1. Ann Marie Petach
CFO, Blackrock

As chief financial officer at BlackRock, Ann Marie Petach works in a soaring skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. It's a long way away from the greasy, gritty Ford Motor plant in Michigan where she started her career.

When Petach took an entry-level job as a financial analyst in Ford's electrical and electronics division, she thought it would simply be a good way to learn corporate finance, and that her stay with the automaker would last no longer than three years. But it turned into a 23-year journey that spanned three continents and led to Petach becoming Ford's treasurer.

It also led to her job at BlackRock, which helped Ford with its debt issuance and pension fund management. Petach got to know BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink, and once asked for his advice on a job opportunity that came her way. He told her not to take it, and soon hired her himself, bringing her on board in 2007 as head of business finance, and making her CFO a year later.

Petach defies the stereotype of the CFO as corporate bean counter. She is a strategic adviser both internally and to key clients. In addition to chairing BlackRock's capital committee and co-chairing its corporate risk committee, she sits on the firm's global executive, global operating and government relations steering committees.

It was Petach who pushed BlackRock to increase its credit line from a negligible amount to something closer to $2.5 billion, which eventually helped position the firm to be able to acquire Barclays Global Investors in 2009. The $15.2 billion deal-Petach was instrumental in the due diligence process-vaulted BlackRock's assets under management, now at $3.56 trillion, past that of State Street and Fidelity Investments. She also spearheaded major secondary offerings that pushed shares formerly held by big stakeholders like Bank of America into the public market. In less than two years, BlackRock's ownership has gone from 80 percent privately held to 80 percent public. Along the way, as the public float crossed the 50 percent mark, the firm qualified for inclusion in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, which it joined in April 2011.

There were few women in upper management at Ford when Petach began her career in the auto industry in the 1980s. But at Black-Rock, she notes, two of the eight founders were women.

"I do believe success breeds success," Petach says. "I was coming into a place where I walked in the door and knew there were senior women with a seat at the table. I wasn't filling a statistic or breaking the barrier. The barrier didn't exist."

One of the "uncelebrated positives" of the Barclays Global Investors deal, Petach says, is all of the networking and development groups that came with the acquisition. Petach is active in the firm's Women's Leadership Forum and OUT Network.

A married mother of two school-age children, Petach advises mentees to be flexible in their approach to balancing work and home obligations, and promises this can be done without hurting future advancement. "It's impossible to have a plan or strategy. You have to recognize that every single day, every year, every period of time, your priorities are going to be different based on your needs for that moment of time."

2. Abigail Johnson
President, Fidelity Financial Services

Boston was abuzz this spring when the Johnsons of Fidelity Investments fame broke with their usual public relations blackout and showed up for a ceremony, hosted by The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, to honor their philanthropy. Speaking duties went to Abigail Johnson, the heir apparent at the mutual fund giant founded in 1946 by her grandfather and run for the past 35 years by her father.

Johnson described her 82-year-old father, Edward "Ned" Johnson III, the chairman and CEO, as understanding every element of the customer experience at Fidelity. "No, not just understanding-I mean completely dissecting," she said, according to a report in The Boston Globe. Johnson has been influenced by this since her youth; she says her father was frequently called away from the family dinner table to handle customers' concerns.

With her promotion in late August, Johnson now oversees all of Fidelity's major businesses, including asset management, retail and institutional brokers, and retirement and benefit services. The broadening of her responsibilities is widely seen as confirmation that she'll be the next CEO of the family business, where this year mutual fund assets under management crossed the $1.4 trillion mark and plans are afoot for a long-awaited jump into the rapidly growing exchange-traded funds sector.

3. Ruth Porat
EVP And Chief Financial Officer, Morgan Stanley

It's a rough slog for Morgan Stanley when one of the highlights of CFO Ruth Porat's year was minimizing the damage from a credit downgrade in June. But Porat's extensive efforts over a five-month period to explain Morgan Stanley's capitalization strategy proved to be an important reason why its rating from Moody's was cut by only two notches rather than the three it was threatened with.

Another factor was Morgan Stanley's ongoing partnership with Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, which Porat helped to arrange in the fall of 2008, during the most acute phase of the financial crisis.

Porat served as her firm's point person with regulators implementing Dodd-Frank Act rules, and she is one of 14 members of the U.S. Treasury's Borrowing Advisory Committee. She caused a stir in June at The Economist's "World in 2012" forum, where she supported an idea at odds with many Republican-affiliated colleagues in the industry-that wealthy Americans should pay higher tax rates as part of a plan to reduce annual federal budget deficits.

4. Mary Callahan Erdoes
CEO, JPMorgan Asset Management

This is the year of the "London whale" at JPMorgan Chase, but in a way Mary Callahan Erdoes is like the whale hunter. When the company's U.K. office sold contracts on corporate debt that proved to be a multibillion-dollar disaster, there was a notable twist involving counterparties on the trade. The company's own asset management arm, led by Erdoes, actually owned about $380 million of those contracts in a mutual fund, allowing its clients to benefit from the poor decisions JPMorgan made with house money. The New York Times' DealBook described it as a "silver lining" that underscores the independence with which Erdoes runs her business. The 16-year J.P. Morgan veteran already had come off a strong year, with 2011 revenue of $9.5 billion (up 6 percent from 2010) on $1.9 trillion of supervised assets. Erdoes, who has been at her current post since 2009, is often the subject of speculation about being a successor to JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.

5. Isabelle Ealet
CO-Head Of Securities, Goldman Sachs

Isabelle Ealet is moving up with her new role as co-head of Goldman Sachs' securities division. Until January, she had been leading the firm's worldwide commodities business, which raked in $2 billion of revenue in each of the past two years, according to press reports. (Goldman itself does not break out revenue for the division.)

Ealet, a French native, is now in charge of fixed income, equity and currency trading, in addition to heading the commodities group. Ealet has been with Goldman since 1991 after starting her career as an oil and gas trader with the French energy company Total SA.

Goldman named her a managing director in 1997 and a partner in 2000. She has been a member of the firm-wide management committee since 2008.

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