By John Adams, Mark Browne, Lee Conrad, Michael Dumiak, John Engen, Dalia Fahmy, Glen Fest, Karen Krebsbach, Joseph Rosta, Rebecca Sausner, Michael Sisk and Holly Sraeel

Success in business requires that leaders see the race to the top as a marathon and not a sprint. The most effective leaders have the ability to size up competitors, while also gauging the distance between where they are and where they want to be. Those who make perseverance an inherent part of their behavior set the pace for rivals in their pursuit of excellence. "If you wish success in life, make perseverance your bosom friend, experience your wise counselor, caution your elder brother and hope your guardian genius," English poet Joseph Addison once penned.

Nowhere is perseverance, experience, caution and hope more necessary these days than in banking and financial services, where top performance is less about individual achievement and more about one's ability to build strong teams, expand businesses and anticipate and manage for change-constant change. More women than ever in banking are demonstrating notable perseverance, enabling them to rethink how businesses are organized, how teams operate and how performance can be stepped up over the short- and long-term.

This is good news for an industry facing difficult challenges, including a flat to inverted yield curve that has put pressure on earnings and profitability; exposures in the subprime market that knocked some of the industry's biggest players hard; the rising cost of deposits; the continuing heavy dependence on overdraft and non-sufficient funds fees, which account for 60 percent of all fee income in banking; and the securities market's early September gyrations that caused the P/E ratio of the Standard & Poor's 500 to slide to its lowest level since 1992.

It's at times like these that top performers stand out, courage is invaluable and, occasionally, financial institutions find themselves carried on the backs of those individuals whose perseverance is rewarded with results. In its fifth-annual ranking of "The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking," U.S. Banker pays tribute to the professional achievements and personal tenacity of top-performing industry executives.

Since the ranking's inception, the achievements of more than 225 women have been recognized, including members of the Top 3 Banking Teams in 2006 and 2007 and 10 women who have appeared all five years. This year, the magazine considered the performance of 4,800 executives before compiling its ranking of the most influential women, which also recognizes "The 25 Women to Watch" and "The Top 3 Banking Teams."

The top five banks-Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wachovia and Wells Fargo-saw nine women place in The 25 MPWIB ranking. Overall, money-center banks claimed 64 percent of the positions, while community banks held 20 percent and mid-tier banks accounted for 16 percent. The top five women in The 25 MPWIB are JPMorgan Chase's Heidi Miller, CEO of Treasury and Securities Services; Wells Fargo's Carrie Tolstedt, senior evp of community banking; Bank of America's Barbara Desoer, chief technology and operations officer; Wachovia's Cece Sutton, evp and head of retail and small-business banking; and Wells Fargo's Doreen Woo Ho, president of the consumer credit group and corporate trust services.

Among The 25 Women to Watch, money centers held 68 percent of the spots, while community banks commanded 24 percent and mid-tier banks made up the balance with eight percent. The top five women in this group are Citigroup's Sallie Krawcheck, chairman and CEO of Global Wealth Management; The Bank of New York Mellon's Karen Peetz, CEO of Corporate Trust; TD Bank Financial Group's Colleen Johnston, group head of finance and CFO; Wells Fargo's Avid Modjtabai, evp and CIO; and Wachovia's Ranjana Clark, senior evp and CMO.

The methodology requires that an executive be in her position for at least 12 months and hold a title of svp or higher within a bank, division, group or subsidiary owned by a bank holding company to be eligible for The 25 MPWIB ranking. This requirement prompted movement in the ranking of some of the industry's most high-profile players, including Krawcheck, Modjtabai; Clark; Capital One's Lynn Pike, president of its banking business; and RBS America's Ellen Alemany, chief executive.

In the methodology, quantitative factors for The 25 MPWIB earn two-thirds weight in the final ranking, with qualitative elements making up the balance. Quantitative measurables include one-year and three-year financial performance, business initiatives and results, as well as length of tenure in the business. USB also considers final performance in light of a business's size and development.

As for qualitative factors, USB weighs a nominee's job complexity and responsibility, management style, best practices and innovations implemented, charitable work and overall influence within her institution, the industry as a whole and the community in which she lives and works. Together, these elements paint a powerful picture of leadership across the banking industry.

