Richard Kovacevich

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Richard Marco Kovacevich, (born October 30, 1943) is a retired chairman of the board of directors and former CEO of Wells Fargo & Company.

Life and career

Of Serbian descent,[1][2] a native of Tacoma, Washington, he grew up in Enumclaw, Washington, a lumber town about 30 miles southeast of Seattle, where his father worked in the sawmill. His parents are Joseph Donald and Dorothy Kathryn.[3] He married Mary Jo and fathered three children: Lori; Todd and Jennifer.[3] At Stanford University he received BS and MS degrees in industrial engineering, followed by an MBA degree from Stanford Business School in 1967. Early in his corporate career he was a planning and division general manager with General Mills before joining Citicorp.

At Citicorp he was made head of regional retail banking. Kovacevich was told by his team that Citibank had 30% market share but was losing 108 million dollars a year. Probing deeper, Kovacevich realized that they meant that Citibank had 30% checking account market share (in other words, 30 percent of all people who lived in the Citibank regions had a checking account with Citibank). In reality, Citibank only had 6% market share of deposits (the vast majority of money being in Savings and Loans, Credit Unions, and other institutions). Kovacevich expanded Citibank aggressively into other areas such as mortgages.

He then joined Norwest Bank as chief operating officer and head of the retail banking group in March 1986. At Norwest, Kovacevich confronted a similar situation. Norwest was mostly centered in Minnesota and Iowa at the time, with a relatively small population in both states. Kovacevich realized the only way he could keep growing the company would be to expand beyond banking services, into investment and insurance services as well. Kovacevich theorized that eventually it would be impossible for any bank to continuously grow if it did not do this.

Kovacevich instituted the new strategies while serving as president of Norwest from 1989, chief executive officer from 1993, and chairman from 1995.[4] The higher revenues, relative to stable fixed costs which this method produced allowed Norwest to purchase many other banks, culminating with the 1998 purchase of Wells Fargo. Although Norwest was the nominal survivor, the merged company retained the better-known Wells Fargo name. After the merger, he was given the positions of president and CEO of Wells Fargo. In 2001 Kovacevich was elected chairman as well.

Kovacevich is responsible for many trends currently found in the financial services industry:

  • Calling branches "stores", instead of "branches". This is a reference to both the diversified products they sell, beyond normal banking products, and also to the sales focus the employees have.
  • Expansion into non-traditional banking businesses, such as investments and insurance. This culminated in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
  • Integrated cross-sell strategy. This strategy is to market most products only to existing customers, primarily by employees, instead of each product line attracting its own customers via its own marketing. This method can be cheaper and more successful.
  • His leadership style puts accountability for success in the hands of each and every employee.[4]

Kovacevich believes that Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insurance should be privatized, and that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should have no government backing in the event of a failure (quite the opposite of the course actually pursued by the United States Congress and the White House when the two lenders became insolvent in September 2008). He has also been very vocal against the expensing of stock options, and has twice disobeyed shareholder requests to do so.

He relinquished the presidency of Wells Fargo to John Stumpf in August 2005. On June 27, 2007, the board of directors elected Stumpf CEO, with Kovacevich retaining the chairmanship.

Besides Wells Fargo, Kovacevich is a director of Cargill, Inc., Cisco Systems, Inc., and formerly Target Corporation. He is also vice president of the board of governors of the San Francisco Symphony, vice chairman of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and a member of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's California Commission on Jobs and Economic Growth, the National Infrastructure Advisory Committee, and the Financial Service Roundtable. As of 2015 Kovacevich is a director of Theranos.[5]

In the political realm, he has been a member of Pete Coors for Senate, Romney for President, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the New Leadership for America Political Action Committee.

In September 2009 Wells Fargo announced Kovacevich will step down as chairman and a director at the end of 2009 and retire from the company in early 2010 after 23 years with the company.


  3. 3.0 3.1 American banker directory of U.S. banking executives, American Banker, 1980, p 315
  4. 4.0 4.1 Richard L. Daft, Dorothy Marcic (2009): Understanding Management 6e, Sixth Edition, South Western Cengage Learning, Mason, OH, ISBN 0-324-56838-X, ISBN 978-0-324-56838-7, p 429

    Richard Kovacevich, who steered midsized Norwest Corp. (now Wells Fargo & Co.) through numerous acquisitions to make it one of the largest and most powerful banking companies in the United States, is an excellent example of a transformational leader. Kovacevich's leadership style puts accountability for success in the hands of each and every employee. He leads with slogans such as, "Mind share plus heart share equals market share." Although some people might think it sounds hockey, Kovacevich and his employees don't care.

  5. "Theranos Leadership". Theranos. Retrieved October 12, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>