Managing Director, Head of Commercial Banking, MUFG Union Bank

To understand what drives Bita Ardalan, you have to go back to the Iranian revolution of 1979.

At the time, her native Iran was paralyzed by protests against the reign of the Shah, and later, by the uneasy transition to an Islamic Republic, and Ardalan was one of many young Iranians who chose to flee the country to escape the unrest.

She settled in the United States, enrolling at Williams College, and though she badly missed the family she left behind — her support system — Ardalan vowed then to make the most of the opportunity given to her.

It's safe to say she has succeeded. Ardalan began her banking career in 1986 as a management trainee at MUFG Union Bank and has been rising up through the ranks ever since. Most recently, in November, she was named head of the bank's newly created commercial banking group, overseeing corporate, middle-market and small-business banking in the bank's West Coast footprint. It marked Ardalan's fourth promotion in four years and continued a pattern of senior executives turning to Ardalan to build new lines of business or turn around existing ones.

Tim Wennes, the West Coast president for San Francisco-based bank, said Bardalan beat out several other "highly qualified contenders" for the commercial banking post "based on her acumen in the commercial lending space and her ability to deliver a strong performance in an increasingly dynamic operating environment."

Ardalan is also playing an increasingly important role in setting overall strategy for the $120 billion-asset bank, a unit of Japan's Mitsubishu UFJ Financial Group. She was one of a handful of executives tapped last year to help find ways to improve efficiency companywide and, more recently, was appointed to the executive committee of the regional bank.

Having escaped a country where opportunities for females are limited, Ardalan has long felt a special obligation to help lift the careers of other women. She has mentored many women over the course of her career, both inside and outside of the bank, offering sage counsel on how to be self-reliant, when to seek assistance and how to best advance their careers.

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