Tearing down borders comes naturally to Deanna Oppenheimer, Barclays' chief executive of U.K. Retail Banking. The Washington native was imported to London five years ago to turn around Barclays' underperforming retail division, and in that time she has transformed every facet of the business, from mortgage processing to branch design.

Eager to replicate that effort across its franchise, Barclays last year named Oppenheimer vice chairman of Global Retail Banking. In that role, she is in charge of making sure the company's businesses across the 50 countries where it operates learn from each other's best practices.

"If you do your first job well, the second one will flow from it," says Oppenheimer, quoting the man she describes as her biggest mentor, former Washington Mutual CEO Lou Pepper.

Oppenheimer, a Washington native who spent 20 years at Washington Mutual before joining Barclays, credits her success to a strong focus on execution. She also knows the value of savvy branding. Last year, Barclays introduced what was for it an unusually hip flagship branch design, complete with curved queue lines and children's play rooms. Hip, of course, is in the eye of the beholder and when Barclays tried to rent a space in London's coveted Picadilly Circus, landlords said they didn't want a renter as "boring" as a bank. When Barclays tried to enter an international contest for retail space design, the bank was rebuffed again.

Persistence paid off for Oppenheimer and her team. Barclays first secured the Picadilly spot and, later, first place in the design contest. "I've been in retail banking a long time and I've made a lot of mistakes," she says. "With that comes the credibility of knowing what works and what doesn't work."

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