Earlier this year, as many bankers moved cautiously through chaos, Bank of America's Cathy Bessant forged ahead, focused on making a deal.

The result: A joint venture agreement with transactions processor First Data. The deal, announced in June, combined BofA's large merchant customer base with First Data's transaction technology, offering updated merchant services such as loyalty programs and prepaid and mobile transactions. Bank of America contributed about 240,000 merchant relationships to the joint venture; First Data contributed about 140,000. The agreement added about $3.8 billion, pretax, to BofA's second-quarter earnings.

The chaos happening away from the negotiating table actually helped move the deal along, Bessant says. The bank was willing to embrace the "unique structure" partly out of a "recognition that it needed to do things differently," she says. In August, as the bank shuffled management related to its acquisition of investment bank Merrill Lynch, Bessant was promoted to president of global corporate banking. She is in charge of bankers serving corporate clients around the world. Her segment has $6 billion in annual revenue, serves more than 10,000 corporate and financial institution clients, and does business in 180 countries.

Bessant now partners with the same investment bankers who advised her in negotiations with First Data. What did she learn as a customer that she will remember as a boss? "Our clients don't want products pushed at them. They want solutions to every need."

Bessant's 27-year career at BofA has been about taking lessons from one job and applying it to the next. She has moved up the ranks from a banker in Texas to corporate head of community development banking to the top marketing post to her current job.

Jaret Seiberg, a banking policy analyst, was a Washington-based reporter when Bessant emerged as the voice of the banking industry during the Congressional rewrite of the Community Reinvestment Act in the 1990s. He says Bessant "was one of the few industry officials who appreciated the opportunity that community reinvestment offered to the banks from a political, PR and business perspective. She got it."

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