Rallying the troops comes easy for Cara Heiden, the co-president of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Whether she's hosting a mid-year conference call with 5,000 employees or broadcasting live to 11,000 real estate agents, Heiden thrives on trying to engage thousands of employees in a common pursuit.
"I want to allow everybody the opportunity to put their mark on a decision or outcome," says Heiden, who oversees mortgage production, servicing, consumer marketing and cross-selling at the Des Moines mortgage unit of Wells Fargo & Co. "If people feel they are part of a decision and have been heard, then that yields commitment."
To build market share while many competitors were struggling, Heiden developed Wells' PriorityBuyer and Closing Guarantee programs, in which the bank pre-qualifies borrowers while guaranteeing their closing date - or it pays the first month's principal and interest.
Wells has increased its default servicing staff by 50 percent this year, to 11,500. It claims 750,000 refinancings and 200,000 modifications through the first six months of the year. "This is the first time in my career where the mortgage loan origination unit is as busy as the servicing group, working to keep people in their homes," Heiden says. "Throughout the day, getting so many calls, hearing borrowers' situations - it's emotionally pretty draining."
Heiden never intended to become a banker after graduating from Iowa State University. She says a love of math initially set her sights on becoming a high school calculus teacher, but a friend suggested she become an accountant. She joined Norwest Bank in Iowa, which eventually merged with Wells.
Though Wells' profit fell to $2.8 billion in 2008 from $8.1 billion in 2007, revenue rose 7 percent, to $42.2 billion. In the second quarter, revenue rose 28 percent, to a record $22.5 billion (including $3 billion from mortgage activities), while net income rose 47 percent from a year earlier, to $2.6 billion, after paying dividends.
Wells continues to work through its commercial real estate and consumer loan portfolios, including the option adjustable-rate mortgages it inherited in the Wachovia acquisition last year. Still, chargeoffs in the second quarter rose an unexpected 35 percent, to $4.4 billion, and nonperforming assets jumped 45 percent, to $18.3 billion.
"It's just been a continuum of ever-changing, enhancing and expanding [loan] modifications as we as a country began to further realize the seriousness of the economic situation," she says. "I've never seen a year like this."