As any writer will tell you, a simple blank sheet of paper can be a daunting thing. Back in mid-2007, Ellen Alemany was handed her own blank sheet of paper, on quite a grand scale, when Royal Bank of Scotland hired her as CEO of RBS Americas. She was the first employee.

Alemany's charge was to knit together RBS's North American operations in order to better leverage revenue, cross-sell and infrastructure opportunities. "For six or nine months it was like a startup," she says. "Office space had to be found, employees hired. I had to define what skill sets were needed. The whole idea of creating an RBS franchise in America was a challenge."

Today, RBS Americas is a $681 billion operation, making RBS the fifth largest bank in North America. The operating units in North America include Citizens Financial Group, the ninth largest commercial banking company in the U.S. and the cornerstone of the RBS America's operating units; RBS Global Banking & Markets Americas; and Global Transaction Services.

Integrating Citizens into the RBS fold was particularly sensitive early on, she says. Leaders worried about their much-loved community model. But she quickly put their fears to rest. "The community model is our competitive advantage," she says, since RBS brings to the community bank model the products and services, such as ForEx and derivatives, which only a large international bank can.

As busy as Alemany has been in creating RBS Americas, she got an extra dollop of responsibility when parent RBS and its consortium of partners acquired ABN Amro in late 2007. She was charged with overseeing the integration not only in the United States, but also in the newly acquired geographies in Latin America and Canada.

On top of all this, Alemany has coped with the business climate. RBS only breaks out the performance of Citizens, and generally the bank has held steady from June of 2007 to June of 2008: assets at about $160 billion, deposits at about $100 billion, loans at about $110 billion. Not surprisingly, net income is down, from $826 billion in the first half of 2007 to $436 billion in the first half of 2008. Still, return on equity for the first half is a relatively healthy 12.4 percent.

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