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From Good to Great to Discourteous: How Wells Fargo Can Be Great Again

(originally published on Linked In on September 29, 2016)

Wells Fargo Bank was one of America’s best companies.

Jim Collins profiled Wells Fargo in Good to Great. Legendary value investor Warren Buffet owns approximately 2,000,000 shares and his Berkshire Hathway holds a 9.5% stake in the company. Wells Fargo easily weathered the financial crisis of 2008 and its quality of management was rewarded with a national footprint when the government forced it to acquire Wachovia to avoid the latter’s collapse.

What Went Wrong?

What madness drove such a well-run and well-respected financial institution to open more than 2,000,000 unauthorized sham accounts for its customers? Are CEO John Stumpf, Carrie Tolstedt, who ran the bank’s retail banking division, and other executives at fault because they established employee compensation policies based on accounts opened? Or does blame belong to the 5,300 fired Wells Fargo employees, who allegedly opened those sham accounts? And why did Wells Fargo’s fabled culture of courtesy fail to stop such practices?

As Gretchen Morgenson said in Tuesday’s column in the New York Times, Wells Fargo’s board of directors has “some ‘splaining to do.” After Mr. Stumph made Wells Fargo look even worse by failing to hold himself accountable for the scandal when grilled by Senator Elizabeth Warren at a Senate committee hearing last week, the bank’s board of directors has begun to take appropriate action to find out what happened. For starters, the bank’s independent directors hired Shearman & Sterling to conduct an internal investigation, and Mr. Stumpf and Ms. Tolstedt will forfeit $60 million of stock awards and their 2016 bonuses.

Shearman & Sterling will do a fine job as an ombudsman for the conscience of the bank. Hopefully, the investigation will reveal why Wells Fargo’s fabled courtesy oriented culture devolved to the point that the bank forced accounts on unwitting customers. Most likely, however, Wells Fargo will pay its $185,000,000 settlement, make a few changes to its operations in addition to those already announced and return to business as usual, hoping that the scandal, like so many corporate scandals before it, will soon be forgotten.

The Hidden Cause of “Eight to Great”

The root cause of the problem, however, as Justice Stevens said in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, is that “the corporation has no conscience.” As long as we accept the sponsoring thought of modern capitalism that the corporation, whether by law or custom, exists solely to maximize profit for stockholders, public corporations such as Well Fargo will remain under constant and enormous pressure to do just that by every available means. This including exporting jobs to China, re-domiciling in Ireland to avoid US taxes, and opening unauthorized accounts for customers.

This sponsoring thought drives good people like Mr. Stumpf, Ms. Tolstedt, and Wells Fargo’s other directors to replace the golden rule that runs their personal lives with the rule of gold in the board room. As a result, instead of doing unto others what they would like done unto themselves, corporations often do unto others whatever it takes to maximize their own profits, including forcing unwanted accounts on hapless customers. The default moral compass that guides corporate behavior is the belief that it is morally acceptable to foist as many as possible of the negative consequences of corporate behavior on society, the environment and, in Wells Fargo’s case, customers in order to maximize profit.

How Wells Fargo Can Return to Great

There is a bold way that Wells Fargo could re-affirm its commitment to its culture and more importantly, to its customers: reincorporate as a Delaware public benefit corporation and adopt a new corporate charter that makes a legal commitment to embody its core value of courtesy. Since Wells Fargo is already a generous supporter of the arts and other community causes, becoming a Delaware public benefit corporation would actually be in alignment with its historical culture and values. Becoming a benefit corporation would give Wells Fargo a path to go from discourteous to great, re-positioning the bank as a global leader in corporate governance.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a satisfied Wells Fargo customer since 1975 and am a small Wells Fargo stockholder. My fondness for the bank grew after I recently moved to west Marin County north of San Francisco. My Wells Fargo branch in Point Reyes Station is the only bank serving the entire western half of the county. Service Manager Jeffrey Schroth and his team know me and most of their customers by name. They exemplify courtesy and model community banking at its best.

