President and CEO, Synchrony Financial

It was one thing for Margaret Keane to lead the retail finance arm of GE Capital before it spun off from its parent company, General Electric.

But completing the separation from GE in November 2015 — with a $20.4 billion exchange of stock, the largest in history — was a wake-up call.

As the president and chief executive of the now independent Synchrony Financial, Keane feels an even greater responsibility to provide strategic vision and direction for its future. That has translated into new retail partnerships, multiyear extensions of its credit card programs for Amazon and PayPal, dramatic growth for its online banking operation and integrations with Samsung Pay and Apple Pay.

"One of the biggest realizations for me and my leadership team is that the buck stops here," Keane said. "We are the company, so no referring back to a larger entity of why we could or could not do something. It is up to us."

That knowledge has given Keane the freedom to treat Synchrony as "an 80-year-old startup" — despite it now being a member of the S&P 500. While best known as the nation's largest provider of private-label credit cards, serving brands such as Gap and American Eagle, Synchrony experienced startup type of growth at its consumer bank last year. After it launched a new digital-banking portal that dynamically adapts to all mobile, tablet and desktop browsers, deposits swelled to $29.7 billion, a 50.8% increase from 2014.

Under Keane, who describes herself as "an early adopter and proponent of technology," Synchrony has continued to innovate in its core business as well. Along with plugging many of its cardholders into Samsung Pay and piloting Apple Pay for J.C. Penney customers, Synchrony has begun using data from its transaction processing network to anticipate customer desires and send them customized offers.

Synchrony had a good year overall, with net earnings increasing 5% from 2014, to $2.2 billion. Purchase volume on its credit products increased to $113.6 billion in 2015, up 10.1% from the year before.

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