Written by Gabriel Dillard
As a young woman straight out of high school and baking pies at a Marie Callender’s in Fresno, Sandy Raco didn’t think she’d be moving up the ranks at the Wells Fargo bank across the street.
Raco, regional president for the greater Central Valley region for Wells Fargo, is retiring this month after working for the bank for nearly 49 years.
A lifelong Central Valley resident, Raco’s father was born in Colorado to Italian immigrants and her mother was originally from Southern California before she moved to the Central Valley.
Even before she was in finance or baking pies at Marie Callender’s, Raco was driving a tractor on the family farm at 10 years old. Through working as a young child on the farm, and with inspiration from a hardworking family, Raco learned early on the importance of working hard.
“The challenge of driving that tractor was the inspiration for me to always take on challenges even when the chance of success was very low. It’s all about self pride and a can do attitude,” Raco said.
After graduating from Fowler High School in 1972, Raco began work at a Marie Callender’s at Blackstone and Ashlan avenues. The bankers from the Wells Fargo across the street were impressed by her work ethic, and one of the manager’s asked her to consider working for the bank.
Even though she didn’t have any experience in the banking industry, and she still had plans to attend college, Raco was hired. Normally, a new bank employee starts off as a bank teller, but she started right away handling new accounts.
In between handling new accounts, Raco was also trained as a teller. She was learning the trade on the go.
Within the first five years of starting at Wells Fargo, she was promoted from new accounts to a personal banker.
Raco eventually moved to positions including premier banker, and after around seven years since she first began, she became a branch manager for the Fresno main branch of Wells Fargo.
Throughout her career, Raco managed small and large mergers and managed multiple branches at one time. Even though she didn’t go to college, the work shops and seminars provided by Wells Fargo helped her understand the industry better and helped her move up in the bank.
“My experience has been huge in far as being able to see what mergers and acquisitions are all about, being able to take on responsibility and being held accountable for multiple branches, and working alongside so many great employees at Wells Fargo Bank,” Raco said.
Raco kept moving up the ranks, from branch manager she was then promoted to a district manager, then a market area manager to market president, and finally regional president.
As the times moved forward, so did aspects of the banking industry. The shift towards moving banking operations to computers and online was a challenge, but Raco said that the digital aspect of banking helps provide a better experience for customers, so it was a responsibility to learn computers.
The banking industry was not excluded by the vice grips of the Covid-19 pandemic. Issues around the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other financial challenges meant life and death for business viability.
Raco said that working from home and not being able to interact face to face with others was a challenge, but Raco said that banks were one of the first industries to start implementing changes that eventually started taking hold all over the world — hand sanitizer, social distancing, plastic guards and masks.
Proud of being in good health, Raco said she will be able to step off the Wells Fargo “stagecoach” after 49 years of service.
One thing she is really looking forward to — waking up later than 5 a.m. and having a cup of coffee without having to get on a conference call. Raco is really looking forward to doing some travelling to new places she has never been to and learn about other cultures.
She said she also wants to take some time to listen to some old records from Elvis and George Strait and spend time with family and friends.
“I am very pleased with what I’ve accomplished with Well’s Fargo and I am very pleased with the bank giving me the opportunity. I’m excited to walk off the stagecoach knowing that I still have a few more years to enjoy the things I want to enjoy.”
The Business Journal featured Sandy Raco in the Executive Profile back in March 2017. Here are some excerpts from that feature:
Did you ever see yourself celebrating a 45th anniversary with Wells Fargo?
I didn’t. Opportunities for women in the workforce in 1972 weren’t as great as they are today; my primary objective, when I began working, was to be as useful as possible as I didn’t have tangible long-term goals at that time. When I was quite young, I was driven by the attitude of needing to be self-reliant, wanting to be dependable, and refusing not to succeed.
What do you like best about your job?
I am proud to be part of the Wells Fargo legend, which mirrors my passion to help people reach their potential. I make it my mission to aid in the growth and success of my team because I have always felt valued and have been provided the support I needed to further my career.
What are the biggest challenges with your job?
I believe the challenges I have had, like everyone else in a large corporation, is accepting the constantly evolving environment. Throughout the years, I have learned how to adjust quickly; I believe it has made me a strong individual, and leader, who continues to succeed in today’s changing environment.
Tell us a little about the philanthropic work Wells Fargo does in the Central Valley.
We are proud of our commitment to the communities we serve. Our final numbers for 2016 have not yet been released, but in 2015 Wells Fargo invested more than $1.9 million in schools and non-profits in the Central Valley market.
And while our commitment, as a business is impressive, I’d like to take a moment to applaud our team members – all 750 of them – who dug deep into their own pockets and donated more than $237,000 to charities, schools, and causes that are of the greatest importance to them.
In 2016, our team members donated more than 8,100 volunteer hours to communities in Amador, Calaveras, Fresno, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne counties (these are the counties that make up the footprint of the Central Valley market)
If you weren’t in banking, what sort of profession do you think you’d be involved with?
For years, my primary job with Wells Fargo has been motivating people, coaching them, and helping them be the best they can be. I have helped them identify their primary goals of their job and provided them with the tools to succeed. If I weren’t in banking, I would see myself in a similar job doing much the same things that I have done at Wells Fargo. I am a people-oriented person and am most gratified when I see my team members succeed.