Welcome to Powerful Leaders, No Apologies.



Show Notes

Debbie talks with Kim Wolfe as shares her remarkable journey from humble beginnings to becoming a powerhouse leader in the legal tech industry. With candid insights, she reveals how she navigated corporate challenges, overcame personal adversities, and unlocked the secrets to transformative leadership. From her experiences surviving 9/11 to her unconventional path to success, Wolfe’s story serves as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring

Links from the episode:

Connect with Debbie on LinkedIn      

Powerful Leaders Swag Shop    

[5:43] Managing a legal operations team

[10:52] Unsung heroes

[21:53] Developing & supporting others

  • Transcript


    Debbie Foster (00:03): 

    Welcome back to the Powerful Leaders No apologies podcast, where we celebrate fierce, fabulous females making waves in the legal world. I’m Debbie Foster and I’m excited to introduce you to these women who are leading the charge with their bold leadership and influential journeys ready to be inspired by their powerful stories. Here’s the show. 



    I always say that I’m excited about every episode and it’s really not a lie. I’m always excited about every episode and if y’all could see the list of people that I want to have on this podcast, it’s so crazy long, and then I’m always jockeying like, do I move this person here, move that person there. But today I am super excited because I have Kim Wolfe from Wells Fargo on the podcast today as my guest, and I’m going to just jump right in and say, Kim, I would love to hear about your journey where you are now and kind of how it all got started. 


    Kim Wolfe (01:01): 

    Thanks, Debbie. Before I get started, I have to say the excitement is all mine. I have listened to every episode since the beginning and have inspired, inspired by all of your conversation. So thank you. 


    Debbie Foster (01:14): 

    I’m glad you’re here, and I love to hear that because sometimes being a podcast host is like the extra job that I never knew I wanted or needed, but it’s been so fun and when I finish every episode, I think the same thing. I get so inspired by our guests. So I’m glad you feel that way and thank you for sharing that. 


    Kim Wolfe (01:33): 

    Of course. So in my current role, I lead a legal operations team at Wells Fargo and we focus on the work in legal that doesn’t require you to be a lawyer, like developing and delivering the legal tech strategy. We manage and analyze data, the most fun part, improving and automating processes, and then we also handle things like the administration and technical support, legal intake and so on. In my opinion, it is the really fun stuff because it has a big impact and the result of our doing it means that the lawyers get to focus more time on the law. If I think about my career journey and where I’ve come from and how I’ve gotten here, there are a couple of things that come to mind. First, I didn’t plan to be here. I grew up wanting to be nothing but a kindergarten teacher. I remember lining up my stuffed animals and my chalkboard on my bed at like five or six years old and just playing school and giving my animals homework and all that stuff, but at a pretty young age and reinforced when I was about ready to go to college, my father squashed those dreams and he told me he wouldn’t pay for college if I studied education. 



    And he had nothing against teachers. He was just terrified because at that time, teachers really experienced a lot of violence in New York City schools and whatnot, and he was really more out of worry for me than anything. Wow. Nevertheless, I come from a really strict Italian family where you don’t even think about defying your father. And so I complied, and when I went to college, I studied math and computers and business, and I did enjoy it, but it wasn’t what I grew up wanting to do. Now, a little about my dad, he had a car repair business and his customers used to call him Dr. Nick because there wasn’t anything he couldn’t fix, and he even had a doctor’s emblem on his business card. It was the funniest thing. And so as I progressed through school and then into the workplace, I actually started to realize that these skills and all the knowledge that I’d acquired are helping me to solve problems. 



    And I found myself in positions where I could make things better and automate processes. And when I start looking at the string of things that I’ve done over the years, they were all really different. A couple of examples I built, I know your customer function before KYC was even a thing, I’ve had an opportunity to build a client service function for a bank’s most important clients and traveled all over the world. Then I set up a profit and loss reporting system for traders so they could see how much money they were making or losing on every position. And I’ll never forget in that position, my team and I had to be in by six o’clock in the morning every day. But my most favorite of all has been the most recent part of my career journey where I’ve set up and led legal operations teams. And I just love the intellectual challenge of working with lawyers and the fact that my skills and their skills really compliment each other. And so you say, okay, all these different things, but there really is a common thread and it kind of makes me laugh because at the end of the day, everything I’ve done has been a situation where I’ve either fixed or built something. And the irony is that without even realizing it or intending it, I’ve become my dad. 



    And that’s something we all vow not to do, right? Be like our parents. I’m just kind of glad it was my dad and not my mom, but I laugh at myself now. I’m the mechanic, but it’s for business rather than cars. 


