Douglas Edwards, a former deputy general counsel at Wachovia Corp., has emerged as the preferred in-house candidate to take over the soon-to-be vacated general counsel role at Wells Fargo & Co., said three former in-house lawyers at the San Francisco-based financial services giant.
Wells Fargo announced last week that C. Allen Parker, a former presiding partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore who relocated from New York to the Bay Area in March 2017 to become its general counsel, would leave next March in order to “pursue other business opportunities.” Parker did not respond to a request for comment.
The potential ascendance of Edwards reflects the growing importance of the bank’s Charlotte office, a legacy of Wells Fargo’s $15.1 billion purchase of Wachovia during the financial crisis in December 2008. Charlotte, Wachovia’s former headquarters, is a lower cost center, said a former in-house lawyer familiar with the bank’s operations. The bulk of Wells Fargo’s law department, which has between 300 and 400 lawyers, is also concentrated in San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, and Des Moines.
Charlotte is now home to most of Wells Fargo’s deputy general counsel, the lawyer said, including Edwards, whose name was cited by those that spoke with Bloomberg Law as being the top internal candidate to replace Parker.
Edwards was named interim general counsel of Wells Fargo earlier this year when Parker was elevated to interim CEO after the resignation of Tim Sloan. Last month Charles Scharf, a former CEO of the Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and Visa Inc., took over as Wells Fargo’s new CEO.
Edwards, now deputy general counsel for Wells Fargo’s global commercial and securities division after Parker returned to the general counsel role, did not return a request for comment about his interest in that position. Media representatives for Wells Fargo declined to discuss the search process for picking Parker’s replacement.
A new general counsel will likely have to pass muster with Wells Fargo’s board of directors, which in March 2017 went outside the bank’s normal succession planning process to bring in Parker as general counsel following an unauthorized accounts scandal that led to the resignation a few months earlier of former CEO John Stumpf.
Donald James, a former partner at Birmingham, Alabama-based Bradley who retired in 2014 as CEO of Vulcan Materials Co., currently serves on Wells Fargo’s board. James declined to comment when reached by phone about the level of input the board will have in choosing Parker’s successor.
Edwards, Wells Fargo’s chief lawyer for commercial and wholesale banking since mid-2014, emerged relatively unscathed from the scandals roiling the bank’s consumer businesses in recent years. Edwards is well-regarded by many of his current and former colleagues, some of whom believe Wells Fargo should stay in-house for its next general counsel.
“Doug is an excellent lawyer—thoughtful, insightful, painstakingly thorough—but practical too,” said former Wells Fargo deputy general counsel Rebecca Sofley Henderson, now a principal at Blue Water Dispute Resolution Group near Charlotte. “Above all he is an advocate for his people. Wells Fargo would be well-served by him in that role.”
Other attorneys once considered likely candidates for the job weren’t so lucky, including Heidi Mason, a former San Francisco-based deputy general counsel who joined Wells Fargo in 2002.
Mason, a litigator and regulatory defense expert, relocated in 2017 to Des Moines, home of Wells Fargo’s massive mortgage business. While there, she was part of a team that worked with outside counsel in negotiating a $1 billion settlement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2018 over abusive consumer loan practices.
A bio for Mason on professional networking website LinkedIn shows that she left Wells Fargo in August. A message left for her at a residence in Des Moines was not returned by the time of this story.
As Wells Fargo prepares to transition the leadership of its law department for the second time in three years, it will be considering a variety of factors, not all of which could work in Edwards’ favor.
“There is a huge mandate now for diversity across the board, especially if you’re dealing with a publicly traded company that may want to change direction,” said Keith Gralitzer, a co-founder and managing director of legal recruitment firm Momentum Search Group. “You’ll often see companies, even those in the private sector, look outward to bring in candidates you might not have known were on the market.”
Gralitzer, who has no personal knowledge of Wells Fargo’s process for replacing Parker, added that many new CEOs or those involved in management changes at an enterprise often like to see an array of candidates when making a C-suite hire. Some business leaders will seek out those with whom they have worked before, Gralitzer said.
Stanley Stroup, who served as general counsel of Wells Fargo from 1998 until his retirement in 2003, said “it’s a long list” when asked about the criteria for choosing a new general counsel. He then ended a phone call.
Guy Rounsaville Jr., who preceded Stroup as general counsel and was an early champion for diversity at Wells Fargo, did not return a request for comment. James Strother, who succeeded Stroup and preceded Parker as Wells Fargo’s in-house legal chief, politely declined to discuss the process.
“No thanks, bye bye,” said the now-retired Strother when reached at his home outside San Francisco.