Wells Fargo CEO Delivers

He described Wells Fargo’s involvement in the program step by step, arguing that the $25 million the bank was an investment, not a bailout. Wells Fargo, he said, was paying a dividend of 7.5 percent on that money and had just paid a first payment to the government of $400 million. Moreover, the bank had increased lending during the fourth quarter by nearly three times the amount it received. He provided details on that lending he knew his audience would appreciate, and he announced Wells Fargo had no plans to ask for more TARP money.

After defending his company, he played the “hope” card. He said the crisis of credit has become a crisis of confidence, “and that’s much worse.” So gave a list of specific reasons for hope – housing is more affordable, interest rates are at a 50 year low, etc. Then he discussed business opportunities that are now “disguised as problems”: the nation’s reliance on foreign oil, crises in education and health care, and the need for better roads and bridges.

And he concluded with an appeal to our better natures (always a crowd pleaser). He noted that the current crisis “will define our generation, much like previous challenges defined previous ones. Ours can be the next ‘greatest generation.”

His final words to the audience of local business people were, “You have a major employer headquartered in you neighborhood who believes in this country, this state and this city. We will work with you arm in arm to improve the things we all care most about.”

Nice.

To be sure, there was plenty of boilerplate, some of the humor fell a little flat, and you may or may not buy his arguments. Still, Stumpf’s goal was to win over a critically important audience—the San Francisco business community—and he did a great job.

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