    Debbie Foster (05:11): 

    That’s an amazing story. And when you say you lead a legal operations team at Wells Fargo, I mean your official title is Managing Director Head of Legal Business Solutions. Yes. That I guess is technically leading a legal operations team, but you have a really big role and Wells Fargo’s not a little teeny tiny bank or anything like that. And so I’d love to hear just a little bit about your team. How many people are on your team, and what does managing a legal operations team at Wells Fargo look like? 


    Kim Wolfe (05:43): 

    It’s a team of about 150 or so. I’ve got nine direct reports and each of them manages their own teams and one individual contributor. And the part that makes this team really, really special is the way they work together. Over the past few years that I’ve been at Wells, we’ve developed a real trust. We’ve developed a sense of true psychological safety. They’re not afraid to challenge me. I encourage it and they enjoy doing it and putting me on the spot at times. And we’ve gotten to a point where we all really understand each other’s space so that we can collaborate and contribute to solving problems together. And it’s just an absolutely amazing thing to watch when one person on the team says, we’re having an issue with this, and what do you think? And what do you think? And well, how about this? And just to see all of those ideas and solutions organically develop is probably the absolute most fun part of my job. But it took us a while to get there. 


    Debbie Foster (06:44): 

    Sorry. No, no. I have seen firsthand because I’ve had the pleasure of working with a couple of people that work with you and I see how much they respect you as a leader and how hard they work to make sure that the vision that you’ve set forth of the things that you want to accomplish with their help, that those dreams can all come true. And I think it speaks to also on LinkedIn, your little bio on LinkedIn says that you are a legal operations whisperer with a passion for sparking solutions and evoking excellence, and you’re a change champion. And because we’ve gotten to work together some, I have definitely seen the change champion part and the whisperer part and the evoking excellence. Your team is so motivated to make your vision come true of where you want to bring legal operations at Wells Fargo, and that takes a pretty strong leader to be able to get that kind of support behind you. 


    Kim Wolfe (07:47): 

    Thank you. But I have to say, I’m going to correct you a little bit. It’s not my vision, it’s our vision. We’ve spent a lot of time together talking about the things that we can make better in a legal department, and I spark the ideas, but ultimately we get to the final place together and it’s ours. 


    Debbie Foster (08:08): 

    And I’d imagine you’re one of those leaders who makes sure that all of the other people get the credit for the things that they work so hard to make happen, 


    Kim Wolfe (08:17): 

    And they deserve it so much. None of it would be possible without them. They do work really hard. I’ve got one person on my team who describes some of the work he does by saying it gives him goosebumps. And that is the coolest thing, that I’m not the only one who wakes up and is super excited about what we’re doing, but we share that passion and satisfaction for really making a difference. 


    Debbie Foster (08:41): 

    Wow. That’s waking up with goosebumps. And I do, you and I have talked about how alike we are on so many things, and I do wake up in the morning too, and I’m so excited for the day. And even though they come challenges, they often do come with challenges. It’s really cool to be part of a team that’s helping to solve those problems and hear someone tell you that they wake up in the morning and they have goosebumps about their job. That’s pretty awesome. Okay, let’s talk a little bit about Unsung Heroes. A shout out to people who have been influential in your journey and who have inspired you to do the amazing things that you’ve been able to do in your career. 


    Kim Wolfe (09:24): 

    Gosh, there’ve been a few. And I would say that some of the people who have been my worst managers have inspired me in so many ways around the things not to do, but they don’t get all the credit. The biggest credit of all goes to my husband. And I know that sounds really cliche, but when I look back on my career journey, he has been by my side first as my boyfriend, later as my husband, but every single step of the way pushing me towards the things that I’ve been afraid of. And that’s what’s really key. And not only that, he’s assumed a ton of responsibility at home in raising our children. And there are six so that I could shine in my career. And there were three decisions in particular that have completely shaped my career and would be very, very different without him. 



    The first was around pursuing my MBA, and I had been admitted to the Wharton School of Business, and I was shocked that I got accepted, to be honest. And I was at the point where I had this to decide, do I do it or don’t I? And I was waffling towards, no, I’m not going to do it for two reasons. I didn’t know that I was going to be able to balance work and school. And then secondly, I didn’t feel worthy enough to be part of such a prestigious program. And then he stepped in and he said to me, are you out of your mind? Do you know what I would do for such an opportunity? How could you even consider turning it down? And the Guild trip works, and I decided to do it, and it was an awesome decision and it’s had a tremendous impact on my career as well as the way I think about things. 



