In 1987, Tracy Curtis moved from her native England to Yuba City, California, following her then-husband, a US Air Force serviceman, and toting along a 4-year-old son. “If you’re from England, you’ve never seen anything like it,” she remembers. “I’d only seen America on TV, where it was all palm trees.” (Yuba City bills itself as the Prune Capital of the World.) She found two places hiring: Mervyn’s department store and the local Wells Fargo, which needed a part-time teller. She chose the latter. “It was a job until I found something else, frankly,” she says.

In some sense, she certainly did find something else. Within two years, Curtis had been promoted from teller to account rep. Today, Curtis’s office commands a sweeping view of downtown Portland. As Wells Fargo’s regional president for Oregon and Southwest Washington since January, she guides the bank’s 128 branches in the region, its customer service, its charitable and community work, and—more generally—its efforts to keep up with a transforming industry.

“The day is coming when customers will do just about everything with their mobile phones,” she says. “We’re thinking about what our branches look like, how we interact with customers, all of it.”

She brings to the task 26 years of experience—all at Wells Fargo, except for 89 discontented days working at a local Yuba City bank before Wells Fargo lured her back. (This precise accounting of tenure is as close as Curtis comes to discussing her age. “I feel 25,” she says. “How’s that?”) Most recently, Curtis served as the bank’s president for San Francisco, Wells Fargo’s headquarters city, a posting that gives her a distinct perspective on the Portland market.

“Portland could be on its way to some things that happened in San Francisco, and maybe not great things,” she says. “You heard about gentrification every day there—that the Mission District had been taken over by yuppies, and so on. But I think Portland is more family-friendly and community-oriented than San Francisco. There, I would never see a mom and her kids in a center-city branch.”

She says a big part of her job is staying attuned to those nuances—how the services and atmosphere at a Portland urban branch differ from a branch in, say, Madras. With Wells Fargo no. 2 in deposits in the territory, behind US Bank, Curtis aspires to “out-local” the competition. Her career arc gives her a keen eye for opportunity.

“When I started, women couldn’t wear pants to work,” she says. “But I saw that this was a company where it didn’t matter if you were male or female. You could move up.”

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