Tim Sloan And The Dirty Job of Cleaning Up

Tim Sloan, CEO of Wells Fargo, retired today. Can you blame him?

No one—at least no one in their right mind—would have traded places with Sloan. When he took over the bank in October 2016, the best anyone could really say about the job was that someone had to do it, and it paid well. His predecessor, John Stumpf, had overseen one of the worst corporate-culture disasters in a generation, one in which bank employees had defrauded customers, opening more than 2 million fake bank and credit card accounts.

Sloan, a Wells Fargo lifer, was left to take out the garbage, and he did, in one of the most thankless corporate turnarounds since, well, er, um… He paid more than $2 billion in fines, wrestled with the Fed, brought customers—actual, real customers—back to the bank, even as he remade the culture within. Yes, there were still problems, but Wells Fargo under Sloan was better than where it had been—far better.

His reward: An endless helping of abuse by Washington’s Most Angry, with a showstopping performance by Elizabeth Warren last year in which the Massachusetts Democrat berated him, calling for his resignation in a hearing (and continuing her calls for his ouster in a note to the Fed this February.)

Two weeks ago it was New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s turn over in the House, stealing the show and cementing her reputation as the rebel leader of the burgeoning Democratic Socialist movement that will undoubtedly backfire on her party in 2020.

“Mr. Sloan, why was the bank involved in the caging of children?”


In a stunning show of self-restraint, Sloan was able to somehow respond: “I don’t know how to answer that question, because we weren’t.” A more honest response would have been: “What the f**k are you talking about?” No wonder Sloan didn’t stick around for the next round of Capitol Hill hijinks. Don’t expect him to be buying any DC real estate in retirement.

Then there’s the stock, flat for most of the bull run of the last half-decade, while the S&P financials are up some 40%. Add to that reports that a potential replacement from Goldman Sachs was circling. It wasn’t going to get better from here.

So here’s to Tim Sloan, and all the other cleanup artists like him. No, he was not perfect. Yes, he made more than $18 million a year, more money than most people can ever imagine. But he paid for it dearly, getting publicly trashed in a way most people can’t ever imagine, either.

In the end, his tenure is a great reminder of the dirty secret about dirty jobs, one we all—especially folks like Ms. Warren—tend to forget: No one has to do them. We should just be thankful someone does.

Dan Bigman is Editor and Chief Content Officer of Chief Executive Group, publishers of Chief Executive, Corporate Board Member, ChiefExecutive.net, Boardmember.com and StrategicCFO360. Previously he was Managing Editor at Forbes and the founding business editor of NYTimes.com.