25 Most Powerful Women in Banking for 2011

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"Confidence is what leadership is really all about."

1. Karen Peetz
Vice Chairman, BNY Mellon

It's easy to prove Karen Peetz is powerful in the traditional sense of the word.

She generates roughly half of BNY Mellon's pretax income. She manages a third of its 52,000 employees in 115 cities around the globe. She is the first female vice chairman in the company's 227-year history. She started, and still leads, the bank's wildly successful women's network.

But Peetz's power goes far beyond the standard definition.

She is a connector of people and ideas. She thinks creatively about everything she does. And she does it with so much grace and confidence that you want to do it with her.

It is no exaggeration to say Peetz has inspired generations of women in financial services and beyond. As a competitor put it: "Karen is a leader in every program she supports, every group that she joins, and every event that she participates in." That surely is true of Peetz's involvement in our 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking initiative. She generously provides her time and insights, speaking at events and serving on our advisory council. She does it all with a broad smile and count-me-in attitude. Her genuine, down-to-earth personality makes her approachable, a key trait both for motivating colleagues and mentoring younger women.

What may stand out most is how effortless Peetz's success appears. There is no drama surrounding her. No arrogance. Just a calm confidence polished with optimism.

Peetz is one of the rare executives who excel at both the soft and hard sides of business. Her ability to forge real relationships, to make the people around her feel special, has been a huge factor in her ability to build and drive businesses. She also is superb organizationally, breaking down problems and developing profitable strategies.

Her inherent optimism often leads her to find solutions where others see only problems. One of Peetz's biggest fans at BNY Mellon was Robert Kelly, who stepped down as CEO last month after a disagreement with the board and was replaced by the firm's president, Gerald Hassell.

Peetz says she would love to be the CEO of a major financial institution herself someday—though at 55 she realizes that the window won’t be open for long.

"You've got to get clear on what your goals are and how important are they to you," Peetz says. "You have to go for it. No one comes in with a silver platter."

Sounds a lot like the great advice she's been selflessly sharing with other women for years.

—Barb Rehm

2. Carrie Tolstedt
Senior EVP of Community Banking, Wells Fargo

• Oversees the largest retail deposit bank in the United States
• Manages a division with 120,000 employees
• Achieved a retail bank cross-sell ratio of 5.8 products per household as of the first quarter, up from 5.6 a year earlier, with 7.4% net growth in consumer checking accounts over same period

"Everyone's career journey is different based on their experience, strengths and goals. I encourage emerging leaders to concentrate on the value they can bring to their teams."

3. Ellen Costello
President and CEO, Harris Financial

• Created the 12th-largest U.S. commercial bank by assets with acquisition of M&I
• Became U.S. country head for BMO Financial Group, formalizing governance oversight for all U.S. operations
• Led first-half deposit growth of 14% in the personal and commercial businesses
• Honored by the Anti-Defamation League as a Woman of Achievement, named Business Leader of the Year by the YWCA

"Be authentic and inclusive. Demand high standards for yourself and others. Establish clear goals and expect initiative and collaboration. Recognize and celebrate successes."

4. Irene Dorner
President and CEO, HSBC Bank USA

• Helped return bank to profitability in 2010, her first year as CEO
• Is leveraging brand’s international recognition in gateway U.S. cities that matter to global commerce
• Chairs HSBC's U.S. Diversity council
• Held legal, operations, marketing, human resources and branch network roles before being named CEO in Malaysia in 2007, and in the U.S. in January 2010

"If you think you are being treated unfairly—with respect to pay or promotion or anything else—it’s important to say so. Do so respectfully and with full awareness that the answer may be 'no.' Speaking up with courageous integrity will bring benefits to you, your company and society."

5. Ellen Alemany
Chairman and CEO, Citizens Financial Group, and Head of RBS Americas

• Crafted a five-year plan (and is halfway through it now) to steer Citizens through the crisis and out of a past defined by underinvestment
• Moved bank from No. 50 to No. 16 in mortgage lending in 2010
• Achieved eight straight quarters of net interest margin growth through the first quarter
• Is the only woman on RBS Group’s nine-member executive committee, and one of the few women on the board of the Financial Services Roundtable

"If the opportunity is right, do not necessarily shy away from a lateral move. It could pave the way for future career progress."

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