Kathleen Murphy, the new head of Fidelity Investments' personal investing unit, sees plenty of challenges and opportunities ahead at her new employer.

But the former CEO of ING's U.S. wealth management unit has already tackled what has to be one of the toughest: Maintaining employee morale as the market convulsed.

"I've listened to a lot of customer calls; people very concerned, and in tears, in some cases," says Murphy, who since January has overseen 12 million Fidelity retail customer accounts containing $790 billion of assets.

Helping to keep morale up among her 7,000 associates, by marshalling support both for them and their clients, was Murphy's trial by fire: "It was a challenge, and it turned out to be quite rewarding," she says.

Now Murphy can go about planning for growth, something she excelled in achieving at ING. From 2004 through 2007, her ING wealth management unit racked up compounded annual growth of 23 percent.

"We want to continue to invest strongly in terms of more reach physically across the country, and in terms of programs for customers," she says.

On Murphy's desk is a sign that reads, "Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History," and the executive takes pride in mentoring female colleagues - both at Fidelity and, still, at ING - as well as businesswomen from around the globe.

Through a U.S. State Department program, Murphy and other American women executives share the lessons they've learned with up-and-coming women executives from companies in such countries as Afghanistan, Russia and Vietnam. "I've done it for four years," she says. "It's really a fabulous way to empower women."

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.