Heidi Miller has mixed feelings about her success. At a time when most bankers would consider themselves lucky if their business held steady, the CEO of JPMorgan Treasury and Securities Services has had a phenomenal run, posting record earnings in four out of the past six quarters. That success has landed her in this ranking's No. 1 spot for two consecutive years.
"My business has done well. A lot of the things I've been saying for years-the greater stability of the business, that it's less market dependent, that it benefits as being part of JPMorgan-all that has proven out," she says. "But the truth is I would be much happier, as a shareholder and as the head of a business, if all the lines within JPMorgan were doing as well as they could be in more normalized market conditions."
There's no doubt that her business has trumped most others over the past year. In the first half of 2008, TSS posted net income of $828 million, up 35 percent from the same period a year ago, on revenue of $3.93 billion. In the second quarter alone, average liability balances soared 23 percent to $268 billion, assets under custody edged up two percent to $15.5 trillion, and the pretax margin remained strong at 33 percent. "TSS has been a consistent core for the bank while it weathered some of the challenges," says Keith Stock, president of First Financial Investors and a financial sector veteran who attended Princeton University with Miller in the 1970s. He points out that JPMorgan has not only had to battle the general market turmoil, but also has been busy trying to absorb the remains of Bear Stearns. "Her business has been phenomenal. It's just one of those great stories of continued strong growth and profitability in a rough environment."
Miller, whose resume includes stints as CFO of Citigroup and of Priceline.com, argues that she's now reaping the rewards of well-laid groundwork. Over the past three years, Miller expanded her group's global footprint, particularly in Asia, and launched a variety of new products. The benefits of the merger with Bank One have trickled down to the global funds transfer business, in the form of improved performance and capability. "We've made investments in every line of business that have started to pay off," says Miller. "Despite the upheaval in the market, people still trade globally and transfer money globally."
With international diversification one of her biggest saving graces over the past year, Miller plans to continue pressing global expansion. Earlier this year she bought the institutional global custody portfolio of Nordea, the Stockholm-based financial services group, with $317 billion of assets. Her group is also growing organically and recently opened new branches in China and Dubai.
She also continues to develop her private equity administrative services group, which she started from scratch five years ago. The Bear Stearns acquisition, meanwhile, has given her division a "significant shot in the arm," according to bank officials, with the addition of Bear's multi-currency clearing capabilities.
In the end, however, Miller's success is not the result of the advantages she can garner from one deal or another, but from her competence as a financial operator and vital cast member at one of the country's strongest banks. JPMorgan is, after all, one of the few financial conglomerates to largely escape the credit crisis. Miller, who has been working closely with JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon since his days at Travelers in the early 1990s, has been key to the bank's success. "Heidi is a great executive professional with a deep financial expertise," says Stock. "She's one of the exemplars of women professional leaders in the country."