If it were up to me, I’d require Mr. Stumph and each of Wells Fargo’s officers and directors to spend a month working for Mr. Schroth in his branch to help each of them

remember the true purpose of their bank: to serve customers like me with courtesy.

What would you do to make Wells Fargo great again?

Life

5 Tips for Teaching a High Energy Child

So my oldest son is very high energy. He practically came out of the womb running. At just 7.5 months, he was walking and I couldn’t keep up with him. I was unprepared for his energy and many days he drained the life out of me. He was into everything, and the idea of reading to him seemed incredibly absurd because he never sat down for anything. Even a television show meant JoJo acting out the scenes or running back and forth from room to room. He never seemed to turn off, and naps stopped happening sometime before 3.

His inability to sit still surely hurt his speech development. I am sure that he spoke Japanese the first 3 years of his life. Josiah’s pediatrician referred us to the Speech therapist. The speech therapist did a simple test of pointing to pictures and asking Josiah to identify the pictures. To my surprise, he answered the questions easily and clearly.

Tips for Teaching a High Energy Child

What I failed to explain to her was that he talked so fast that he could hardly put a sentence together clearly, but we didn’t get very far into the test because Josiah could barely sit still in his chair.  The speech therapist said that she wasn’t concerned with his speech as much as she was concerned that he needed to be in a preschool program to get acquainted with sitting in a chair and a school environment. All I heard was a future of ADD/ADHD diagnosis.

Shortly after this I really got into early learning, but I soon got very frustrated as JoJo wasn’t the kind to sit still and listen to me for any length of time. It’s hard talking to a moving target. As a parent, you just feel like you are not being heard at all and all I could feel was panic because society seems to be breathing down my neck about their need for him to sit still.

But as exhausted as I was by all his energy, I enjoyed his happy, excited take on life. Nothing really phased him, and the idea of capturing his spirit and smashing it into a box of what society says is acceptable behavior was just depressing for me.  Why did something have to be wrong with him just because he didn’t care to sit still most of the day?   Is sitting still the only way to really learn?

My mission was to find ways to accommodate Josiah need to move while giving him plenty of opportunities to learn. Today I am going to share with you Five tips that I have used to teach Josiah in the last year.

Dance! Dance! Dance! Let kids dance to great educational songs. YouTube is filled with them. Your kid doesn’t like book work. So what! That shouldn’t stop learning. Put on a great counting song and get up and dance.   Click the picture above to go to my YouTube Channel for a variety of learning playlists from math to English to Spanish to Chinese to reading and more!  

Games. Kids love Candyland but won’t touch a math worksheet with a ten-foot pole. Revamp Candyland or any of their favorite games.  Just throw in some math fun and some real candy at the end of the Candyland trail.  Click the picture above for more board game ideas.

It’s okay to move. Your kid has the wiggle worms and you want him to listen to his lesson. Let him stand. Let him sit on a ball. Let him listen upside down. Let him do something physical while listening and don’t stress over the movement.  Sometimes, I would let Josiah climb on my back while we worked out a math problem.  I always included manipulatives when needed which also gave him something physical to do.   

Take it Outside. It’s easy to forget the opportunities for learning outside especially when you see it see it as a much-needed break.  Sidewalk chalk makes for great lessons in math, geography, writing, spelling and so on. Rock collecting creates opportunities in math, art, and science, and the sandbox is filled with opportunities to create and discuss stories. 

Use their interests. As much as we say our high energy kid never stops moving, we know there are some things that captivate them into relative stillness. Puzzles? Legos? Computer games? Video games? A cartoon character? You know what does it for your kid so use it to create learning opportunities. There are lots of Lego activities on Pinterest that will help you create learning opportunities in math and reading. I also love Leappad because the character games captivate my son into hours of math fact practice.  Click the picture above for more ideas.

Just remember all is not lost if your kid has the serious case of the wiggle worms.  It doesn’t make a child unteachable.  Wiggle worms can make life lots of fun so let them move!