In college, Joyce Phillips was a fine arts major and aspired to become an architect. Instead she earned a masters degree in business administration and went into banking. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that Phillips believes her artistic bent has helped her rise to the top of her field, and that she finds a creative outlet in her work. "Part of my success is due to my ability to find solutions to difficult problems, which requires a great deal of creativity," she says.

Phillips' track record is certainly impressive. In nearly two decades in financial services, she spent more than ten years working in Japan before becoming Citibank's head of global retail banking in 2005. Since taking the helm of American Life Insurance Company, an international affiliate of insurer AIG, in July 2007, she's set a course for aggressive expansion by overhauling the business and customer strategy. In the first quarter of 2008, ALICO's gross assets jumped 18 percent over the same period in 2007; conservatively measured statutory premiums and annuities grew 37.5 percent, while statutory income rose 10 percent.

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