Few women in banking draw as much attention as Sallie Krawcheck.

A mainstay on lists of powerful women, Krawcheck joined Bank of America Corp. in August to take over its brokerage and wealth management operations. She will play a critical role in maximizing profits from BofA's purchase of Merrill Lynch, which in turn could raise her stature within the company.

Krawcheck is widely perceived to be in the running to succeed Kenneth Lewis as the $2.3 trillion-asset Charlotte company's chief executive.

Krawcheck, 44, has long possessed a certain celebrity aura, gaining prominence and respect first as the chairman and CEO at Alliance Capital Management's Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. and later running the global wealth management division at Citigroup Inc.

Her meteoric rise seemed to end after Citi CEO Charles Prince was forced out in 2007; she left a year later after a reported rift with Prince's successor, Vikram Pandit.

Frank Barkocy, the director of research at Mendon Capital Advisors, says the independent-minded Krawcheck has a chance to firmly re-establish herself within the industry in a new, though familiar, role. "She is starting back at the same level, if not a higher, than the one she left," he says.

Krawcheck manages 14,000 brokers and oversees a division with more than $700 million in assets under management, and she will have to strike a balance between the divergent cultures at Merrill Lynch and Bank of America while keeping defections to a minimum.

A day after she walked into the New York office, Dan Sontag announced his retirement as the head of the company's wealth management unit.

"She has a huge job ahead of her to restore morale at Merrill and stem the bleeding of key sales people," says Marshall Front, the chairman of Front Barnett Associates, a Chicago investment firm.

Krawcheck clearly sees herself as a bridge between the two cultures, making that point clear in a video issued to the brokers soon after her arrival.

"I'm a southerner by birth, but a northerner for some number of years," she says. "What I'm not going to do is turn this into a place I've been before. Those are great institutions but this is a fantastic business."

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