The Underlying Flaws in Wells Fargo’s Failed CEO

By now everyone is familiar with the epic leadership failure of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf.

It’s clear to all that the Stumpf’s failed leadership manifested itself in a lack of accountability and in an absence of courage.  When faced with an opportunity to respond heroically to a crisis, he sought the perceived safe harbor of high-priced PR consultants who advised a bob-and-weave approach for his congressional testimony.  Bad move.  The result of this strategy was dump a waterfall of gasoline on an already raging fire.  Why?  Because you can’t expect a weak leader to play the role of a courageous leader – just doesn’t work.


What created John Stumpf and his merry band of cliched and failed corporate leaders? 

One needs to look no further than the Board of Directors.  Under this Board’s “oversight”, a self-serving politician was promoted through the executive ranks and named CEO.  Stumpf doesn’t even seem like a real guy – but rather, a generic corporate stiff with too much hair product and no basis in reality.  In addition to a lack of courage and accountability, Stumpf was also empowered to “lead” while:

  • exorcising inappropriately low levels of empathy for anyone other than his team, his own net worth and the shareholders*
  • becoming totally disconnected from Wells’ alleged mission
  • demonstrating a lack of true integrity
  • exhibiting arrogance and becoming devoid of humanity
  • showing disdain for tough-minded decision making

Of course, all of the above was accelerated in 2010 when Stumpf was also named Chairman in addition to CEO.  I hate it when CEOs are unnecessarily named Chairman.  Step up Boards…do your job.

Check out this Stumpf quote on Wells Fargo’s website.


Really?  Everything you do is built on trust?  Integrity grade?  F-.

*While the Board may have enjoyed Wells’ stock performance under Stumpf’s leadership that took the shares from the mid-20’s when he became CEO in 2007 to mid-40’s today, they are reaping the whirlwind of PR and share price nightmare.

Let Stumpf serve as a cautionary tale to Boards everyone.  you have one job at the end of the day….to hire, govern (and fire, when necessary) the CEO.  Don’t abdicate your responsibility.

Written by Rob Huxtable

Rob is a recognized expert on the topic of private equity CEO performance and recruitment. He is Founder & Principal of PrivateEquityCEO.com. He is also Managing Partner of Integis which is the nation’s leading search firm focused exclusively on the private equity-backed, middle market.

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