Avid Modjtabai might not be the next chief executive of Wells Fargo. But to hear her boss talk about her, it's clear she's in the running to succeed him.
"You have this very, very talented leader" who has run several departments at Wells over her 19-year career there, "and each one is better when she leaves it than when she's found it," says John Stumpf, CEO of the fourth-largest bank by assets.
Stumpf still has six years before he hits the company's mandatory retirement age of 65 and says he's in no hurry to leave early, but thinks Modjtabai has played her hand well.
"Avid is one of those people that has just continued to meet and exceed every expectation," he says, adding carefully, "she and others in our company have big runways and big opportunities."
It's Modjtabai for whom he saves what has to be the highest compliment of all at Wells, which religiously calls its employees "team members" and is the only one of the big U.S. banks that could be described as having Main Street folksiness: "Avid is the best team player I've ever been around," Stumpf says.
At 50, Modjtabai has played many roles at the San Francisco-based bank, but her last two have been her most challenging yet. As head of technology and operations, she oversaw a major piece of the integration with Wachovia Bank, tying systems together and trying to present a seamless façade to customers as Wells digested its crisis-era purchase.
Since last summer she has overseen the company's massive consumer lending operations, including mortgages, cards, student lending and auto finance at a time of drastic change for each of these businesses.
"There's a lot of change happening specifically in this part of financial services-all sorts of new regulation, the [national mortgage] settlement, consent orders," Modjtabai says. "You're working through those while you are also rethinking the business model."
The consumer lending group-created last July when Wells consolidated eight existing business units and put them under the leadership of Modjtabai-comprises 62,000 employees and $355 billion in loan balances, or about half of the bank's total loans.
Born in Iran, Modjtabai has been back there only twice since leaving the country after high school to attend college in the United States. She has an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering from Stanford University.
Although most of her recent jobs at Wells have dealt with technology and the Internet, Modjtabai doesn't consider herself a techie-but she doesn't have a traditional banking background either, noting that her current role is "the first pure lending job I've had."
Wells originates one of every three residential mortgages made in this country. Some regulators are worried about overconcentration in the housing market. Modjtabai says Wells' dominance is mostly a byproduct of external factors, and not positioning by the company. "At the end of the day, consumers will vote with where they take their business."
She was No. 1 on the very first list of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking, back when she ran Smith Barney for Sandy Weill at Citi. Ten years and three high-profile jobs later, Sallie Krawcheck remains one of the most closely watched names in financial services.
Since being ousted last year as president of Bank of America's global wealth and investment management division, Krawcheck has reinvented herself as an industry commentator and critic, amassing a huge following on Twitter and penning op-eds for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the Harvard Business Review.
Perhaps the former Sanford C. Bernstein CEO and Citigroup CFO will be content just to stir up conversation about the topics important to her, including compensation reform, money-market fund regulation and the business case for diversity in the executive suite.
But given the barrage of headlines about her new affiliations with a pair of little-known financial firms (in April she joined the advisory board of Gold Bullion International, which stores small quantities of precious metals for retail investors, and in June she signed on as a director at Motif Investing, a new discount brokerage), it's safe to say we're not the only ones wondering where Krawcheck takes her remarkable career from here.
Three years since she left Citigroup as head of North American corporate banking, Anne Clarke Wolff's horizons have broadened. After a brief time at JPMorgan Chase, where she spent two years running global sales for the treasury services business, she joined Bank of America last fall as co-head of global corporate banking.
Clarke Wolff sees a "huge opportunity" to grow the business by expanding abroad and selling BofA Merrill Lynch's global capabilities to clients here in the U.S. Seizing on that and instilling the regulatory capital discipline demanded by upcoming rules under Basel have been two of her main focus areas in her first year with the firm.