No. 6: Margaret Keane, Synchrony Financial

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Margaret Keane
President and CEO, Synchrony Financial

Margaret Keane will never forget the feeling of ringing the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange and seeing her newly public company's ticker symbol scroll across the screen.

It was July 2014 when the former GE Capital Retail conducted an initial public offering — part of the process of separating from its parent company, General Electric.

As president and chief executive of the private-label credit card company, Keane had been responsible for everything that went into making the transition possible: opening data centers, adding roughly 700 employees, recruiting directors for the board and settling on the new name, Synchrony Financial.

Experiencing the culmination of it all, she was overcome with emotion.

"I imagine it's the same feeling of excitement someone who is building a home gets when there's a significant portion added on — a master bedroom or a kitchen," Keane says. "It's a combination of satisfaction, pride and excitement for what the future holds."

To ensure a smooth break, Keane has been paying particularly close attention to customer retention, with positive results. She headed up Synchrony's effort to communicate with its retail partners — which include brands such as American Eagle and Gap — about the changes that would come with its separation from GE. Providing this timely information has led to Synchrony signing contracts that extend to at least 2019 with the brands that are responsible for 88% of its retail card receivables.

Synchrony delivered strong financial performance in 2014, with net earnings growing 7% from a year earlier, to $2.1 billion. The company also maintains its position as the country's largest provider of private-label credit cards based on purchase volume and receivables.

The past year has been a whirlwind — but Keane says she has enjoyed it. "Without question, taking a company public that has excelled for 80 years as part of an iconic brand and transforming it into its own unique brand with a new name and identity has been the most fun I've had not just in the past year, but in my career in financial services," she says.

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