Wells Fargo Sees 'Explosive Growth'

October 18, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Wells Fargo Commercial Banking feels it’s off to a “very good” start after being in Grand Rapids for less than a year.

The San Francisco-based Wells Fargo opened a commercial banking office here in January — its first such operation in the Lower Peninsula — targeting middle-market companies statewide with annual revenues of $10 million to $750 million.

“The kind of companies we really wanted to reach, we’re reaching,” said Donald VanDine, vice president and senior relationship manager. “This month we’re going to close on about one year’s worth of business and we’re adding 60 customers.

“You’ve got to invest some time to get your name out and start to generate the opportunities. Right now we’re really starting to experience what we perceive will be a pretty extended period of some explosive growth.”

Unlike some companies that start by just dipping their toe in a market, Wells Fargo is trying to do a cannonball, as VanDine put it. It’s typical of the way Wells Fargo approaches a new market.

“When we come into a market, we really want to get as much on the ground as possible because we know that, particularly in a market like Grand Rapids, you need to be local to succeed,” he explained. “The more local presence you have, the better you’re going to do. We’ve got the kind of resources to put in and support new local people and help them ramp up and grow.”

When the commercial banking operation opened earlier this year, Wells Fargo already had 75 West Michigan employees in five established mortgage offices between Grand Rapids, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, and a consumer finance office on

28th Street
in Grand Rapids.

The commercial banking office has added 10 people to its staff in the past 10 months and opened commercial mortgage, investor real estate and private banking divisions over the same time period.   

With the addition of Chris Turner four weeks ago, Wells Fargo brokerage operations came to Grand Rapids

As VanDine sees it, the best way to start and succeed in a market is to hire experienced, talented local people who have established relationships in the market. Everyone on his team has local ties and experience in the West Michigan market.

“You can come in and have wonderful product capabilities, but if you don’t have relationships with people, it would be very difficult to succeed, particularly in a community like West Michigan.”  

Wells Fargo has already committed to establishing a trust department within the next six months and expects to establish an employee benefits/401(k) department shortly thereafter, VanDine noted.

The commercial banking division started small here, leasing 1,500 square feet of space in McKayTowers.

“The month we moved in here we started talking with the landlord about tripling or quadrupling our space,” VanDine recalled. “Nine months later we were ready to move into expanded space.”

The company has an option in its new lease on 18,000 square feet on two floors of the building, which VanDine says will probably hold them for three or four years.

He said four other Wells Fargo departments have made inquiries about starting up in the Grand Rapids market in the next year.

According to VanDine, the more people the company has on the ground, the greater its geometric expansion of opportunities for work. 

“We’re very strongly motivated to work together and I think with the leadership team we have in place we have a real foundation, because we’ve all known each other for a number of years.”

VanDine said Wells Fargo’s technological platform is a real differentiator for the bank because it can deliver everything via the Web. Wells Fargo’s stability is another hallmark, he said, and it’s one of the big selling points for the bank in this market, given that nearly 80 percent of the banks in this town have changed names in the past decade.

In its 152-year history, whenever Wells Fargo made the decision to enter a market, it has never left that market.

“As we’re pursuing clients in the marketplace, that’s a comfort for them. You are doing business with people primarily, but you’re also doing business with an institution. We are a business with tremendous resources and staying power.

“We’re growing, we’re having a lot of success and we’re having a lot of fun doing it. Most importantly, we’re attracting really high caliber people.”

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