SAN FRANCISCO After two rounds in the chief financial officers chair, Ross Kari, the soon-to-depart CFO of Wells Fargo & Co., says he wants to get back into running, rather than analyzing, businesses.
Mr. Kari said Wednesday that he would give up the CFO spot after a little more than a year this time around his first stint was a brief one before Wells purchase by Norwest Corp.
Mr. Kari may stay with Wells and is hoping to return to running a business line or unit. He has had some experience at the old Wells Fargo in the early 1990s he headed the companys telephone banking centers and ATM network. And during his MBA program at the University of Oregon, he ran a restaurant. Thats some of the best management experience you can get, he said in an interview Thursday.
The chief financial officer role is not something I thought Id do forever, he said.
If he lands a new post at Wells, he would by no means be the companys first chief financial officer to cast aside his green eyeshade to run a business unit. Clyde Ostler, who now runs the companys Internet group, was chief financial officer until 1990 when he left that role to run branch banking.
If he stays at Wells, Mr. Kari has indicated that he might take a post in its wholesale division, which is run by group executive vice president David A. Hoyt. He is also speaking to other areas within the bank, he said.
The announcement that Mr. Kari would relinquish the CFO post caused initial alarm on Wall Street, where word of departing finance chiefs often raises concern.
Timing contributed to the sense of unease. The Wednesday afternoon announcement, coming less than two weeks before Wells Fargo is to report second-quarter earnings, spooked investors on an already negative day for bank stocks. The San Francisco banking companys shares fell 6% Wednesday, to $45.99.
By Thursday a better day for the overall market the jitters seemed to have subsided, and the companys stock ended the day 3.57% higher, at $47.63.
Generally, anytime you see a CFO leaving, its not a good situation, though this case seems to be different, said Chris Blum, a financial services analyst at Edward Jones in St. Louis.
The decision to announce Mr. Karis move, ironically, had been intended as a way to fend off undue worries. Mr. Kari said the company chose to make the statement this week because it had to shut down an external search for a successor, started three weeks ago, for fear that it would spark rumors.
The company has selected a search firm. Wells director of human resources Patricia Callahan confirmed Thursday that the New York office of Russell Reynolds & Co. is conducting an internal and external search for Mr. Karis successor.
Mr. Kari will retain the CFO post until the company finds a successor.
And the return of relative calm did not mean Wall Street will not miss knowing Mr. Kari is at the controls. The finance department of the old Wells Fargo, as well as Mr. Kari himself, was known as one of the companys strongest units, particularly when it came to cost efficiencies.
If thats a strength at a bank, it usually comes from finance, said Mr. Blum.
Mr. Kari said he is proudest of helping his unit integrate financial risk management concepts into the companys day-to-day business so that people running a business line could would have their own profit-and-loss statements as a decision-making buttress. These risk management processes have been extended to some parts of the former Norwests businesses since the merger.
On the leadership team established just before the November 1998 Wells-Norwest merger, Wells president Rod Jacobs regained his previous title of chief financial officer, and Mr. Kari became his deputy. Mr. Kari took over as CFO again in January 2000 when Mr. Jacobs announced his retirement.
Though the young MBA who joined Wells in 1983 as a financial analyst may not have envisioned calling the finance department home for good, its concerns are by now in his blood.
Its very gratifying when you stand behind a loan officer in the cafeteria, and you hear them describing new business theyve just booked to a customer, and theyre not describing it in terms of volumes or spreads but in terms of NIACC, or net income after cost of capital, an accounting term.
As for outside opportunities, he said his first choice would be to stay in banking in the Bay Area but that he would consider relocating and posts in financial services outside banking if the right opportunity came along.