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."

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