“I love this industry … you can feel the impact you are making on a daily basis, which is really, really important to me.” — Bei Ling, head of Human Resources

After school, Ling worked at Merrill Lynch in Human Resources and Global Finance, roles that took her across multiple countries. She then led large-scale HR initiatives at PNC Financial Services, including redesigning its talent programs and the merger with National City.

Ling says she came to Wells Fargo because of the company’s and its leaders’ great potential to transform how we do business and make a big difference for customers, employees, and shareholders.

“I love this industry,” she said. “The reason I love it is because of the pace we operate with, the talented people we have, and the ever-changing landscape — there’s never going to be a season where you’re going to be dealing with the exact same challenge — and the impact we have on the stakeholders we serve. … you can feel the impact you are making on a daily basis, which is really, really important to me.”

Building a stronger HR organization focused on employees

Ling is focused on making Wells Fargo a place where employees can thrive and grow their careers as they work to deliver on our company’s mission. Under her leadership, HR is actively working to enhance the employee experience, advance the company’s culture, and deliver systems and tools that simplify and improve the way employees work.

“We know we have work to do,” she said. “The transformation work ahead of us will require a long-term commitment. It will take time, and we will make incremental improvements along the way.”

Adapting to the future

Just as it did early in the pandemic, HR continues to partner closely with executive leadership teams to support employees’ needs as we return to the office as we adapt to a new norm. There are still many changing variables that require flexibility as Wells Fargo continues its Return to Office planning.

Despite numerous changes over the last two years, what makes a great place to work remains. No matter where her career has taken her, Ling has learned that focusing on people, empowering managers, and helping employees grow remain fundamental.

“All of those experiences really helped me to understand the sort of cultural nuances when you deal with people fundamentally in the workplace. I believe everybody wants the same thing regardless of gender, ethnicity, or where you live,” she said. “I mean, who doesn’t want a great place to work, a wonderful boss, a great career opportunity, and to feel recognized for your talent and what you do?”

“I fundamentally believe that the most important thing as a leader is to figure out how best to support your people.” — Bei Ling, head of Human Resources

Bei Ling at a glance

Birthplace: Born in Shanghai, raised in Xi’an, and currently residing in Princeton, New Jersey.

Family: Married to Feng Shi. They have an adult daughter, Karen. “My husband and I are true empty nesters.”

Education: Bachelor of Arts in Indian Civilization from Beijing University; Master’s in Business Administration from the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California.

Pet: A golden doodle named Tiger.

Hobbies: Golf, tennis, travel. “[Golf] is a very humbling game. It teaches you a lot of patience and wanting to get better every day.”

Coffee or tea: “Coffee on weekdays; tea during the weekend.”

Favorite foods: Pasta, sushi, chocolate ice cream, and Chinese food.

You’ve been to 30+ countries. Any favorite locations? Florence, Italy.

Fun fact: Ling has never eaten a burger. “I have a circle of friends who actually used to have a bet of who could get me to take the first bite of hamburger, but nobody has won so far.”