BofA's Anne Finucane is ready for her next challenge

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Anyone interested in learning how to command a room would do well to observe Anne Finucane’s steely gaze, or the measured cadence of her speech, making it sound as if each of her words has been carefully chosen.

Finucane has the composure of an executive who has been battle tested — and for good reason.

The longtime marketing executive is best known for bolstering Bank of America’s reputation in the aftermath of the subprime mortgage meltdown.

A decade after financial crisis unfolded, BofA is back on track, and Finucane has opened a new chapter in her career.

She currently oversees the company’s sustainability initiatives, including its $125 billion pledge in support of low-carbon financing. She is also BofA’s ambassador to the public on social issues — appearing on television this year, for instance, to discuss the company’s decision to cut ties with gun manufacturers.

In the months ahead, she will take on a new role as chairman of BofA’s European operations. That will put her at the forefront of one of the thorniest challenges facing big banks: dealing with the fallout of the U.K.’s 2016 referendum to leave the European Union.

“Europe is particularly important to American banks because we all, because of Brexit, need to set up European operations,” said Finucane. “The future is a little unclear.”

The new European entity — known officially as Bank of America Merrill Lynch Europe — will be based in Dublin, where customers will have access to the EU single market. The business will be fully operational once Brexit negotiations are complete.

“I have a lot of work to do between now and then,” Finucane said.

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The chairmanship is a fitting role for Finucane, whose longtime influence at the top of the company is well known in the industry. She was named vice chairman in 2015, and before that was chief marketing and strategy officer. “We all report to Anne,” chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan once quipped.

This is all a world away from the career she envisioned when she was young. A self-described former hippie, Finucane — who still likes hoop hearings and colorful scarves — set out after college to someday run an art gallery or get a graduate degree in English literature or art history. Her first jobs after college included working in the arts and culture office for the city of Boston and at a local CBS affiliate.

Finucane soon discovered, though, that the business world was a place where she could put her creative talents to work. After leaving the TV station, she took a job in creative services at Hill Holliday, a large advertising agency in Boston. During long flights overseas, she would talk with her clients about how they ran their companies.

“I realized that they were being creative, too, not in their numbers, but in their ideation of what was possible,” Finucane said.

Finucane quickly rose to the head of account management at Hill Holliday. In the mid-1990s, she was hired as the chief marketing officer for FleetBoston, which was acquired in 2004 by BofA.

Nearly two decades later, Finucane’s passion for finding creative solutions to business problems continues to drive her work — particularly in regard to her clean energy initiatives.

One of the projects that falls under her purview is BofA’s $10 billion Catalytic Finance Initiative, unveiled in 2014 at a United Nations summit on climate change. The initiative has attracted capital from a mix of investment and philanthropic firms, and has funded projects ranging from a wind farm in the North Sea and solar panels on thousands of home in Spain.

Finucane also has overseen the growth of BofA’s “green bond” business, which recently helped the city of Los Angeles finance the installation of LED bulbs in its streetlights, to reduce energy consumption.

While companies and government agencies are often quick to announce lofty environmental goals, many stumble when it comes figuring out the financing, according to Finucane. Discussing the L.A. lighting project, in particular, Finucane sounded proud of the results, noting it will save the city money and cut down on emissions over time.

“They have lower energy costs, and they can pay their coupon,” she said.

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