One year in, Mary Mack reflects on change, perspective, and perseverance
Mary Mack has moved quickly to reform — and reinvigorate — Community Banking at Wells Fargo in the 12 months she has been head of the business.
When Mary Mack took over the reins of Community Banking a year ago, she was under no illusions about its challenges. She was energized by them, and excited at the prospect of leading the team in a new direction following the reputation crisis triggered last fall by legal and regulatory settlements over unacceptable retail sales practices in the business. Mack was confident she was the right person to lead Wells Fargo’s retail banking business forward.
Her confidence, she said, comes from the resilience and perspective she has gained throughout her life; moments during which she found strength. This is why, she said, Wells Fargo’s reputation challenges are “solvable.”
“We can get through this, y’all,” she said with the same soft Southern accent she’s had since her Augusta, Georgia childhood.
Mack knows about getting through things. As a 33-year veteran of the company, she’s pretty much seen and experienced it all in banking. She’s led the company’s brokerage division, been a retail banking regional president, and served as managing director of healthcare and corporate banking, among other roles. She’s moved across the country and back for Wells Fargo, accepting roles that ranged from jobs that later disappeared in reorganizations to roles her hiring managers said she was ideal for. She calls herself a “change junkie” and an “extreme activator.” And no one who knows her would argue otherwise.
What some outside of the company might argue however, is whether a longtime insider — even one who has often led change successfully at the bank — can inspire and implement the kind of change needed now to rebuild trust between Wells Fargo and its customers, team members, investors, and communities.
“It’s a fair question,” she said, “and one I thought a lot about when they asked me to take on this challenge.” Ultimately, Mack believes she can drive the change that Wells Fargo’s Community Banking needs because of the perspective her life’s journey has given her.
Mack feels the responsibility “to leave this place — whether in my professional life or personal life — a better place than I found it.” And the only way anyone can do that, she said, is to keep perspective. “I am not someone who runs around with my hair on fire,” she noted with a laugh.
‘I can be grateful for what I had’
The power of perspective became personal for Mack after the sudden death of her 23-year-old daughter, Mary Warner, in the summer of 2014.
While she certainly doesn’t liken the loss of her daughter to Wells Fargo’s current reputation challenges, she said the experiences have one thing in common: They both caused her to rediscover her inner strength.
“I don’t think losing Mary Warner made me tough. But losing Mary Warner made me realize how tough I am,” Mack said. “And part of that strength is seeing the path ahead more clearly and recognizing what can be done, and what needs to be done.” In other words, it’s keeping perspective. “I can be sorry for what I lost,” she said, “or I can be grateful for what I had.”
So, Mack keeps Mary Warner’s memory alive by honoring one of her greatest passions. Mack and her family endowed the 12-acre Mary Warner Mack Dog Park in her hometown of Fort Mill, South Carolina, which opened in May 2015. The family also created a scholarship in Mary Warner’s name at Clemson University, in Clemson, South Carolina, where she graduated with degrees in history and Spanish.
Leaning into the difficult times
At Wells Fargo, Mack can’t change the past, but as her Community Banking team moves forward she can help it regain its authenticity and humility, which she believes were always the bank’s quiet strengths — virtues, she noted, that fell by the wayside. “We may have been feeling too satisfied with ourselves,” Mack said. “I prefer the idea that if we never think we’re good enough, we’ll always have room to become better.”
While becoming better won’t be easy, she said she draws inspiration from the thousands of Wells Fargo colleagues with whom she has met during her listening tour in 54 markets. Their voices and experiences, along with her respect and admiration for the company and the services it provides, and her own understanding of how banks can prosper without losing sight of what made them great community allies in the first place, drive her forward.
As head of Community Banking, Mack has moved quickly to refocus the organization from a sales-oriented culture to a service-oriented culture, a change in perspective she believes is going to transform the organization.
With this in mind, shortly after the sales practices settlement was announced, Mack and other Wells Fargo leaders made the decision to eliminate product sales goals in the branches to ensure team members always focus on what’s best for customers. Following that decision, Mack gathered an integrated team of leaders to design the new Performance, Management & Rewards program, which focuses on customer experience, stronger oversight and controls, and the team.
Mack also leads the effort to make things right for customers by compensating anyone who was harmed by sales practices. Her approach and direction to the team has been to move quickly, but thoroughly, to identify and remediate any fees and harm incurred as a result of possibly unauthorized accounts.
“I am proud of the approach we are taking to remediation,” said Mack. We are looking hard for any customers who may have been harmed, and when we are not sure, we give the customer the benefit of the doubt. We know there is nothing more important than rebuilding trust with our customers, and getting remediation right is an important first step.”
The company expanded the review of accounts to identify any that may have been unauthorized back to 2009, entered into a $142 million class-action settlement that includes customers with claims back to 2002, offers free mediation services, and continues to welcome any customers with concerns to call or visit a branch.
Mack also realigned her leadership team, streamlined regional leadership, and created six new groups to better align with Community Banking’s priorities. She enlisted the help of 18-year company veteran Laurey Cosentino to lead a body of work called “Change for the Better” that’s designed to reinvent the Wells Fargo experience for Community Banking customers and team members. The first phase of Change for the Better improvements will launch in September.
After Mack’s daughter passed away, she received thousands of letters, notes, and messages from colleagues across the country — the vast majority of whom she’d never met. She read all of them. One in particular, from a Wells Fargo team member who had also lost a child, stood out. “His advice was to lean in,” Mack said. “Lean into the difficult times, because the only way to get through them is to keep going.”
And that’s what Mack and her team are doing — looking ahead at ways to keep the momentum on the upswing: working with community banking’s 80,000 team members to focus on efficiency and optimization, strengthening partnerships across lines of business, enhancing risk management, and, perhaps most importantly of all, delivering exceptional customer experiences across the mass, affluent, and small-business markets. It’s a lot to do, Mack admits, but she’s confident that Community Banking is moving in the right direction. “We’re going to evolve and we’re going to make it better,” she said.