Ultimate CEO Hector Ponte on the importance of tackling issues early, good communication

Over almost four decades, Hector Ponte has risen the ranks at Wells Fargo.

He started as a part-time teller while earning his degree from Miami Dade College, was later named a branch manager, and eventually became director of 120 locations and 1,200 workers in a region comprising Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Throughout his career, the Miami Beach native has looked after the communities and constituents he’s served. He mentors employees, advises growing businesses, and spearheads charitable and supportive outreach initiatives that help the less fortunate and foster success among small and minority-owned companies.

Ponte believes his success comes from helping those around him.

“From the time I began at the bank, I learned what I did made a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “In my current role, I help people achieve their financial dreams.” 

What’s the most important risk you've taken? Years ago, I had a leader who was having a very negative impact on my peers, on my direct reports. Their leadership style was not positive. So I felt it was important that I confront this leader. Because we had an amenable relationship, I felt I could approach them. It wasn’t easy, but it was important for the group. This person was very upset, they did not agree with my perception of things. However, I grew so much from that experience. It was the first time I had a really direct conversation with a superior. It was a growth moment for me. It’s helped me be in tune with me and my people.

Over the arc of your career, how have you changed as a leader? Early in my career as a branch manager, I would avoid confrontations. I hoped things would fix themselves. Nowadays, I tackle issues early. I still can feel inside of me that desire to run away. Then my brain kicks in and reminds me it will only be more challenging. By tackling issues early, my life is easier.

What’s the most recent leadership lesson you’ve learned and implemented? The pandemic has taught us all a lot of things. In times of uncertainty, like that or a natural disaster, there’s never too much communication. Listen to everyone, don’t assume you know what’s on people's minds. Provide confident direction and repeat it over and over again. Those are the moments that stretch our leadership.

What do you like most – and least – about leading? I like the positive impact I can have on a large group. I have 1,200 employees who report to me, and all of the partner groups that work with me. That responsibility is huge, and that drives me. What do I like least? Leading people is not easy, it can be exhausting and, especially in challenging times, it’s hard. But I’ll take that for all the good that comes with it.

If described as an animal, what’s your leadership style? I’d say the dolphin. The cooperative nature of their actions. Their movements are coordinated by signals from their leaders. And why not be a dolphin if you’re from Miami?

Leadership-wise, what keeps you up nights? Nothing; I enjoy my sleep. But, from a worry standpoint, the current talent environment is worrisome. The Great Resignation affected us in a big way. Finding and retaining people is the challenge, especially with the cost of housing, the pandemic, the economy. They’re not unique to Wells Fargo or banking. But it was unprecedented. Never in my career had I been through this. It’s hard. It’s a balancing act.

Where do you look for your inspiration? I look to my faith. I pray every morning and night.

What one thing makes you most proud about your career? I began my career as a part-time teller in 1986 in our Little Havana branch. I never imagined I’d be here 36 years later. To be the regional leader makes me really proud.

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