Chief Administrative Officer, Bank of America

Andrea Smith had two job offers when graduating from college in 1988: one at the community bank where she worked while attending Southern Methodist University and another at First Republic Bank in Dallas, one of the country's largest financial institutions then. She accepted the job at First Republic — and three weeks later the bank failed in what was one of the most spectacular collapses of the savings and loan crisis.

It was an inauspicious start, but First Republic's failure ended up working out well for Smith. Rather than search for another job, Smith opted to remain with the Bank of America predecessor that assumed First Republic's assets.

She has moved steadily up the ranks since. Smith has been a member of Bank of America's executive leadership team since 2010, first serving as global head of human resources before transitioning last year to chief administrative officer.

This newly created job is a departure for Smith, who has spent the bulk of career in HR. But Smith said that when she was offered the position as global head of HR six years ago she accepted on the condition that it would not be permanent.

"I had other things I wanted to do and so I wanted to make sure this wasn't a lifetime assignment," she said. "The previous two heads of HR stayed in HR for their entire careers, and that was not an attractive path for me."

When she was offered her current job last year — one that prompted The Wall Street Journal to call her "The Woman With the Most Stressful Job in Banking" — Smith felt ready for it. "It wasn't scary to me because I had been very clear that I wanted to do something else," she said.

Chief among Smith's new responsibilities are overseeing B of A's resolution-planning and stress-testing processes and helping to set global corporate strategy. In her first year in the role, the bank unconditionally passed its annual Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review after passing with conditions last year and failing in 2014.

Her office also oversees the unit that services troubled mortgages dating to the financial crisis, manages vendor relationships and real estate worldwide, and is responsible for global corporate security.

It was Chairman and Chief Executive Brian Moynihan who created the role, but Smith was actively engaged in writing the job description. While the duties appear to have little in common, Smith said they all support Bank of America's eight lines of business. "Operationally, they are the common thread for what we need to be doing," she said.

Smith's advice to other senior executives yearning for more responsibilities is to keep the conversation going. Even while she was running HR for the country's second-largest bank, Smith said she still carved out time to talk to Moynihan about what would be next for her. "It was very much a dialogue throughout," she said. "I encourage people all the time to have that kind of dialogue."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.