The top retail-banking executive at BBVA Compass was a little frustrated a week after the Alabama bank took over Guaranty Bank of Austin, Tex., in an FDIC-arranged match. No big problems cropped up, but Shelaghmichael Brown, the senior executive vice president and head of retail banking, was thousands of miles away, vacationing in Europe.

"I only wish I was there," Brown says.

Manolo Sanchez, president and chief executive officer of BBVA Compass, says that's typical. "She's an in-the-trenches kind of leader. She's very visible."

Indeed, Brown helped deliver emergency supplies to bank employees in Texas who were hit hard by Hurricane Ike last year. And when Sanchez and Brown visit bank regions together, when he's ready to move from one branch to the next, Brown often lags behind to converse with front-line employees about everything from working conditions to customer-satisfaction levels.

"The business happens where the customers are," Brown explains. "The people who touch customers are the brand. They are the bank."

Brown, who joined Compass Bancshares Inc. in Birmingham as head of consumer finance shortly before Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA of Spain acquired the company in late 2007, will have plenty of opportunities in the months ahead to engage with new folks out in the field. The deal for Guaranty, struck in late August, added $12 billion of assets and 164 branches in Texas and California to the $61 billion of assets and 600 branches that BBVA Compass already had.

The first order of business after the takeover was calming Guaranty employees and getting "everybody on the same page," Brown says.

BBVA Compass management committees met with Guaranty executives in Dallas and Austin on the Friday that the takeover occurred, and all the Guaranty branch managers were conferenced in on a call with company executives on Saturday morning.

Then experienced BBVA Compass hands were dispatched to Guaranty branches to make sure that questions could be answered quickly, and branch employees were invited to meet at regional offices.

Next up is the integration, which is becoming old hat for Brown and her team. BBVA acquired three Texas banks - Laredo National Bank, Texas State Bank and State National Bank - and Brown oversaw their systems conversions last year.

"It was a good rehearsal," Brown says.

Much as she relishes immersion in detail at work, Brown says she tended to stand back a bit from many of her children's day-to-day dramas over the years. "You have to keep everything in perspective as a parent," she says.

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