Richard Kovacevich Honored with 2003 Arbuckle Award

Teams can outperform the abilities of any individual member, says Wells Fargo CEO.

February 19, 2003

Years before he became one of the nation’s most respected banking leaders, Richard Kovacevich prepared for a leadership role by playing baseball, peddling rosebushes for a grocery store, and running a toy company. Today the head of Wells Fargo is a strong believer that broad experience makes great business leaders and that teams can perform well above the abilities of any individual member.

“A good leader inspires a team to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires a team to have confidence in themselves,” he told a dinner audience. As president and CEO of Wells Fargo, Kovacevich sees his job as to “hire, retain, reward, and recognize the best people; coach them to become effective leaders; and be sure they care.”

“In selecting people, I don’t care how much a person knows until I know how much they care. Give people responsibility and accountability, “¦ encourage them to be active in their communities, to be leaders. Create, describe, and communicate the corporate culture, vision, and values; make sure everyone is having fun, and then get out of the way and cheer them on.”

Kovacevich was honored by the Stanford GSB Alumni Association Feb. 19 as the 2003 Arbuckle Award recipient. Named for the late dean Ernest Arbuckle, the award recognizes an outstanding member of the Business School community who demonstrates a dual commitment to managerial excellence and to addressing the changing needs of society.

Kovacevich urged leaders to endorse the affirmation that virtually everyone in an organization wants to contribute and do a good job and therefore needs to be treated with respect. “Almost every person at Wells Fargo knows more about their specific work than I do,” Kovacevich said. “There’s no need to waste time coming to me for decisions. Our people make decisions and then let me know what they decided.”

Effective institutions need both managers and leaders, people with different strengths, he said. “Managers rely on systems, leaders rely on people. Managers work on getting things right, leaders work on the right things. The answer to every problem, choice, or opportunity in our company is known to someone or some team in the company. The leader only has to find that person, listen, and help them effect the change.”

“You cannot share vision unless you share the power to achieve that vision,” he told the audience.

Kovacevich, who is the 33rd recipient of the Arbuckle Award, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering from Stanford as well as his MBA, which he received in 1967.

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