    And then the second decision was I was given an opportunity to take an overseas assignment. And when you work in an international bank, an overseas assignment is something that you’re really encouraged to do. It increases your global perspective, it teaches you to lead in a different way. And I always wanted to do it, but again, we had kids and he has his own career, and I’m always worried about everyone else. I don’t want to impose my future on everyone else. And so we were offered an opportunity to go to Glasgow, Scotland for a few years, and I told my manager no when he presented it to me and I said, Nope, I don’t want to disrupt the kids, my husband’s career. And after the discussion with my manager, I said, well, lemme call my husband and tell him. And I called him and he answered the phone and he happened to be in the dentist chair, which is bizarre. And he says to me, what Glasgow? Where’s Glasgow? I said, Scotland. He said, oh, alright, let’s do it. I said, what? And I was shaking my head in disbelief. I hung up the phone with him, walked back into my matter’s office, and I said, okay, we’ll do it. And a few months later, we found ourselves settling into a new country, a new culture, a new everything. And it was an incredibly valuable experience in teaching me not to think. So us Ally. 


    Debbie Foster (12:17): 

    Now your whole family went to Scotland. 


    Kim Wolfe (12:20): 

    So there were three children out of the six went with us, yes. Wow. The other three did not. And then the third big decision, believe it or not, my latest one moving to Wells Fargo. I had been at Barclays for 21 years, and while I was so excited about this new opportunity, I mean, can you imagine 21 years in one place? I was hesitant to leave the people my tenure, the sense of familiarity. I’d grown up at Barclays as a professional and it was assumed by everyone I’d never leave, including me and my husband again. He pushed me outside of my comfort zone towards this new opportunity. And I can honestly say it’s been one of the best career decisions in my life. 


    Debbie Foster (13:02): 

    Wow. Again, we’ve talked about this where so much alike. I have a husband who also has prioritized supporting me in my career since we’ve been married. And I would have to put him on my list of the unsung heroes, although everyone who works really closely with me recognizes it regularly and is like, oh, you can do that because of Dan. And I’m like, yep, exactly. Because Dan’s doing all that other stuff. For sure. 


    Kim Wolfe (13:32): 

    Well, I have to tell you, I don’t know if my husband realizes I feel this way, and he’ll probably find out if he listens to the podcast. Right. 


    Debbie Foster (13:39): 

    Well, we’ll have to send him a link. Your husband has a super cool job as well. 


    Kim Wolfe (13:45): 

    He does. 


    Debbie Foster (13:46): 

    Do you want to talk about that for a minute? 


    Kim Wolfe (13:48): 

    Oh my gosh. I could talk for hours about that. I’d love to talk more about him instead of me. But yeah, so he’s a chef, a private chef, and he’s cooked for some really interesting people like Whoopi Goldberg and Will Smith, Tony Blair, even Jamie Diamond at JP Morgan Chase. And we run a Secret Supper club out of our home. And we’re now in the progress of opening up a culinary studio. And I say we because it’s him, but I do a lot of behind the scenes work and in the same way he has supported me through all these years, I support him as well. 


    Debbie Foster (14:21): 

    That’s super cool. And I cannot wait to have a meal with the Secret Supper Club crew. It’s definitely going to be on my list. And I’ve enjoyed hearing the story there, and I think it’s really great that you have found a way in your really busy schedule to still figure out how to give back and make sure that you support him in that career journey. 


    Kim Wolfe (14:43): 

    Thank you. And we’d love to host you. 


    Debbie Foster (14:46): 

    I’m going to be there. You can count on it. Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about obstacles and challenges. We’ve all had our battle scars and done some victory dances. I’d love to hear about a challenge or something that you’ve overcome or a moment of triumph that makes you smile or laugh when you look back. 


    Kim Wolfe (15:06): 

    Yeah. So I’m, I’m going to take us back to a really, really horrible day in America’s history. And it might even be one that some of your listeners don’t remember firsthand since it was so long ago. But nine 11 on that day, I was downtown with my husband directly in front of the World Trade Center. It was the corner of Church Street and Liberty Street when the first tower was hit. And he had driven me to work that morning, was going to drop me off and head to Long Island for his own appointment. And when that first tower was hit, we were at a red light and our SUV shook as if there were three people on each side of it, shaking it like a seesaw. And we didn’t know what happened. We couldn’t comprehend what had happened. And we heard the explosion and whatnot got out of the car. 



