Xavier Magazine

Profile: Les Biller

Master of Business Administration, 1973
Retired Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, Wells Fargo Bank
Los Angeles

Personal Philanthropy | Biller capped a highly successful career when he retired as vice chairman and chief operating officer from Wells Fargo Bank in 2002. Since he’s not really the retiring sort, he decided to invest his time and money in helping others. “I was fairly active in the community while working, but I hadn’t done as much as I wanted in personal philanthropy,” he says. “Since retiring, we’ve really ramped up our philanthropy through our foundation.” Biller and his wife founded the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation to enhance the quality of life in communities.

Compassionate Care | One of the foundation’s most significant projects is supporting the Patient and Family Cancer Resource Center at City of Hope cancer research hospital in Los Angeles. The center’s aim is to reduce the stress on cancer patients and their families by blending “compassionate care” with high-quality clinical care. “They are under enormous stress,” says Biller. “If we can reduce that with compassionate care, then the quality of life of the patient goes up and, we believe, the survival rate also goes up.”

Never Alone | The center assigns a person to act as a “navigator” for the patient to assist with any needs. “The concept is the patient and family are not going through this alone. We’re going through it with you,” says Biller. “We think this can be enormously powerful in both quality of life and survival rates. If it works, the goal is to export it to other cancer centers around the world.”

Inner Cities | Another important foundation project is improving life in inner cities. For instance, the foundation is helping people in inner-city L.A. forge a good-paying career. “We started with banking, something I knew,” Biller says. “We’ve placed 60 people at banks, and over the next two years we will scale it up to 250 placements.”

Expansion | “We think this is applicable to other industries and other cities,” he says. “So we intend to branch out and talk to banking executives in other cities with the idea of bringing it to their inner cities because it will already be proven. Our hope is that over time we can expand it to other industries.”

Intellectual Curiosity | Biller says he’s always had an “intellectual curiosity about things I didn’t know” and the way he got into banking is a prime example. The New York City native received a degree in chemical engineering and worked for Procter & Gamble as an engineer. He joined Citicorp because the banking firm was hiring engineers to improve its work processes. He became fascinated with banking and switched from engineering.

Giving Back | Biller says he would like to see colleges “go beyond simply teaching individuals about the technical expertise and address the importance of being a member of a community and giving back. I like to think that among the most rewarding parts of my career is the time I’m spending now trying to make a difference in my community.”

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