You know you're powerful when you convince other financial executives to focus less on numbers and more on strategic decisions that drive the numbers. That's what Colleen Johnston did after she was promoted to CFO at TD Financial Group five years ago.

Initiatives where she played a key role include TD's aggressive expansion into the U.S. retail banking market. The Toronto banking company had no branches in the states when she assumed her title. But havingsince acquired Commerce Bancorp of Cherry Hill, N.J., it now operates more than 1,000 branches on both sides of the border.

"We call ourselves the first truly North American bank, and that has been very helpful in terms of our investor brand as well," Johnston says.

Named top CFO by Canadian Business magazine last year, Johnston was chosen by a panel of experts who first selected top-performing companies, then looked for the best managers in that group. As head of TD's over 1,000-strong global finance team, Johnston played an "instrumental role" in helping the bank "not only successfully navigate the recent financial turmoil, but to grow at a time when many businesses were failing," says Ed Clark, TD's president and CEO.

She also spends considerable time leading the company's Women in Leadership initiative and promoting diversity. And that work has paid off. When she joined TD in 2005, the executive ranks of vice presidents or higher was a little over 20 percent female. In the last five years that figure has grown by half to more than 30 percent.

Johnston has at least two good reasons to be a role model and open as many doors as possible for women in banking: her two daughters, who are 18 and 21 years old. Both are enrolled in business schools.

"It's a validation," Johnston says.

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