Behind The Scenes: Strategic Planning At Wells Fargo

Industry insight: Sayeed Sanullah, First Vice President (Strategy & Analytics) at Wells Fargo


Ahead of his presentation at the Strategic Planning Innovation Summit in New York this December 5-6th, we spoke to Sayeed Sanullah, First Vice President (Strategy & Analytics) at Wells Fargo.

Sayeed is a dynamic, award-winning, and result-oriented leader with strategic influencing capabilities, entrepreneurial skills and high level of motivation. He has 15 years of progressive experience in financial services, banking, information technology, life science, biotechnology, and automotive industries, particularly, in various functions of strategy, finance, M&A, marketing, sales, software products development, and technology promotion. He has increased profitability, generated growth, managed risk and led cultural change on multiple occasions.

How did you get started in your career?

After earning Mechanical Engineering degree with the minor in economics from India’s top engineering college – IIT Kanpur, I accepted a software design and development job offer with Geometric Global. I was always interested in Strategic Planning role. I led product management and customer engagement at my second job with Parametric Technology Corporation. Thereafter, I joined IBM as Strategic Planning manager and managed a digital product at IBM Software Lab. After graduating with MBA (Strategy & Finance) degree from Washington University in St. Louis, I am leading strategic planning and execution for Wealth and Investment Management business of Wells Fargo.

How do you think the role of a strategist is changing?

The core of a strategist role remains the same – create/add value by leveraging strategic insights and planning. However, the role today also requires a different approach to be effective. A strategist should not just excel at strategic thinking at the 30,000 feet level, but also be comfortable with rolling up sleeves and getting hands dirty with tactical and day-to-day efforts. As the business value chain becomes more complex, the rate of change of the internal and external environments increases, and the differentiation powers shifts towards customer interaction and partner network, a strategist has to lessen the focus on predictions and shift into rapid prototyping and experimentation, so that he/she learns quickly about what actually works. Instead of the old approach of making a plan and sticking to it, (which led to centralized strategic planning around fixed time horizons) strategists should believe in setting a direction, testing it, and treating the whole organization as a team that is experimenting its way to success.

How do you ensure your long term plans are reactive to disruption?

I think long-term plans should not be reactive but proactive to disruption. One of the best approaches to be proactive to disruption is to observe, analyze, and learn from not just how companies are disrupted in one’s industry, but also how companies are being/ disrupted across all industries. I study and evaluate how customers’ expectations, preferences, and experiences are shaped and influenced by different companies/industries who fulfill their needs and aspirations. I leverage all such insights and regularly adapt, adjust, reshape, refresh, and recalibrate my long-term plans. I am comfortable with uncertainty and open to taking informed and calculated risks after assessing and evaluating multiple scenarios.

What are the main challenges companies face when planning their innovation strategy?

1. Rapidly changing external environment – both within the industry and outside which impacts customer experiences and expectations

2. Unaligned stakeholders and silos within a company

3. Improper measurement process and metrics for the strategy success of innovation

What will you be discussing during your presentation at the Strategic Planning Innovation Summit?

My presentation is going to be about Strategic Planning in a digital age. Consumers in the digital age aren’t as loyal to brands as they once were. They expect to be served whenever they want, wherever they want, and however they want. New and nimble competitors with innovative business models emerge from unexpected places. Many of those competitors pose a formidable challenge to established players at an increasingly fast pace. The business value chains have become more complex than ever before. With such rapid changes in both external and internal environments, strategic planning needs rethinking - a different structure, a different process, and a different timeline.

You can hear from Sayeed and other industry leaders at the Strategic Planning Innovation Summit, taking place in New York this December 5-6th.

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