According to Beverly Anderson, Executive Vice President and Head of Wells Fargo Consumer Financial Services Group, one of the most important lessons she has learned during her career is what it means to be a leader.
“I got some really good advice a few years ago from one of my mentors, and it has helped me so much as a leader,” Anderson said. “I’m an intense person and I push pretty hard to achieve at a high bar. And what I’ve learned about that style is that it sometimes keeps people from coming along with me.”
She continued, “If my style impedes people from getting on board, that destroys my leadership brand and my ability to lead effectively.”
“What I’ve been working on is taking all of that passion and excitement and energy around business achievement, and funneling it in the right way to motivate and inspire the team I work with. It’s a fundamental shift in the way I lead and connect with my teams and partners. It’s been transformative for me.”
Career in Financial Services
Anderson, who has worked in the financial services industry for 26 years now, recalled how her interest in business was sparked by her father. “He was a business manager at a vocational school, and my mother was a nurse. When she had to work some weekends, he would drag us to the office. And I really enjoyed the office setting – we would play a game where he’d let me sit at his desk chair and he’d call me from the receptionist’s desk and ask if he could speak to Miss Anderson. I loved it!”
She continued, “When it was time to choose a college, I looked for schools with a business program. I found one that focused on people of color at Florida A&M University.”
The university’s undergraduate business program was modeled after The Wharton School‘s MBA program, and Anderson went on to focus on business, banking, and commercial banking. “I spent the first ten years of my career on the wholesale side in corporate lending and M&A, and then went to Harvard Business School,” she explained. After graduating in 1997, she began working in consumer banking.
“At that time, the credit card industry had fundamentally changed. Historically, credit cards had been part of very large banks, but in the ’80s and ’90s, banks spun credit cards off into what were called monolines,” she continued. Anderson joined one of the monolines, First USA, and found herself working in Wilmington, Delaware. “The industry was growing like gangbusters, and we were trying to tap into consumer emotions around payments. I joined the strategy team that helped build Customer focused strategies such as retention.”
Soon, she was wooed away from the credit card business by a consulting firm. “Some of my friends were starting up a new firm out of New York. It was just beyond the dot-com era, but the entrepreneurial spirit was still in the air,” she recalled. She was the first female senior hire at the company, and the first African American as well. “It was a really good run,” she added.
After the events of September 11th, and the subsequent drop in the economy, Anderson left the firm to join FleetBoston Financial, and when it was bought by Bank of America, she moved to American Express. After eight years with the company, she continued, “I found Wells and Wells found me. The work we are doing is transformative and will have an impact the company.”
“There have been a lot of ebbs and flows, and twists and turns in my career. And I like a variety of experience. I think it adds value, and enables you to better see the difference in business models. You get the benefit of working in different cultures and business environments. And each time, you land in the midst of something new.
She continued, “I feel like I’m on a journey that is just getting started. At Wells Fargo, we are the second largest bank in the country by market cap. I’m working on a business focused on 70 million customers, we’re expanding and extending our reach in record time. I’m honored to have gotten this opportunity. The team I work with is top notch, and this is really exciting.”
“Another thing that’s exciting about Wells is that we really take a customer-focused approach about how we do business. We do it in the context of helping our customers succeed financially, and trying to find ways to help them and their families and their lives. I’m very proud of that.”
Anderson was enthusiastic about the growth of the bank, and she was also excited about its expansion of mobile and digital online capabilities. “The evolution of payment is probably the most fundamental thing happening in the industry today.”
The industry has shifted rapidly from cash to credit card, and now, she continued, “Internationally, the technology exists so that all people have to do is wave their phone to pay. The US is moving more slowly because of the infrastructure that exists today – it’s hard to leapfrog to the next evolution when you have that infrastructure already in place. In the emerging markets, it’s easier to make that shift.”
“I’m also excited about the concept of omnicommerce,” Anderson said, “the way people transact today across multiple technologies and channels. The mobile device has given the consumer so much more power and has disrupted the payment space in ways we can’t imagine.”
She added, “We’re trying to interpret where the consumer is going to go – and that requires retailers to go there as well. The whole ecosystem is trying to sort that out. It’s really fascinating to me.”
Diversity in Financial Services
“When people generally think about the financial services, they understand this has been a male dominated industry. Although, one of the things I love about Wells is the level of diversity in senior leadership,” Anderson said.
“But in the broader industry, women, and in particular African American women, have to take a strong stance about being technically proficient, get the right assignments, deliver results, and let people know you’ve delivered,” she explained “That flies in the face of the way many of us were raised. It’s a fundamental shift in the way women in general are wired, and in the way African American women are wired. It’s a script I’ve learned to follow.”
She encouraged junior women to focus on developing their skills, and then developing the confidence to speak up about themselves. “Figure out how to do your job at the best level you possibly can, and secondly, have the confidence to demonstrate and articulate that you are as good as you know you are.”
Younger women can also benefit from mentors and sponsors, she continued. “Find people who are connected to you emotionally so they feel your career is connected to their success.
As for more seasoned women, she continued, “I look around all the time and find women I’m mesmerized by and wowed by. I’m lucky to have many of them in my network. My one piece of advice is: pay it forward.”
She continued, “I find mentorship to be so rewarding. I get as much insight and self development through mentorship and sponsorship as I think the mentees themselves. I think everyone should pay it forward.”
Wells Fargo is also making strides on diversity. “Formally, we have a number of programs and activities here to support people of color and women, and all kinds of diversity,” Anderson said. “We have a fantastic new head of diversity who is redefining how we at Wells integrate diversity into our fundamental strategy. It’s great to see the level of energy up and down the organization.”
She continued, “Across the board, we have a pretty robust talent management process. For every leader, we make sure on an individual basis, we are developing plans, career paths, and stretch assignments.”
In Her Personal Time
Outside the office, in addition to spending time with her family, Anderson is on the Board of the Council of Urban Professionals, a group that supports the development of mid-level leaders of color. She also volunteers alongside her fellow Harvard Business School alumni to support a charter school in New York. The executives meet with students to talk with them about business strategy and technology.