During his nearly 33-year career at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP in New York, Allen Parker became known as one of the nation’s top banking lawyers — and as a treasured mentor and teacher to attorneys and staff alike.
He now calls on that experience in his new role as general counsel of Wells Fargo, which is working to rebuild trust after sales practice settlements were announced last fall.
“I have long been an admirer of Wells Fargo,” Parker said during his first companywide appearance at a May 16 CEO Town Hall. “When (CEO Tim Sloan) said to me, ‘I’d like you to come be part of moving this company forward and be a part of rebuilding one of our country’s most iconic brands,’ I, frankly, couldn’t think of anything more challenging and more exciting.”
Parker joined Wells Fargo on March 27, succeeding Jim Strother, who is retiring after 30 years with the company. As general counsel, Parker is responsible for all of Wells Fargo’s legal affairs and serves on the company’s Operating Committee. He oversees more than 500 lawyers and 990 total team members in the Law Department who help the company’s team members understand the legal issues and risks inherent in their businesses so that they can achieve their business goals.
Known for his dry wit, the self-described “avid but declining golfer” is also a music buff (he served on the board of the New York Philharmonic for three years), interested in foreign affairs (he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and wrote his master’s thesis on religious minorities in Pakistan), and a team builder — having once revised a company newsletter to celebrate the contributions of all team members and not just management.
In this Q&A, we talked to Parker about his prestigious career and his hopes for Wells Fargo and the Law Department.
Q: As you neared the end of your tenure as the leader of one of the nation’s most prominent law firms, what made you decide to join Wells Fargo?
The idea of taking on a new challenge in my career fascinated me. As the Wells Fargo general counsel, I knew I’d have the opportunity to help the company become a better organization and navigate the legal and regulatory issues surrounding the sales practices issues.
As I met more and more people at Wells Fargo, including a number of senior executives, I realized that taking on the role would also enable me to work alongside an array of first-rate people who are completely dedicated to Wells Fargo. They’re not only determined to steer the company through its current challenges, but also dedicated to making Wells Fargo even better than it was before.
Q: CEO Tim Sloan has focused heavily on our commitment to building a better bank. How do we get there?
I am convinced that the single most important thing we can all do going forward to build a better Wells Fargo is to communicate with each other openly and honestly. This means not only raising issues of concern — and even escalating them when necessary — but also giving each other thoughtful feedback and suggestions as we work to rebuild trust and take the company to even greater heights.
Q: What are your priorities for the Law Department?
When I was in private practice, I believed that my Wells Fargo predecessor, Jim Strother, had built one of the finest legal departments of any U.S. company. Having succeeded Jim as general counsel for a few months has left me even more convinced of the Law Department’s excellence. My goal is to continue building on what Jim accomplished and, where possible, lead the Law Department to even greater achievements.
As Wells Fargo works to centralize many of its functions, a key goal for us in the Law Department is to ensure that this process is accomplished thoughtfully and leads to even better compliance with the company’s ethical standards.
“I am convinced that the single most important thing we can all do going forward to build a better Wells Fargo is to communicate with each other openly and honestly.”
Q: What has been the highlight of your legal career?
I hope that I will someday look back and say that my greatest accomplishment took place at Wells Fargo. But up to this point in my career, the highlight would be becoming a partner at the Cravath law firm — an achievement described years ago by one observer as passing “the most stringent test in American law.” I will always be proud of having been chosen to be a member of a law firm that stands for excellence and integrity in everything it does.
Q: How did your years at Cravath prepare you for this new role at Wells Fargo?
My 27 years as a Cravath partner gave me broad experience in finance, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate governance. And, for 10 of those years, I played a large role in leading the firm. My hope is that I can draw on that experience to bring my knowledge and judgment to bear on analyzing the legal challenges and risks facing Wells Fargo — and to lead the Law Department so that I inspire our lawyers to do their best and instill confidence in the business clients we serve.
Q: What should your new team know about your leadership style?
As a law firm leader, I was focused on the quality of our work, but I also became convinced that much more than the work itself matters. Helping people be their best also means creating an environment where it’s possible to enjoy a rich and rewarding life outside of work. Through my leadership, I want to make that possible for everyone in the Law Department.
Q: What do you most enjoy, so far, about your new role at Wells Fargo?
I certainly enjoy the intellectual aspects. But much more important to me is the satisfaction that comes from working alongside exceptional people every day to help address Wells Fargo’s challenges. I am privileged to work not only with the members of the company’s Operating Committee, but also with the deputy general counsels in the Law Department. This interaction is professionally and personally rewarding, and provides an environment where I can learn from all the gifted people around me.
Getting to know Allen Parker
- Birthplace: Jacksonville, Florida.
- Family: Married with four children.
- Joined Wells Fargo: March 27, 2017.
- Passions: Animals, golf, music, international affairs.
- Education: B.A. in political science from Duke University, M.A. in political science from The University of Chicago, and J.D. from the Columbia University School of Law, where he was an editor of the Columbia Law Review.
- Career: After a clerkship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Parker joined Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP as an associate in 1984 and became a partner in 1990, focusing on acquisition finance and bank lending. He was deputy head of Cravath for six years and head of the firm for four years.
- Boards & memberships: Dean’s Council of the Columbia University School of Law, the Board of Visitors of the Duke University School of Law, and the Board of Trustees of the National Humanities Center. Member of the Board of Directors of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Member of the Council on Foreign Relations.