Wells Fargo's Reichardt: Right Man in Hard Times

By Zuckerman, Sam | American Banker, July 21, 1994 | Go to article overview

Wells Fargo's Reichardt: Right Man in Hard Times


Zuckerman, Sam, American Banker


SAN FRANCISCO -- Carl E. Reichardt's announcement that he will step down at yearend as Wells Fargo & Co.'s chairman and chief executive caps the career of a man who epitomized what it took to succeed in an era when banking got tough.

"Carl was clearly a pivotal figure in the banking business," said BankAmerica Corp. vice chairman Lewis W. Coleman, who worked with Mr. Reichardt at Wells.

The Texas native joined Wells in 1970 to manage its real estate investment trust. He took the top job 13 years later, when banking still had a patrician air and most executives believed the rules of the game were fixed and their markets protected.

But change was washing over the industry. Interest rate deregulation, interstate expansion, and the breakdown of barriers between banking-and other financial services were generating unprecedented levels of competition.

Carl Reichardt was the right executive for such a time.

Unsentimental, unmoved by precedent, tradition or status, and with his eyes glued to the bottom line, Mr. Reichardt coolly reexamined the industry's most basic assumptions. Nothing was sacred, not even Wells' status as a bank company: Last year, he explored converting Wells to a thrift charter to see if such a move would let him sell more products to customers.

"He put a discipline in the industry. that had largely been missing," said CS First Boston's Thomas H. Hanley.

The principles that Mr. Reichardt championed are not complicated; most are basic, sound business practices.

"I've never been a banker - I'm a businessman," Wells' chief declared in a conversation with reporters on Tuesday.

Lean, Mean, and Ugly

Mr. Reichardt was not an easy boss. He demanded results and those who did not produce could count on being shown the exit. "I don't apologize for my shareholder approach," he said.

He made Wells Fargo the lowest-cost banking institution in its market by slashing jobs, automating and centralizing operations, and setting strict spending limits. …

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