After thousands of miles and scores of trips across the U.S., Mary Mack had a perfect chance to make a difference right in her own backyard. The Wells Fargo executive had just met with some team members last fall in Charlotte, North Carolina, when a woman approached her, urgently needing to talk to someone.
“I always mention my family in these sessions — our three daughters … including Mary Warner, my oldest, whom we lost a few years back,” said Mack, the head of Wells Fargo Community Banking and Consumer Lending. “This team member said she had recently lost her son and she was having a really, really tough time coping with it.”
The woman said she couldn’t even talk with others about the loss of her son, especially at work, where she felt it would make people too uncomfortable, Mack recalled.
“But you need to talk about him,” Mack told her. “That is what honors him and what helps you get through the pain and loss that you feel. People will understand and they will support you through it all. That’s what helped me get through the pain. And that’s what team members at this company are all about, caring for each other.”
Months later, Mack received an email from her: “You were so down to earth and so inspiring. You gave me some awesome advice that has helped so much in my healing, just through those three words. ‘Talk about him.’”
Mack shared the story as one of the most meaningful moments of her time leading Wells Fargo’s largest business units, which together employ 115,000 team members. The moment reveals much about her leadership style — approachable, empathetic, insightful, positive, authentic — a heartfelt style Wells Fargo has tapped during one of the most difficult periods in its history.
Now two years into leading retail banking, the former head of Wells Fargo’s brokerage unit has played a central role in the effort to restore trust in the company, working with CEO Tim Sloan and the entire leadership team to implement changes and fix problems that led to the settlements around improper sales practices and unauthorized accounts at the branches.
Mary Mack, head of Wells Fargo Community Banking and Consumer Lending:
I grew up in Augusta, Georgia, and I was the third of four kids born late in life to my parents. And I ended up, even before I went to college, I think, I ended up working a summer job at Georgia Railroad, which now is part of our lineage of companies.
But it was not a career job at the time, it was during the summer. And I actually, it was way back when, and I pulled and paid, or made decisions about paying NSF checks. So, the next morning, you’d pull a tray of checks — this really dates me — you’d pull a tray of checks, and we’d decide whether to pay those or not. And it was the first glimpse I had into the fact that I would know people who were on these checks.
There were a lot of people, whose circumstances that we may not know, who were totally dependent on the system, the financial system, that we provide. And so it, it was great, I did that for several years during the summer. Then I went to Davidson College, which is a little small liberal arts college. At the end of my college career, I had a chance to help the careers office in trying to sell the value of a liberal arts education. And, in doing that, met some folks at what was then First Union. And ended up thinking well, you know, I don’t have a job, so maybe I’ll take this one and I’ll meet a customer or something that I can go work for. Never thinking that 34 years later, I would still be here.
I was a banker for 20 something years, mostly on the wholesale side of the organization. And then, like a lot of people, I was displaced at the time of a merger, and had a chance to think about what I might do next. And in doing that, as hard as it is to be displaced, I had a chance to do something totally different. And it was really for me a turning point, because I came from the line, from the field organization, into a job that was focused on connecting parts of the company and getting the company to work together across what were our silos at the time in a way that delivered value to the customers.
It was really thinking about where we are with our consumer strategy now and pulling together all the businesses that work for the benefit of the customer in a way that puts the customer first. And it really taught me a lot about that. And I figured out I liked that. I liked the reorientation around customer first and partnerships to make that happen. And that whole sort of re-orientation to start what I do with the people who serve customers and work in from there, then, is something that worked pretty well for me then and has continued to inform the way I think about what we do.
So Tim called and said I want you to think about something. What would you think if we combined Consumer Lending and Community Banking? And my answer to him was that I thought it was a natural combination at the perfect time. Had it been earlier, I think we would have been in the midst of still too much change in the Community Bank, but we had rolled out our changes and our team members are getting good at them. And so it was a perfect time, I think, to reintroduce the connections that had been so strong in the past, between home lending, for instance, and our branches, or education finance team and the branches who serve students.
