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Wells Fargo President, 50, Says He Will Retire

May 22, 1997|From Reuters

William Zuendt, one of the architects of Wells Fargo & Co.'s $11-billion acquisition of First Interstate Bancorp, said Wednesday that he plans to retire later this year.

Zuendt's departure comes at difficult time for Wells Fargo as it faces continuing trouble integrating First Interstate, which it acquired in 1996.

"I'm disappointed that we have had more customer impact than we expected. I think the company is still figuring out how to run itself now that it's twice as big and has two cultures," Zuendt, 50, said.

Zuendt, who is president of the San Francisco-based banking giant, planned to retire earlier but kept postponing his decision because of challenges that developed throughout the 1990s, including the merger with First Interstate.

"Now that we've acquired First Interstate and merged the two organizations, the timing seems right," he said.

While integration of the two banks' systems is virtually complete, he said some challenges remain in converting First Interstate's 13-state franchise into one national bank and stemming the departure of customers.

"Doing a merger is distracting and takes your eye off the customer," he said.

Wells Fargo stock fell $7.625 to close at $258 a share on the New York Stock Exchange. Other banks also slipped on profit-taking after posting gains Tuesday.

While Zuendt's retirement was anticipated, analysts said the executive would be missed during this critical juncture for the bank.

"There was a high comfort level with Zuendt [on Wall Street]. He will be missed," said Brown Bros. Harriman analyst Raphael Soifer.

In Zuendt's place, effective immediately, four vice chairmen will form a team with Chairman Paul Hazen as part of a newly created office of the chairman, with three customer segments.

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