    And when we looked up for a few short seconds, I felt like I was in a movie. The city was eerily silent, and we saw these full sheets of paper just gracefully wafting down from the towers, from the sky to the ground. And then a few seconds later, it was like somebody flipped the switch and there was complete chaos, sirens, people screaming, people crying, including myself. And then very sadly, people jumping. So I got back into the car and I was trying to get control of myself and what was going on. And I remember vividly just sitting there saying to myself, I have to go to work. And work was only four blocks away. I could have gotten out and walked. And I was having this internal argument with myself. And now it’s important to note that my manager at the time was very intimidating. 



    And I was saying to myself, I have to go to work. I don’t want to go to work. I have to go to work. My manager’s going to be angry with me. He’s going to see me as a weak leader. He’s going to scoff at me for not going in. And I just kept saying, I don’t want to go. I just want to go home. I tried frantically calling him and I couldn’t get through because there was no service after the tower had been hit. And ultimately I did decide not to go. And it was one of the most stressful decisions. It sounds silly, but it was so stressful because it was the first time that I had to decide to put me and my personal needs ahead of my expectations of my manager. And it was a real turning point in my life where I had made that conscious decision to take back my control from a really strong personality. 


    Debbie Foster (17:30): 

    You mentioned before you talked about people feeling safe and psychological safety and how important that is at work. And I was just in the last episode of the podcast is I had two guests on, two women leaders in law firms that I have been mentoring. And we talked about that a bit as well, about how the lessons that you learn coming up through leadership aren’t always because you watch someone do something really well. Sometimes it’s when you watch someone do something not so well and you make a decision. And I think that’s true even in parenting. And your original story talking about, wait, I didn’t want to become my dad and then look, I became my dad. We make these decisions when these things happen to us and think about how am I going to do this differently and how am I going to take the experiences that I’ve had with leaders, good leaders, what am I going to take from them to apply and leaders who weren’t necessarily all that great, and how am I going to make sure that people feel differently? So I’m guessing that that experience not only has made you think about how you control your own decisions and kind of take that power back, but how you lead your team as well and making sure that they can do the same thing with you as their leader. 


    Kim Wolfe (18:49): 

    Gosh, that is so true. And I don’t even think it’s conscious at this point. It’s just part of who I am and it’s an ingrained in how I operate. 


    Debbie Foster (18:59): 

    And when we think about the people, there’s all these quotes about leadership, about be the kind of leader that you would follow or be someone that people believe in instead of just someone that people will listen to. And I think that’s been a recurring theme here on the podcast with the leaders that we’ve had talking about how they can be influential and impact other people’s lives in their journeys. And sometimes that means people leaving us and moving on to different things or other opportunities. And I’m wondering any thoughts about that, about how you develop your people and what happens when they leave, when you develop them and they leave for other opportunities? 


    Kim Wolfe (19:44): 

    Oh my gosh, you’re bringing back some memories. I actually encourage people to leave, believe it or not, and it hurts emotionally or personally because you don’t have that same day-to-day relationship. But I remember a time when I worked in an old role, I used to keep track of all the people that I had hired, trained up, develop, develop, and got them out into different roles. And within three years I counted 40 and was, I was so proud of that. And I had managed a team at the time that was the team that nobody wanted to work for. It was like the lowest of low of the work you could do in operations. But I would attract these really smart, really talented young people and explain to them how to think about the role and what opportunities it could lead to. And my track record spoke for itself and it was so cool. And even today, I’m always thinking about what opportunities are available in different parts of the organization and who might be a good fit. And sometimes I’ve got to kind of push them out of the nest and be the mama bear saying, it’s time to go because I want to see you develop more or you’re ready to fly. 


    Debbie Foster (21:00): 

    Yeah, it’s such a cool thing to be able to do as a leader. It’s one of my favorite parts of being a leader is being able to help people move up in our organization, or if someone gets a great opportunity that makes sense for them personally and for their families and for their professional growth and development that we, I always say cheer them on their way out, cheer them on, celebrate them and make sure they know that they left their mark here. But sometimes there are other opportunities that just make sense. 


    Kim Wolfe (21:34): 

    And how cool is it to be able to troll LinkedIn and see people that I’ve hired when I was in my twenties or my thirties who are now COOs or head traders or sitting in these really big job and it’s like, wow, this is so cool. And I knew I saw something in you at the time and I’m so excited that you were able to build upon it. 


    Debbie Foster (21:56): 

    Yeah, that’s cool. And that kind of brings us to our last question, which is one of my favorite questions because I love hearing people talk about their leadership superpowers. And we ask everyone this at the end for a couple of reasons. First, I love hearing about it, I get to do that. But the second reason is we don’t always do a great job of tooting our own horns and talking about what we do really well. And I think we should all do more of that. And so this is an opportunity for you. I’d love to hear what your leadership superpower is. 


