Working with numbers is a pleasure for Diane D'Erasmo, but she's no stereotypical math geek. People skills have been just as instrumental in helping her build commercial banking businesses.

"I love numbers," says D'Erasmo, who is HSBC's Northeast regional president for commercial banking. "I used to say as an auditor, I could look at a page of numbers and pick out the number that didn't look right."

In contemplating how her career has evolved, D'Erasmo says her accounting background has been key. It enables her to dissect companies financially-or "follow the story that the numbers are telling," as she puts it-and soundly manage assets.

But knowing how to deal with people has been just as crucial, if not more so, says D'Erasmo, who built a commercial banking business with a focus on apparel and textile companies at Republic National Bank in the mid-1980s. "I'm telling you, we built the business from scratch. We had no clients," she says.

It was her intuitive sense of how to treat people, learning what they want and providing it, while also accomplishing business goals, that she says helped her successfully grow the business both there and at HSBC, which acquired Republic in 1999. "I feel that understanding people is really easy for me and I know how to react to certain people," she says. "And you can't be the same in every situation, because it doesn't feel genuine."

D'Erasmo puts her people skills to good use as a mentor. She's a leader in HSBC's Women's Network Group, which offers support and training. "Diane is a powerhouse in the women's side of things," says Irene Dorner, the president and chief executive of the U.S. banking unit for London's HSBC Holdings.

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