So, those combinations were natural, and it was the right time to do it.
Six months ago, Mack took on the added job of leading and bringing together both Community Banking and Consumer Lending, which includes Home Lending and Wells Fargo Auto. She has brought the same positive approach to that division, which was already addressing its own regulatory challenges involving collateral protection fees (CPI) in Auto and mortgage rate-lock fees.
And in all she’s accomplished so far, Mack said she gets the most encouragement from her “listening tours” across the U.S. She senses the hope among team members that a turning point has arrived, and sees firsthand that customers recognize things have really changed for the better.
“The last 20 months have been difficult for us as a company,” she said, noting the company’s new “Re-Established 2018” campaign. “Yet they have made us better. We have had the opportunity to take 166 years of rich history, add some tough lessons that have been learned, and bring those together in a way that allows us to recommit to customers, recommit to trust and transparency, and to listening and evolving into a better bank.
“We won’t say that we’ll never have another problem,” she added. “But we will say that every problem we discover will be quickly, effectively addressed, and everything we create or introduce will be created with the customer at the forefront of everything we do.”
‘No. 1 Woman to Watch in Banking’
Amid the challenges and changes, Mack has received industrywide plaudits for her management acumen. American Banker named her the No. 1 Woman to Watch in its 2017 listing of the Most Powerful Women in Banking. The article described the promise of Mack’s leadership:
“If anyone within the company can fix what ails its retail bank and rebuild morale, it’s Mack,” wrote reporter Kate Berry, citing interviews with current and former Wells Fargo executives.
“If anyone within the company can fix what ails its retail bank and rebuild morale, it’s Mack.” — American Banker magazine.
Only a few months after taking the helm, Mack began working with other leaders to steer the retail bank into a series of major changes.
Chief among them was the elimination of pay incentives based on product sales goals and the adoption of a customer service-based compensation model tied to customer outcomes and team accomplishments. Mack also coordinated new training for the workforce that focuses on the new model, opened up communication between team members and management, and used team member feedback in adopting many changes that simplified banking processes.
“Our retail bank has strong new leadership, more effective organization, and incentives that reward our team members for doing what is right for the customer,” Sloan told the Senate Banking Committee (PDF) last fall. “I have appointed Mary Mack to transform the Community Bank. Mary has worked tirelessly to improve our approach to meeting customer and team member needs.”
Fast forward to today, and that transformation has clearly gained traction, said Anthony Cimino, head of government affairs for the Financial Services Roundtable, an industry advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
“What matters most in business and in Washington is how focused one is on the consumer. Mary Mack is singularly focused on how she and everyone at Wells can better serve their customers,” he said. “As the leader of a bank that touches nearly every community in America, her incredible leadership is impacting lives and creating opportunity for many people every day.”
‘This is a different place now’
Two thousand miles from home, Mack took her listening tour to a branch in Billings, Montana, last year, huddling with tellers, bankers, and managers to gauge the progress of the changes she had introduced.
After the huddle, a customer in the teller line caught Mack’s eye and motioned with her hand, indicating she’d like to meet Mack. “She came running across the lobby and said, ‘I really want to meet you and to tell you this is a different place now,’” Mack recalled.
The customer said she had come to Billings from her home in Atlanta to take care of her aunt, a longtime Wells Fargo customer, who had died recently. In past visits, the woman said she had never considered becoming a Wells Fargo customer. This time, however, the branch team members were so welcoming and friendly she decided to open an account.
“I thought that was so encouraging, since our changes hadn’t been rolled out very long before this happened,” Mack said. “Since then, I’ve heard customers tell me all the time they’re not sure they know exactly what is different, but this bank just feels like a really good place.”
