Barbara Stymiest had a busy summer. In July, the 14-handicapper partnered with professional golfer Fred Couples to win the Pro-Am at the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto. She also caught a six-pound salmon while fly-fishing near her family cottage in New Brunswick. Those are no small feats, but it can be argued that both pale in comparison to her work in helping North America's sixth-largest bank, Royal Bank of Canada, navigate through a rocky credit environment.

As chief operating officer, Stymiest, applies a keen strategic sense to RBC operations. She's devoted a lot of time to creating a risk-management process that is constantly scenario testing and setting limits to achieve the best risk-adjusted returns. "We have articulated our risk appetite with very clear metrics," she explains, adding that while many banks have been surprised by fallout from the subprime crisis, "our results are well within our expectations."

The Toronto-based company earned C$3.4 billion ($3.2 billion USD) during the first three quarters of 2008, down 18 percent from a year earlier, but better than many large banks. Return on equity was a healthy 18.7 percent. Despite this year's drop, earnings were up 50 percent from 2004, the year Stymiest arrived from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Stymiest has been a key architect of five big 2008 acquisitions - including subsidiary RBC Centura's February purchase of Alabama National BanCorp - at a time when most banks are focused on internal problems. She's also worked proactively with the $630 billion-asset bank's treasury to execute a 3.25 billion-euro covered bond offering in Europe and a "Samurai program" that raised $1.25 billion in Japan. Those are big innovations: few North American institutions raise money in either place, let alone both. "If we benchmarked ourselves, we would have one of the most diversified funding bases in the industry," she says. "It's served us very well."

Stymiest delegates well and pushes her reports to "think more broadly," says HR Chief Zabeen Hirji. "She challenges me intellectually, gets me to think harder." A regular at formal leadership training, Stymiest makes a bigger contribution informally. "People will come in and bounce things off of her, talk about their careers. She sees that as part of her role as a leader," Hirji says.

Return to the 2008 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking

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