    Kim Wolfe (22:29): 

    Alright, well, I’m going to be really, really vulnerable here. So as a child, I had to endure quite a few years of both physical and emotional abuse and none, it was intentional. It was really like a byproduct of the Italian cultural norms at the time. And those experiences conditioned me to put on this brave exterior and expertly hide the terrified interior. And I’ve gone through my career projecting myself as this strong confident leader, but honestly inside I’ve harbored tons of self-doubts and low confidence. And it’s really just in the past five years or so that they’ve kind of caught up with each other, my internal confidence and my external confidence kind of match. And so you’re probably sitting there saying, how does this translate into a superpower? And here’s how it all comes together, because I’ve grappled with this disconnect between what people see of me versus how I feel inside. 



    It’s really sensitized me to this and other people. And I feel like I have this spidey sense where I can recognize a strength or a talent in someone who’s lacking confidence or not projecting confidence. And I pick up on it in a conversation or an interview or maybe just it’s plain old gut. And then when I detect it, I get this incredible passion about hiring that person or leading them to draw it out. And there’ve been countless examples in my career where I pulled someone into my leadership and help them find their voice or harness their strengths or overcome the impact of just a really bad leader who’s knocked them down in the past, and I didn’t even recognize this of my superpower, Debbie, until I stumbled across an email just recently that I’d saved and it was sent to me by a female colleague on my last day in my previous company. 



    And she wrote, you manage to make people feel important. You recognize and place value on the one, and you did that for me. And I was so touched by her words and so taken aback by the sentiment that I remember taking my phone and snapping a photo of the email on the screen. We couldn’t send them home to each other to ourselves because it meant so much. And the best moments in my career have been the ones that someone I didn’t even know that had impacted, reached out and let me know how much my support or words or actions might’ve helped. So I really don’t know what kind of label to put on the superpower, but I’m really glad that my life experiences have culminated into this being it. 


    Debbie Foster (25:04): 

    Wow. It’s like you see something in others that they don’t see and then you help them figure out how to leverage that. I don’t know if there’s a word for that, but what an amazing superpower. Something else that you touched on in there is really the idea that we have all impacted so many people and we don’t even know it, but there’s also a message there about who could you let know that they impacted you? Maybe doesn’t know that. 


    Kim Wolfe (25:34): 

    Oh my gosh, I do that all the time. There was a guy that I interviewed with years ago, and I just saw on LinkedIn that he got put into a really big role at a company, and I just dropped him a note and I said, I just wanted to let you know I’m so excited for you. You really impacted me. I’ve always been inspired of you. Congratulations. And that was it. And he responded instantly, which I did not expect. And it’s a gift, right? It’s a gift to receive and it’s a gift to give. 


    Debbie Foster (26:04): 

    Yeah. It reminds me just a few weeks ago I posted something about speaking at the A conference in Denver in May, and someone had commented on it and said, I’m speaking too, and I am excited to see you in Denver. And I said, yeah, I would love to catch up. And she said, I started my own business because you encouraged me to, 


    Kim Wolfe (26:29): 

    Oh wow. 


    Debbie Foster (26:30): 

    Please tell me more. I definitely want to catch up in Denver Now I want to hear how that happened. Because those kinds of things are just not always on our radar. You say something or you do something that someone takes with them and think that really describes your superpower is when you do that for someone and you draw that out and you give them the courage or the strength or whatever to really leverage something that you see that they didn’t, that’s the gift that keeps on giving, right? They get to keep that forever, and they’ll always remember that you were the one who did that. That’s really powerful. Yeah, thank you. It’s super powerful. Okay, we are at the end of our time and I could talk to you for days, hours, and we will get to do some of that because I’ll see you at the clock conference in just a couple of weeks. Absolutely, yes. Looking forward to it. Thank you so much. Thank you for being the guest today, and I really appreciate you sharing. I appreciate your vulnerability and your candor and just sharing these leadership experiences that I think are super valuable for our listeners. And that wraps up this episode of The Powerful Leaders No apologies podcast. Thanks for listening. 



    And that’s a wrap. Are you feeling inspired? Take that energy and go make a difference today. And don’t forget to subscribe to Keep up with our latest episodes, and if today’s show really resonated with you, share this episode with your friends and colleagues. You’ll also find some resources and ways to connect in the show notes. So until our next episode, get out there and change the world.