Listening, hearing, and changing
As head of Consumer Lending, Mack has continued her listening tour approach, including visits to Dallas; Des Moines, Iowa; Atlanta; New York City; Raleigh, North Carolina, and other cities across the U.S. In each session with team members, she has come away with some great ideas that either have already led to changes or are in the process of being adopted, she said.
“The folks in Consumer Lending didn’t really know me — much like they didn’t know me in the Community Bank when I came there,” Mack said. “So these listening tours gave me a chance to tell them, ‘Okay, you are all really important to me, and I want you to know who I am. I want you to tell me what works, so I don’t break it, and what isn’t working as well as it could, so we can figure out how to fix that.’”
“It’s been a real meaningful opportunity to think I could make that kind of difference.” — Mary Mack
One of the first places Mack visited was Des Moines, headquarters of Home Lending, where the company has 14,500 team members. She made a point to spend a lot of time with the Home Lending service team, because “they are really close to our customers and the situations our customers encounter.”
Later, in a listening tour in the Dallas area, she talked to team members in Wells Fargo Auto who shared new insights about how auto dealers and branches could work more closely together. In New York, team members suggested a number of ways the mortgage application process could be streamlined for high-end customers. In Atlanta, she watched team members provide extra down-payment assistance to teachers and first responders who qualified for grants as part of a LIFT homeownership event.
“By really listening, I have learned that our people have great ideas and they just want to be heard,” Mack said. “A lot of times, they aren’t asking me for answers. They’re asking me for a chance to give their input. So my listening tours are set up that way. I don’t come in with all the answers. I come in to hear what the answers might be — from our team.”
Across her experience at Wells Fargo, Mack said she has learned how to focus on bringing businesses together in a way that best serves customers and leverages best practices. She is already doing that as head of Community Banking and Consumer Lending. In March, for example, she assigned veteran Consumer Lending leader Mary Coffin to lead a key initiative to develop an improved front-line complaints-management model across all businesses that serve consumers.
"I’ve heard customers tell me all the time they’re not sure they know exactly what is different, but this bank just feels like a really good place.” — Mary Mack
Mack is also working with other leaders, such as Avid Modjtabai of Payments, Virtual Solutions and Innovation, and Jon Weiss of Wealth and Investment Management in this effort, which was considered an essential part of restoring confidence and trust in Wells Fargo after the sales practices settlements. Mack is working with these same leaders to implement the company’s new Consumer Strategy across the company.
“I really like to see how well it works when we have businesses oriented around putting customers first, using all our resources to help them succeed financially, and helping form the partnerships necessary to make that happen,” she said.
Opportunity to make a difference
In leading Consumer Lending, Mack said she has reflected on the connection to homeownership in her own life. The first homebuying experience came more than 30 years ago, when she and her husband were newly married. They were so new to the process and it was so stressful, “it nearly put my husband in the hospital,” she recalled. “Not kidding.”
The second time took place in 2016, when they bought a beach house in South Carolina. That experience was easy and seamless, made possible by online communications, document uploads, and other digital resources that are available to Wells Fargo customers today.
On a personal note, she said, buying the beach house was especially meaningful since it is located where her family used to go for summer vacations from their home in Augusta, Georgia. “All of my best childhood memories are there, and I can feel my dad’s presence throughout that island in the wonderful memories,” she said.
Mack often thinks about her father these days, a retired industrial sales manager and her “biggest fan” who died 25 years ago. He always believed in her, that she would find success and make a difference, Mack said. She remembers calling him only two weeks after graduating from college and entering a training program to work for a bank that would later become part of Wells Fargo.
“I was just a trainee, but I told him, ‘This is a really good company, Daddy, and you should buy stock in it,’” she recalled. “So later, my father would call me at the end of the day just to say hello, and he’d say, ‘Honey, the stock was up today. You must have done something really good.’
“I have thought about that a number of times; that I wish I could talk to him now and say, ‘Hey Daddy, the stock was up today and we’re making real change,’” she added. “It’s been a real meaningful opportunity to think I could make that kind of difference.”