Cathy Bessant
Global Technology and Operations Executive, Bank of America

To say Cathy Bessant has a big job would be an understatement. She leads a business unit comparable in size and budget to some of the largest corporations in the country, and her responsibilities grew further in April when the unit absorbed Bank of America's consumer and mortgage-servicing operations. The number of employees and contractors she's responsible for surged to 124,000.

The responsibilities she takes on in the community are outsized too, but she would not have it any other way. Bessant says she is a firm believer that volunteer work makes better bankers. Her charitable and civic work also has helped her build deep connections with business leaders in the Carolinas. "At the end of the day people do business with people, and the opportunity to create relationships and expand networks is very important," she says.

Bessant's activities include having just completed a five-year term as board president of the nonprofit Foundation for the Carolinas, a $1.3 billion community-development fund. Bankers who have served on the board with Bessant include former Wachovia CEO G. Kennedy Thompson, ex-GMAC CEO Alvaro de Molina and Wells Fargo's Laura Schulte, along with influential people in other fields. "I don't walk into many rooms in North Carolina where I don't know a lot of the people there," Bessant says.

Talking with her fellow board members also provided a crucial outlet for her amid the stress of the financial crisis. "During the toughest years in banking I would have been lost if not for the offset of my civic work," she says. "Imagine the opportunity to go every other month and sit with important, caring, inspirational people. What a rejuvenation."

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