After buying Marshall & Ilsley in 2011, BMO Financial Group's U.S. arm faced a full plate of challenges: reports of glitches in conversion efforts, little name recognition in M&I's Wisconsin markets, plus pockets of local resentment about the loss of a hometown franchise to a bank that is not only based in Chicago, but owned by Canadians.

But with the guidance of Justine Fedak, head of brand, advertising and sponsorships in North America, BMO Financial and its BMO Harris Bank subsidiary took their message straight to Milwaukee-and to the rest of the BMO Harris footprint-after the integration work was completed in October 2012. Television commercials that launched the following month touted a welcoming atmosphere and an institution ready to serve when customers reach milestones such as landing a first job or buying a home. Along with print, digital and billboard ads, the campaign helped BMO Harris net a 50 percent increase in "unaided awareness" (that's recognizing a brand name without hints).

BMO Harris did lose some market share that belonged to M&I before the merger, and its returns shrank last year. But it remains the strong No. 2 bank in the Milwaukee metropolitan area by deposit market share; its 19.3 percent share in June 2012 compares with 22.6 percent for M&I a year earlier. (U.S. Bank remains No. 1 for deposits, with a 37 percent share.) BMO Harris also launched its BMO Private Bank brand and the BMO Global Management U.S. brands in former M&I markets.

SVP Judy Rice, head of community affairs and economic development, turned to public relations to build support in Wisconsin for the newly arrived company. Local charitable commitments included an extended sponsorship of Summerfest, an annual music festival in Milwaukee, and a $750,000 donation over three years to United Way of Greater Milwaukee to lower the city's infant mortality rate.

Innovation came from women-led areas on the P&L side as well. Managing Director Erica Kuhlmann, who oversees food, consumer and agribusiness banking, used connections across the country to build on her group's legacy M&I counterpart, establishing an even more formidable ag-business lender. Margie Lawless, head of small-business strategy at BMO Harris, introduced an automated loan application that can speed the time to close by seven to 10 business days for many commercial clients.

This year marks the retirement of Ellen Costello, who joined the company in 1983 and was CEO of its Harris Bank unit from 2006 to 2011. After the M&I merger, Harris Bank became BMO Harris Bank, and Costello became the U.S. country head for BMO Financial Group and the president and CEO of its U.S. retail bank holding company, BMO Financial Corp. In addition to preparing BMO Harris for the M&I acquisition, which doubled assets and branches, Costello is credited with championing female talent and bringing new mentoring and coaching opportunities to the company. Last year, the company created a Diversity Renewal Council to set clear objectives and outline steps to achieve them. One goal for 2017 is an executive base that is 40 percent female.

Headquarters:
Chicago

2012 Financial Highlights:
Assets: $116.1 billion
ROE: 3.4%
ROA: 0.4%

Female representation among corporate officers: 45%

Female representation on operating committee: 26%

The Team: Leslie Anderson, Ann Benschoter, Ellen Costello, Julie Curran, Pamela Dean, Justine Fedak, Mary Jo Herseth, Christy Horn, Kara Kaiser, Katie Kelley, Deborah Korompilas, Jill Kremins, Erica Kuhlmann, Margie Lawless, Cecily Mistarz, Daniela O’Leary-Gill, Gail Palac, Pamela Piarowski, Debbie Rechter, Judith Rice, Lois Robinson, Connie Stefankiewicz, Cynthia Ullrich, Susan Wolford

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