Be a people person: Wells Fargo IT chief on the secrets of success

The technology challenges of a merger, skills of managing people and why it's all about cards

Wayne Mekjian, executive vice president and head of information services for Wells Fargo, talks to MeetTheBoss TV on his 40 years of banking and banking technology and why you should never sit on your technology laurels.

MeetTheBoss editor Adam Burns: What is it about financial services that has fascinated you for so long?
Wayne Mekjian: It's been constantly changing since 1969 - I can't say before that, but 1969 and on it has changed tremendously.

I keep going back to the old cheques: you've got this migration from cash transactions to cheques. Cheques were so high - you could pile up the cheques that we processed in a year and it could touch the moon or the sun or some ridiculous thing like that.

But now cheques are going away - they've been going away for 40 years but now are really starting to go down. They've got two replacements: cards and cards, basically.

The constantly changing nature of financial services can be seen in the demise of the cheque

The constantly changing nature of financial services can be seen in the rise and fall of the cheque
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

What really keeps you engaged and keeps you enthused on a daily basis?
That and the people. I just love working with people and there are so many people involved and dedicated that makes it exciting.

You go to work and you've got some people to talk with that are on the same wavelength as you are - all trying to focus on four things: you focus on the stockholder, the customer, the employee and the community. As long as people stay in that realm, it's a lot of fun, and the older I get, the more fun it is.

How did you make the transition, then, between a somebody who does things, to somebody who gets things done?
I guess it took me years to build a toolbox. You just accumulate, accumulate - you learn from your bosses. You learn what they did right and what they did wrong - you get rid of what they did wrong. You say, 'I'll never do that' or you see what works.

You then start to bridge out. You go to the management side where you start to say, 'OK, how do I get people motivated?'.

I think the biggest learning experience I had was becoming a project manager. When you learn how you can motivate people indirectly - that's when you start to get stuff done, because it's more than just your group. Now you've got... a much broader bandwidth and you start to implement and get things done and when you start to become a change-agent you get more and more involved, then you see that you can get more and more stuff done.

You said a key thing for you was learning to motivate other people indirectly. What would be maybe your two to three best ways that you do that?
One would be to communicate: keep communicating to them where they are. Understand what their issues are and what they need to get the job done.

Part of the communication is that you've got to tell them where you want to go, what the project is - but you don't tell how, that's their job. I always say to a project manager: 'you're going to get the credit, not me. I don't want the credit. I'd much rather just get it done and we all get the credit at the end of the day'.

If you pass it on to them and it's their project and they take pride in what they do, they're not going to fail.

When do you get to the stage that you could effectively move past your own ego to do that?
Well, when I knew that I couldn't do it by myself. You learn really fast when you're doing a project that you can't do it yourself. It's impossible and, if you want to succeed, you have to back off a little. You have to get past it.

It's nice to be on a winning team. Once you've got a taste of it, you want to always win and it means that you have to do those things that keep the project running - and they're not that difficult.

I learned a long time ago that the word 'boss' is really a bad thing to say. People don't like the word. No one I've ever met likes the word boss. They always say it in a derogatory sense.

I like to see myself more as a coach, a mentor - someone that says, 'hey, we're working together let's just make this thing happen. I'm not better than you, you're not better than I am. We're a team let's go make it happen'.

I think there's several people you could talk to that would say...