For many of those on the outside of Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) looking in, it was apparent years ago that neither the bank's culture nor its reputation could be repaired until there was real change at the top. Wells needed a leader untainted by its scandals, and when the board replaced CEO John Stumpf with CFO Tim Sloan, that's just not what it got. But Sloan's exit this March after just two and a half years in the top job gave them a chance to try again, and this time, the board tapped an outsider: Charles Scharf, CEO of Bank of New York Mellon -- one of the nation's largest banks, though less retail-oriented than his new employer.
In this segment of the Motley Fool Money podcast, host Chris Hill and Fool senior analysts Jason Moser, Andy Cross, and Ron Gross discuss Scharf's history, what we can expect from him, and how to get a sense of a new leader's style and priorities. They also talk context, considering the way CEOs broadly aren't lasting as long in their jobs as they used to, for a number of reasons.
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This video was recorded on Sept. 20, 2019.
Chris Hill: After more than six months of searching, Wells Fargo has finally found someone willing to take the corner office. Charles Scharf is currently the CEO of Bank of New York Mellon. He takes over at Wells Fargo in a few weeks. Ron, this really started to seem like a job that nobody wanted, but given the reaction on Wall Street, Scharf and his reputation, it seems like a good hire for Wells Fargo.
Ron Gross: Yeah. As you say, it took six months, but a solid choice. CEO of Bank of New York, CEO of Visa, senior executive at JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, he is on the board of Microsoft. Very well respected. Has his work cut out for him, for sure. This is not an easy job here. First thing he has to do is really make nice with the regulators and hope to convince them to lift the sanctions put on the bank back in early 2018, which really restricted their ability to grow. Interestingly, his background, specifically his most recent background at Bank of New York, they're not as retail focused as Wells Fargo is, so he may have a learning curve here. Not stepping into a similar role. There's some differences here. But still, solid resume.
Andy Cross: Interesting going to the outside, which is no surprise. I think they had to do this, considering where they are coming from, all the scandals they had. They've got to bring some fresh blood in here. But I think he is the first outsider to lead Wells Fargo, maybe ever.
That's really encouraging for Wells Fargo shareholders and hopefully customers who've obviously gotten the raw end of the stick from Wells Fargo for so many years. Hopefully comes in and really shake things up. Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway is a large investor still in Wells Fargo, the largest. I think back to Warren Buffett and the Solomon scandal back in the early 90s, and what he was talking about with reputation and losing money, and the fact that if you lose money, he'll be understanding; if you lose reputation, he'll be ruthless. He hasn't been so ruthless recently, but hopefully this is a really good turn of the page for Wells Fargo.
Jason Moser: There was some really interesting data in regard to CEOs and how they come in and out of this line of work. You would think a CEO, you're going to probably hold that job for some time, but there's some level of attrition there. If you look at reasons why CEOs are getting ousted, sometimes they sit down or retire, but go back in 2018, for example, for the first time, there were more CEOs, 39% total of the CEOs that left their positions in 2018 were forced out for ethical lapses, versus something like financial performance, or just board problems, or whatever else that may be. So I think that's understandable. We've seen a lot of leaders being put under microscopes recently for present and past behavior. Certainly seems like it's played a bigger role recently than in the past.
Hill: Just this week alone, you look at eBay, Volkswagen, Juul, WeWork, a lot of CEOs leaving their jobs this week. It feels like a higher-than-average week in terms of turnover.
Moser: To that point, this year so far, 850 CEOs have left their posts. That's 17% more than the 725 at the same time last year. Your perception is reality.
Gross: Public company stats, those are?
Moser: I believe that incorporates not just public but private too.
Cross: Overall, look at the last few years for the S&P 500 companies, the average tenure of a CEO now is about five years. That's actually a little bit down, by about a year, over the last few years. So you are seeing a little bit more aggressive nature from either boards or from activist shareholders trying to encourage CEOs to leave the main seat.
Gross: I actually love that. That means that the boards are taking a more active role. For decades, boards sat on their hands and were happy to just collect their stock or their paycheck, weren't as active as they perhaps should have been, especially when there was corporate governance shenanigans going on. So I applaud.
Hill: On last week's show, we talked specifically about WeWork. I believe we had that, the CEO leaving. I don't think we had the CEO, Adam Neumann, leaving necessarily as quickly as it happened, but I believe we had that.
Gross: Yeah, we had that. And we're not geniuses, it was appropriate. Interesting, entrepreneurs don't always make professional CEOs. This is one of those cases.
Hill: Real quick, before we move on. You look at the average company in your portfolio, and let's just assume a new CEO is coming in, it's an average situation -- and by that, I mean, it's not, "The current CEO has to go." It's just, that person's leaving, a new CEO is coming in. Let's just go around the table real quick. Ron, what are you researching first about the new CEO?
Gross: Very simply, just the background. Does he have experience in the industry --
Hill: Or she.
Gross: Or she, good point. Is their experience appropriate? Were they inside the company or external? What does the tenure look like?
Moser: Yeah, if there are any transcripts to go through from previous positions, it's nice to go through and look at the language that they use. Is that language really customer centric? Or is it more metric based, trying to appease Wall Street? That can give you a better idea of whether they're all longer-term focused or perhaps a little bit shorter-term focused.
Cross: Inside or outside the organization? Where are they coming from? What experiences are they bringing? Ultimately, what's the next three- to five-year vision they're going to bring to the company?