John Stumpf, Wells Fargo’s CEO, open to having an Atlantan on the bank’s board

By Maria Saporta

Atlanta is the third largest market for Wells Fargo, according to the bank’s CEO John Stumpf, who spoke to the Atlanta Press Club at a Newsmakers luncheon on Monday at the Commerce Club.

But despite the city’s importance to the bank, there is no Atlantan on Wells Fargo’s board.

“If we could find the right person from Georgia, that would be welcomed,” Stumpf said in an off-the cuff interview after his talk. “That is one of the things we absolutely would like to do.”

Stumpf said that when looking for new board directors, the bank looks for “a diversity of experience and a diversity of geography” as well as other factors. “We are always looking for great directors,” he added.

The bank does have directors from Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. But there has been a void of an Atlantan around the board table following all the mergers and acquisitions over the years.

When Wachovia first acquired First Atlanta National Bank in the late 1980s, there were several Atlantans on the board. That continued through most of the 1990s. But when Wachovia acquired South Trust, and when First Union acquired Wachovia, and then when Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia, the Atlanta board ties dissipated.

Not only is the Atlanta market an important one for the San Francisco-based bank, Wells Fargo is the second largest bank in the Atlanta market. It also is the fourth largest bank in the nation.

It has a 20 percent market share in Atlanta, and it has a relationship with about half of the households in the market. It employs about 5,000 people in the state, and it gave away about $7 million in charitable gifts to 550 groups in Georgia in 2010 and so far this year.

Stumpf clearly had done his homework before making the Atlanta visit, saying that the philanthropic culture of the bank paralleled Atlanta’s civic reputation.

“On community, I think Atlanta does this better than anyone else,” Stumpf said. “The companies that you have here invest in the community.”

For the past two years, Wells Fargo has been the nation’s largest donor to United Way — showing that its philanthropy outpaces its size as the 12th largest employer in the country. Stumpf said he expects the bank to keep its title as the top United Way donor because this year’s contributions are up 20 percent.

Much of Stumpf’s talk, however, focused on the lack of confidence in the United States — a mood that is holding back the country’s economic recovery. In fact, Stumpf said he believes the economy actually is doing better than most people believe.

Last year, the private sector grew at an average of 95,000 jobs per month. This year, the private sector is adding an average of about 149,000 jobs per month. Unfortunately, that has been offset by job cuts in the public sector. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the GDP growth in the United States would be in the “high 2s” for the third quarter.

Stumpf urged business leaders and members of the press to try to instill confidence back in the United States and its economy. That would help unleash the trillions of dollars that are sitting on the sidelines back into economy.

Stumpf ended his talk by telling the audience about the view outside his San Francisco apartment — where he is able to see the Golden Gate Bridge.

“The Golden Gate Bridge was designed, built and financed during the Great Depression,” Stumpf said. “This can be America’s next greatest generation.”

It just so happens that Stumpf, in a previous position, had helped put together the financing for the Tom Moreland Interchange (also known as Spaghetti Junction) at the intersection of I-85 and I-285.

In short, Stumpf said it is time to reinvest in our nation’s infrastructure and to help generate sustainable sources of energy.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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