Stephanie Smith – Senior VP, Online Sales & Marketing, Wells Fargo

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Many of us are dealing with change right now. But if you’re in an industry like banking, where mergers and acquisitions are happening everywhere, change is the new constant – and execs are getting a crash course in managing during uncertain times.

Helping clients, colleagues and her team adjust to change is the biggest challenge Stephanie Smith, senior vice president of online sales and marketing for Wells Fargo, is facing at work right now. She now travels regularly between San Francisco and Charlotte, working to integrate the online channel for Wells Fargo’s famous acquisition, Wachovia, into the family – and communicating with Wachovia’s customers about how the banking integration will work.

“As a leader, I’m focused right now on how I can help my team go through change in a way that they find engaging, productive and energizing,” she says. How? “I’m asking other people exactly that question – how have they managed through change.” Smith says it comes down to the basics: “Being as honest as you can about what you know and clear about what you don’t know, breaking tasks down so they’re manageable and not overwhelming, and letting people sit with the emotions that change arouses for them.” At the end of the day, says Smith, change is taxing but also exciting. “We’re creating a coast-to-coast franchise that will provide banking services for one in three American households. And that’s really energizing.”

Here she talks to PINK about budgeting, balance and leadership during tough economic times.

PINK: What are your best tips for budgeting?
Stephanie Smith: First, just start. Most people think about it, want to do it, worry about. But they put it off. Time is on your side when you’re saving. The earlier you start, the bigger impact you’ll have. Track what you’re spending and what you’re spending it on. We’re all surprised when we do that to find out how much we spend on things we don’t need. Once you have a handle on where the money is going, look at what you need to spend on, cut down on the wants – and then set limits. Eventually, you want some amount left over at the end of the month to move automatically into savings or investments. It’s hard to keep your hands off of what you have left over when it’s just sitting in your checking account.

PINK: How are you approaching your own budgeting differently these days?
S.S.: My partner and I have two daughters [ages 6 and 8]. We’ve always saved and invested for their education and our retirement. Now we’re moving money automatically into our savings each month. You can’t spend what you can’t see. And over the last year, we’ve become more focused on differentiating between what we need and what we want – and have tried to cut back on the wants. The economy and news affects all of us, even if we continue to be employed and OK. We all know now that things change quickly, and you need to be prepared. So we’ve been preparing.

PINK: How do you manage your Life/Work balance?
S.S.: Any working parent is juggling lots of balls. The key is knowing which are glass and which are rubber – which you can let fall and which will break. You can’t keep everything up in the air. You have to drop something here and there – sometimes family, sometimes work. I travel to Charlotte [where Wachovia is based] fairly often now because of the merger. Recently, one of my daughters was having a terrible week. My intention was to stay one more night, but when I asked her what I could do to help her feel better, she said me coming home early. So I rescheduled meetings that could be done via phone or put off until the next week.

PINK: How do you approach leadership differently because of the challenge the recession has brought?
S.S.: When times are changing, leaders must do what they’ve always done but more intently and more intentionally. It’s always important to communicate, but right now, we need to over communicate – and be more accessible. Employees now need to hear from you regularly and be able to get to you, see you and ask questions. And I’m being very clear around short-term and long-term goals. It’s easy for people to get distracted when there’s a lot of change. So I’m saying, “This is what we’re focused on right now and why we’re doing the work we’re doing.”

PINK: How do you define “success”?
S.S.: Being as good a parent as I can be, taking care of my family, being an active participant in my community, and having an impact on the world through the work I’ve done. It’s also getting paid to do something I love.

PINK: What’s your professional success secret?
S.S.: I was working in nonprofits in my early 20s when a woman I worked for told me, “You don’t need to know all the answers, just how to ask the right questions.” I’ve done several different jobs in my career. I’ve gone in to most not knowing everything about the job. But I was successful because I asked questions and listened closely to the answers – and hired the right people.

PINK: What do you do to relax and rejuvenate your spirit?
S.S.: Getting that time at the end of the day where you don’t focus on work or kids. My partner and I try and make sure we get a chance to sit down, maybe have a glass of wine and connect every night after the kids go to bed. Also, I love to learn so I’m always doing some independent study on something that intrigues me. Right now, I’m focused on Roman history. Before that, it was the history of U.S. Supreme Court – whatever is in news or my catches my attention that’s not work-related. And I walk part of the way to work at least three mornings a week. If I have early meetings, I put my walk time on my calendar to remind myself I need to leave earlier for that.

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