Wells Fargo’s executive vice president and head of corporate communications, Oscar Suris, is a former journalist and occasionally his former peers give him a hard time about leaving their field for the “dark side” of public relations. His response: he didn’t join the dark side; he joined the inside. After stints at some uniquely American companies, including Ford Motor Company, Suris joined Wells Fargo in 2010. Here, the former Wall Street Journal writer shares how he’s helping the financial industry win back America’s trust.
“I was born in Havana in July of 1964 and nine months later, my parents made the decision to leave for good. We made our way through Mexico, to Queens and, eventually, Staten Island, but we settled in Miami when I was seven, which is what I consider to be my hometown. I live the life I have today because my parents decided to leave Cuba. I like to say that I was born lucky. Who knows the life I’d have today if it weren’t for their decision.
My love of journalism developed when I was still in high school; that’s when I got the bug. I went to the University of Florida, with every intention of studying journalism. My freshman year, I received a scholarship and an internship at a newspaper. My sophomore year, I made what could seem like an unusual decision: I decided to get a degree in finance. My rationale was that I wanted to take advantage of the educational opportunity I’d been given. I knew I was going to be in the newsroom, but I was interested in becoming a finance journalist. I can honestly say my finance degree paid all kinds of dividends.
I was a staff business writer for the Orlando Sentinel when I met my future wife. We were engaged within three months and we’ll soon be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. After our engagement, I accepted an offer to work for the Wall Street Journal. We moved to Detroit and for the next four years I’d be covering the automotive industry.
After leaving the Wall Street Journal, I got my first taste of corporate life when I was introduced to David Lawrence, the publisher of the Miami Herald. I became his executive assistant and as part of senior leadership, I saw how companies make sausage; I saw how all the functions come together to make a business run. As a journalist, I really enjoyed writing about how sausage got made, but my time with David made me realize that what I enjoyed more was making sausage and being hands on in the process.
My first real job in corporate communications was with AutoNation, Inc., which was started by the founder of Blockbuster. He was building the largest chain of automotive dealerships; he had 400 across the country, which was an unheard of number at the time. I found that I enjoyed working as a PR professional; I enjoyed helping companies tell their stories and coaching them on how to think strategically about their communications.
While at the Wall Street Journal I spent so much time writing about Ford, and in 2003, my family and I left for the chilly Midwest again so that I could take on the role of director of corporate communications for Ford Motor Company. I was able to work with William “Bill” Ford, Jr. during a fascinating period, around the time of the company’s 100th anniversary and through the financial crisis of 2008, when the company was able to avoid bankruptcy without the government’s help.
When I received a call about an opening at Wells Fargo, I knew it was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up. It’s another great American brand founded 160 years ago by the founders of American Express. I feel lucky to be a part of what I believe to be the most relevant industry: financial services—an industry that touches the lives of everyone. I joined on the heels of the Wachovia acquisition. Overnight, the company doubled in size and you’d be hard pressed to find a story of similar growth with the signing of a single document. As a Latino, reaching this level is a particular point of pride for me.
I’ve worked with many PR professionals who were never reporters, but are still great at their jobs and have a deep understanding of the communications environment. Having my news background has helped me in a different way; it allows me to do a great job of explaining how the news media works. There’s still a lack of understanding of how it all comes together and that’s something I can shed light on.
When it comes to the financial-services field, the American public still has a healthy dose of skepticism, and I never forget that for one moment of one day. We’re trying to win back the trust we lost during the financial crisis. Until we do, we have to maintain a healthy, honest dialogue and earn back the right to tell our stories. Thankfully, Wells Fargo is a company that understands that.”
Thinking Out Loud: Trading Words with Oscar Suris
Having family, friends, and opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.
Great pride, awesome food, passion for life.
What it must feel like to be a pro ball player. Every day you suit up for your big game. You’re on a stage and everything you do matters.
Teams accomplishing things together that were previously assumed impossible. It’s why our country is amazing: every day we’re recreating and evolving.