Although I didn’t know it at the time, working at the Toronto Star as a business reporter in the early 80s far and away was the best job I’d ever have. In those days, the Star was Canada’s biggest newspaper, and its circulation was more than combined readerships of the national Globe and Mail and Toronto Sun. The Star also paid considerably better, including compensating reporters triple time for working Christmas and other major holidays.

When I worked at the Star, I don’t recall the newspaper having a head of human resources, or a chief people officer as they are called today, but it was clear as the blinding Lake Ontario light that reflected into the Star‘s then waterfront located newsroom that I needed to routinely best my rivals with original and compelling stories requiring minimal editing. Getting beat by the competition a few times, or making an error that embarrassed the Star, would get me a private meeting with an editor advising me to look for another job.

The Star’s management valued diversity when D E I were just three random letters in the alphabet. The city editor, one of the newspaper’s most critical positions, was a woman, as were the leaders of the Entertainment, Lifestyle, and Sunday business sections. The Ottawa bureau chief was a woman, one of the business columnists was a woman, and the editorial page editor was from India. The Star was among the first North American publications to assign a woman to cover professional sports.

The Star also valued another sort of diversity – diversity of personalities. The newsroom was chock full of quirky types, including yours truly whose style is to conceive and write stories in my head while working out or taking walks. Often, I’d disappear from the Star newsroom close to deadline on critical stories to take a stroll and then return and bang out my conceived prose on my computer.

Never once did an editor take me to task for my disappearances. As long as I delivered my stories on time, the Star’s editors wouldn’t have cared if I wrote them at the bar downstairs while tipping a couple of Molsons. I wouldn’t have been the first Star reporter to have done so.

This weekend I was reminded of my great fortune having worked in an earlier era where successful businesses were mostly meritocracies and those who were the best and the brightest oversaw them. The editor of the Star when I worked there was a man named Ray Timson, who anyone familiar with Canadian journalism history will confirm he was among Canada’s legendary journalists in a country famous for producing exceptional talents. (Ernest Hemingway once reported for the Star). The Star gave me a great sense of purpose, and I still regard my time and work there among my greatest accomplishments.

What triggered my trip down memory lane was this Bloomberg story about Wells Fargo firing more than a dozen employees in its wealth- and investment-management unit for “faking work.”  The staffers were “discharged after review of allegations involving simulation of keyboard activity creating impression of active work,” according to disclosures filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Among the reasons Bloomberg can command $35 a month for a subscription is that it has reporters who monitor critical regulatory filings in real time.

According to Bloomberg, devices and software to imitate employee activity, sometimes known as “mouse movers” or “mouse jigglers,” took off during the pandemic-spurred work-from-home era, with people swapping tips for using them on social-media sites Reddit and TikTok. Such gadgets can currently be had on Amazon for less than $20.

Amazon website

Wells Fargo didn’t disclose whether the employees the bank fired were allegedly faking active work from home. The finance industry was at the forefront of U.S. businesses ordering workers back to the office as the pandemic waned, though Wells Fargo waited longer than its rivals. 

Bloomberg earlier reported that San Francisco-based Wells Fargo started requiring employees to return to the office under a “hybrid flexible model” in early 2022. The bank now expects most staffers to be in the office at least three days a week, while members of management committee are in four days and many employees, such as branch workers, are in five days.

Bloomberg cited an unnamed Wells Fargo spinmeister’s statement saying, “Wells Fargo holds employees to the highest standards and does not tolerate unethical behavior.” AI is sufficiently advanced to concoct such a meaningless and vacuous statement, and if Bloomberg received it from a human being, the news service did a disservice not disclosing the spokesperson’s identity.  

It would behoove Wells Fargo’s PR people to avoid references to “unethical behavior” because the stagecoach bank has smothered itself in filth over the years. In February 2020, the bank agreed to pay $3 billion to resolve potential criminal and civil liability stemming from a practice between 2002 and 2016 of pressuring employees to meet unrealistic sales goals that led thousands of them to open accounts or peddle products to customers under false pretenses, and often without their knowledge.

Wells Fargo last year agreed to pay a $35 million civil penalty to settle allegations it overcharged some 11,000 investment advisory accounts with excessive fees.

A group of current and former Wells Fargo employees last year also alleged that the bank discriminated against bilingual Hispanic mortgage sales employees and Hispanic customers in a predatory lending scheme. Bloomberg reported on a lawsuit alleging Wells Fargo directed its Spanish speaking mortgage employees to steer customers away from products with no closing costs toward “predatory lending options” without disclosing the costs, in part by refusing to provide Spanish-language written materials.

Bloomberg in 2022 reported that Wells Fargo rejected half of its Black applicants during the mortgage refinancing boom two years earlier at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests. It was also after the bank in 2014 donated $500,000 to the U.S. Black Chambers, which promotes itself as the “National Voice of Black Businesses.”

Black Chambers pamphlet

In 2018, Wells Fargo fired or suspended more than a dozen employees in its investment bank for allegedly doctoring receipts to allow them to improperly expense meals. I could go on, but unfortunately my computer only has so much memory.

Wealth and investment management are typically high paying positions, and while firms like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, UBS, and JPMorgan historically have attracted the crème de la crème, one could still make big bucks working at Wells Fargo. It boggles the mind that more than a dozen employees engaged in deceitful childish behavior to convince their bosses they were producing meaningful and productive work.

Admittedly, this speaks volumes about the work ethics of the implicated employees, who reportedly had junior positions. It also reflects mighty poorly on Wells Fargo’s leadership. How pathetic that management relies on Big Brother software to monitor the performance of their workers, rather than the quality and quantity of the output they produce.

A valuable lesson I learned from the late Cos De Giusti, one of my editors at the Toronto Star, was to always remember that companies are run by people, and the importance of holding top executives accountable for their business practices and outcomes. In that spirit, here are some of the folks at Wells Fargo seemingly deserving of call outs.

Bei Ling/Wells Fargo

One of them is Bei Ling, the bank’s senior executive vice president and head of human resources. According to Bei’s corporate bio, she is responsible for “all aspects of the company’s human capital strategy” and “works closely with leaders across Wells Fargo’s global footprint to build a world-class culture and foster an inclusive environment committed to attracting, developing, engaging, and retaining the best talent.” I couldn’t determine Bei’s compensation.

Barry Sommers/Wells Fargo

The head of Wells Fargo’s wealth management and investment management operations (WIM) is Barry Sommers, whose corporate bio says that earlier in his career he was a senior managing director for the since failed Bear Stearns, serving as CEO for the private client business with responsibility for the mutual fund business. Sommers also spent time at Goldman Sachs, where he was a vice president in the asset management division.

Sommers is based in New York City and was rewarded with a $10.25 million pay package for his work in 2023. Among the accomplishments Wells Fargo cited justifying the payout was “organizational changes within WIM to sharpen market focus and increase efficiency,” and “a more disciplined process to attract financial advisor talent across all channels.”

Charles Scharf/Wells Fargo

The CEO and President of Wells Fargo is Charles W. Scharf, who drew considerable criticism for a June 2020 memo declaring, “While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from.” The following day, Wells Fargo publicly committed to doubling Black leadership over the next five years and tied executive compensation to meeting diversity goals.

Scharf received $29 million for his 2023 performance. He, too, lives in New York City, despite Wells Fargo being based in San Francisco. I wonder if Wells Fargo’s IT folks monitor the keystrokes of Scharf and Sommers.

Wells Fargo joins GM, Ford, and Boeing among once great American corporations being destroyed by overrated and obscenely paid CEOs and other top executives.

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