When Diane Thormodsgard began working in the wealth management business, she admits she didn't even know what corporate trust was.

"I figured it had something to do with trusts and something to do with corporations," she says. "Beyond that, I just knew it was going to be a challenge."

When First Bank System - a predecessor of U.S. Bancorp and where Thormodsgard was an executive in the mortgage division - bought Bank of America's corporate trust business in 1995, it was Thormodsgard who jumped at the opportunity to lead the integration.

Thormodsgard has since overseen14 acquisitions of wealth management and corporate trust firms. Two years ago, her efforts in building U.S. Bancorp's wealth management and trust capabilities were rewarded when Richard Davis, U.S. Bancorp's chairman, president and chief executive officer, tapped Thormodsgard to run the entire wealth management business and take it to the next level.

"We decided a couple of years ago to reconstruct our wealth management business from a regional into a national player," he says. "We wanted Diane to lead us from just a business that was focused on legacy assets to a brand that is attractive to customers nationally."

He adds, "Diane has proven she can be long-term and steady and safe on the corporate trust side, but also aggressive, entrepreneurial, and strategic on the wealth management side."

Of course, building the unit into a national powerhouse in the midst of a global recession can be an immense challenge. In the second quarter, the wealth management and securities services unit that Thormodsgard heads reported an 8 percent decline in assets under management, to $94.8 billion, from a year earlier, while revenue fell 15 percent and net income declined 23 percent.

Still, the division's deposits grew 25.6 percent in the second quarter from the same period in 2008. Over all, Thormodsgard's group accounts for about 13 percent of total revenue at the $266 billion-asset U.S. Bancorp. Despite the declines in assets and revenues, Thormodsgard says U.S. Bancorp remains committed to growing the wealth management and corporate trust unit - especially as some weaker competitors divest such units to raise capital.

"Clients are really looking for sound advice and the opportunity to work with reputable and stable financial services companies," she says. "Five years ago, people - especially the ultra-wealthy - wanted to find the most exotic products. Now, they just want to be sure that their money is going to be there when they need it."

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