If the old adage “do what you love and you’ll never work a day” is true, David Marks, head of Wells Fargo Capital Finance, hasn’t worked for 30 years.
“I’m perfectly fine with being called the happiest person in Wells Fargo right now,” says the upbeat
Marks, who was preparing to take off for his vacation when ABF Journal came calling. Even with one foot out the door, he had already agreed to take a client call while he was supposed to be off the clock.
“That’s why we come to work,” Marks explains. “To take care of our clients.”
The importance of serving clients comes up often in conversation with Marks, who has taken on many roles in diverse sectors of the bank over the past 30 years. Most recently, he served as a group risk officer. He has also led sales, service and operation groups in many of the company’s Wholesale Banking businesses. He has served as head of Corporate Banking, senior credit officer for Corporate Banking and Government and Institutional Banking, regional manager with Trade Capital and head of the former International Group.
The job has taken him from his native Minnesota to California and included a stint in Hong Kong. In many ways, his new job has brought Marks back to his roots at the bank, and it was a position he pursued when his predecessor Guy Fuchs stepped down.
“Sometimes in the course of a career, someone taps you on the shoulder and says they want you to do this particular job,” he says. “But I said I wanted to do this role — I applied for the job.”
The new role is a spectacular development for Marks, who, back in 1987, seemed the least likely candidate to become a banker. After completing his history degree at Carleton College in Northfield, MN, he found himself facing a very contemporary problem.
“I borrowed a lot of money to finish my education,” he recalls, “and I needed to get a job.” So this unlikely banker accepted a position with Norwest Bank in Minneapolis. “I was the only liberal arts person hired into the commercial training program in 1987.”
Marks was fortunate to find himself in a bank on the move. In the 1980s, Norwest was the 11th largest bank in the U.S., and it had acquisition fever, which provided many opportunities for a history major learning the banking business. When Norwest absorbed Foothill Capital, Marks got to know Peter Schwab and Henry Jordan, two previous heads of WFCF. When Norwest acquired Andrew Tananbaum’s family business,
Century Financial, Marks worked for the current chairman of White Oak Commercial Finance.
“Andy was a real kick,” Marks recalls with a laugh.
Marks was not hampered by his lack of a business degree or MBA. Norwest put him through a commercial banking program, and he began doing workouts when he was 22 years old. Norwest expanded and thrived, but it lacked a legacy name and national brand recognition. The Wells Fargo name, on the other hand, was iconic. Wells had started before the Civil War as a stagecoach company and went on to provide financial services for miners and settlers in the Western U.S. Even those who did not use its financial services became fans from 1957 to 1962, when Tales of Wells Fargo — a television show Wells didn’t even sponsor — visited their living rooms every week, portraying Wells agents as heroes of the Old West. So, in an unusual twist, when Norwest acquired Wells in 1998, the Minnesota bank elected to adopt the historic California name.
At the time of the Wells acquisition, the history major was running international businesses and some specialty lending businesses. He and his family left the frozen plains of Minnesota for the California sunshine. In the mid-90s, the bank sent him to Hong Kong.
A Year at Barclays
In 2008, after 20 years with Wells, Marks got an urge to try something different. He went to work for Barclays Bank and spent a year in London.
“London was great,” he says, but he missed Wells Fargo. “I missed the people. I missed the culture. So after the Wachovia acquisition, I came back.”
An unflaggingly optimistic executive, Marks adds, “When you leave for a year and come back, the fresh perspective you bring is great.”
Marks is not unrealistic about the difficult times that Wells is facing now and the challenges that lie ahead. At WFCF, he sees an opportunity to be a one-stop shop for his clients.
“What is really different today, as Wells Fargo has grown organically and completed diverse acquisitions, is we have much larger market share, which is good, but that’s not as important as the broader product capabilities we can offer our clients. We can provide the best-in-class ABL and other type products such as our supply chain finance and factoring. We are also able to work closely with our banking partners within Wells Fargo, which offers our clients the opportunity to be able to work with various groups like Wells Fargo Securities that provide capital markets financing and advisory services.”
The key, he says, is, “how we connect our clients by providing everything they want to choose from, even if they don’t choose everything from us.”
He adds that WFCF needs to connect to other parts of the bank to create new relationships.
“Some of my best friends over the years are at Wells Fargo. Now I’m working to make them best friends with other banking and advisory services.”
Since joining WFCF in May, Marks has been crisscrossing the country to connect with his team members.
“I’m talking to the folks who are closest to the clients. I’m listening to their ideas and responding quickly so we can do a better job of serving our clients.
“With all the different roles I’ve had, I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, that the best way to have the best performing team is to have the most engaged team,” he adds.
Creating a Team
Because of the many acquisitions, creating a common culture is a challenge.
“What is fascinating to me, and I’ve held many different roles across our company, is that we’re a collection of different cultures. This started when we acquired Foothill. Many of our team members came from Foothill, others from Wachovia. We’ve worked in lot of difference places and people have built up different experiences. We have to decide how is Capital Finance at Wells Fargo going to be different from the organizations that we grew up in?”
As Wells attracts young people without an attachment to an acquired bank, Marks says, “We’re building a workforce that looks like our diverse client base.”
As he takes on this new role, is there anything that keeps Marks up at night?
“I sleep really, really well,” he says. “What gets me up early is there is so much more we could be doing. I was in the gym at 5 a.m. and determined to run five miles, but I wanted to get into office and get to work.”
Marks wants everyone to know, “We have built what we think is the best-in-class commercial finance business in the industry, which we combine with the broader offerings for Wells Fargo including our advisory services, our equity, capital markets and equipment finance.”
“We have a common leadership and a common set of goals. We have to work hard every day to do it well. That’s who we are today. It is a really proud history,” says Marks, still a history major after all.