Kirk Clausen: A Good Old Fashioned Visit

“LET’S JUST HAVE A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED VISIT. That’s what my father would tell us,” says Kirk Clausen when he shakes my hand at Dal Toro Ristorante. The Italian restaurant in The Palazzo is a favorite of his for its exceptional service, although he’s quick to point out that the food is always good, too.

As Wells Fargo’s regional president of Nevada, overseeing more than 120 bank stores and four business banking and government banking offices, Clausen takes service very seriously. But, having been born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa—he began working for the bank while a junior in high school—he is a Midwesterner at heart, so the tone of our meal is as friendly and casual as he is.

When he isn’t answering questions in his professional capacity, he’s asking them. He’s curious to know about my family and diamondcake photographer Sabin Orr’s work. An amateur photographer, he is particularly interested in Orr’s camera.

We cover several topics in our time together, but Clausen’s passion for community—he currently serves on as many as 12 boards, including the Clark County Regional Debt Management Commission; he’s also past chair for several organizations like Three Square food bank—and his pride in Wells Fargo’s good deeds remain always at the forefront of our conversation.

As Wells Fargo’s regional president in Nevada, what is your primary concern?

It’d be scary if I told you how many goals I have. Taking care of the customers is at the top. But in and amongst those goals, our company has had a focus on the communities we serve since I started with the bank in 1975. Because, as you serve a community, you can’t always be extracting, right? You’ve got to be reinvesting. It’s pretty simple to figure out that if you have a healthier community, we all do well.

How does Wells Fargo give back?

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a cancer walk or a diabetes walk, but when the Wells Fargo team shows up, they’re there in mass wearing these horrid red shirts, but we’re there as a team. If you take approaching 37,000 Wells Fargo team members in the state of Nevada and you ask every one of them to do a little bit, the accumulative effect of that is huge. I’m talking millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of hours.

Now, we have fun with it—Wells Fargo’s a lot about fun—but they get it. They understand the connection between the company and the community.

Is the bank doing anything to help solve Nevada’s housing crisis?

We acquired Wachovia (financial services company) not too long ago, and the predecessor was World Savings and Loan. We were pretty much a conventional lender, but having acquired Wachovia, we ended up with a portfolio of mortgages and folks that we could help. So one of the first things we did is, we reached out to those customers and said, “Why wait until some event with your mortgage? Maybe we could move you out of a pick-a-pay mortgage into a conventional 30-year, something less than 4 percent.”

And we made a billion dollars available in mortgages through our LIFT program and something like a million dollars available in down payment assistance. So somebody who qualifies may get up to $15,000 in down payment assistance from us, and they can couple that with any other programs that the state or the federal government may have.

Tell us more about the Wells Fargo’s CityLIFT and NeighborhoodLIFT programs.

LIFT is essentially multifaceted. We also made over a million dollars available to the city of Las Vegas—primarily driven by Mayor (Carolyn) Goodman—to identify nonprofits that can help with the housing crisis. And even though Wells Fargo Foundation will write the check, you can direct parcels of that to nonprofits that can make a difference. I think Three Square got $75,000.

I wish more of our competitors were doing that, too, by the way, because we can’t fix the problem ourselves. If other financial institutions would step into the communities in a similar way, the total that could be added would be a real difference-maker.

So you believe private industry has a responsibility to help solve the problems?

Well, when it comes to an issue like this, when it involves government or organizations outside of private industry, I’m not sure that those folks are in a position to understand the core issue. It’s just so much more efficient, more effective when private industry comes together. If we had a hand in it, we probably know more about it.

That’s not saying government doesn’t play a role. I think private industry can play a huge role, many times in partnership with government.

You’ve been involved with Three Square since the beginning; to what do you attribute its immense success?

The evolution of the organization has been unbelievable given the time frame and the scale and the reach. I believe with all my heart that Three Square may very well be the first nonprofit food distribution and pantry to solve the hunger issue in a community. I really do.

We had some terrific angels who helped us start the organization, not the least of whom would have been Eric Hilton and the Hilton Foundation, but we always knew that those funders were going to go away. In my tenure as chair, it was about reminding the board: We can’t get overly dependent upon large givers; we have to have a grassroots approach to funding and support coming from the community.

It’s the philosophy I talked about earlier: if everybody does a little, a lot will get done.

Previously published by diamondcake. Updated by smallTALK. Archived for Kirk Clausen.