Sallie Krawcheck used her break from banking in 2008 to analyze where she wanted to work, considering everything from private equity to starting her own research firm. "I kept asking myself, 'What are the winning businesses going to look like?'" she says.

She decided personal advisers working under the "safety and security" of a large financial institution was the way to go and joined Bank of America a little over a year ago.

Her biggest job: blending the cultures at her new employer and the brokerage ranks at Merrill Lynch & Co.

Early results under her leadership are encouraging. The businesses she oversees have $235 billion of deposits and $100 billion of loans. Merrill Lynch earned roughly $675 million from its brokerage business in the first half of this year and produced a 16.7 percent pretax profit margin.

Krawcheck, 45, is optimistic about more growth due to a calculated push to expand retirement services.

"The arguments against it are that no one makes money in retirement, the record keeping is difficult, or Fidelity [Investments] has already won," she says. "But we run our businesses based on facts and not opinions and our clients keep telling us their top concern is retirement."

Another hallmark of her first year at Bank of America has been an ability to recruit former colleagues. She hired former Citigroup executives Andy Sieg to oversee the retirement operations and Kunal Kamlani to run the global investment solutions business. Lisa Shalett, who worked with Krawcheck at Sanford C. Bernstein LLC, was recruited as the chief investment officer of Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management.

"What I bring to the table is good people judgment," she says. "My top decisions are always going to be based around people. For me, it is about having the right mix of Merrill legacy, BofA legacy, some from Citi and some from other firms."

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