In considering the final ranking this year, it's relevant to note that 11 spots, or 44 percent, were held by new faces to The 25 MPWIB, while 13 spots, or 52 percent, were held by newcomers to The 25 Women to Watch. Moreover, this year's ranking saw a number of strong performances from women at foreign banks, including Royal Bank of Canada COO Barbara Stymiest and Barclays UK retail chief Deanna Oppenheimer, each of whom ranked among The 25 MPWIB, while TD Bank Financial Group's Johnston posted a strong showing as one of the 25 Women to Watch.

But the most telling aspect of influence is the increasing number of executives who have been handed multiple senior assignments within an organization, a strong indicator that they're being groomed for potentially bigger gigs requiring well-rounded experience. Such persons include Modjtabai, moving from evp and head of HR to evp and CIO of Wells Fargo; Clark, who swapped her evp and head of treasury management role for the senior evp and CMO spot at Wachovia, a newly created position; and Krawcheck, moving from CFO to head Citi Global Wealth Management this year. Other notable changes in the ranking this year include individuals who were given added responsibilities based on their prior track records as top performers. Among them: U.S. Bancorp's Diane Thormodsgard, vice chair and head of wealth management, and The Bank of New York Mellon's Peetz, CEO of its expanded corporate trust unit.

Top-performing women are getting noticed-and scooped up by rival institutions. This year, Citi lost three high-profile women executives-Alemany to RBS America, Joyce Phillips to American Life Insurance Company (a member company of AIG), and Faith Massingale to JPMorgan Chase. Such departures open doors of opportunity, for those within the institution and outside of it. This underscores the influence successful women executives wield, and the promise of top performance they bring to their new positions.

When ranking the Top 3 Banking Teams, however, it is clear that the effect of gender diversity can have an impact on the overall financial prosperity of an institution, and that the total performance of women-led businesses is far more important than superstar performances of individuals. The Top 3 Banking Teams for 2007 are U.S. Bancorp, Citigroup and Wells Fargo-ranked numbers one, two and three, respectively.

The elevation of women industry-wide hasn't come at a breakneck pace. Only 17.9 percent of executive positions of the 100 largest nationally chartered commercial banks were held by women in 2006, according to Financial Women International Foundation-a rise of only 1.9 percent since The 25 MPWIB ranking was started in 2003. The recent data from FWIF also found that 14.7 percent of executive management positions at state-chartered banks were held by women.

In terms of women serving as corporate officers, the most diverse management committees can be found at Wells Fargo & Co., with women as 28.6 percent of its officers (six out of 21); Bank of America, with 25 percent (two out of eight); Wachovia, with 20 percent (three out of 15); JPMorgan Chase, with 19.2 percent (10 out of 52 in 2007); Washington Mutual, with 16.7 percent (two out of 12 in 2007) and U.S. Bancorp with 16.7 percent (two out of 12).

The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same. According to a recent Catalyst research project, "The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don't," gender bias bars women from leading effectively. That women's advancement in the boardroom is blocked by stereotyping is not front-page news, of course, but how that mindset offers women "limited, conflicting, and often unfavorable options no matter how they choose to lead" is a subtle twist on a continuing conundrum, the research suggests. The Catalyst findings, reached after interviews with 1,231 senior executives at U.S. and European companies, suggest this kind of distorted thinking is systematically forcing organizations to underestimate women's leadership skills. "When companies fail to acknowledge and address the impact of gender stereotypic bias, they lose out on top female talent," says Catalyst president Ilene H. Lang. "Ultimately, it's not women's leadership styles that need to change."

Catalyst found men retain an accepted perception as "default leaders," while women are "atypical leaders." Thus, the study shows, the masculine leadership norm creates three connected, but distinct, dilemmas for women leaders: they're seen as either too tough, too soft but never "just right." They face higher standards than male leaders, but are rewarded with less; and that when women show traditionally valued leadership behaviors such as assertiveness, they tend to be seen as competent but not personable, and that those who adopt more feminine styles are liked but perceived as not possessing sufficient leadership skills. The upshot: Damned if she does, doomed if she doesn't.

To combat the bias, Lang suggests that organizations shift their norms and cultures to meet the demands of the marketplace, which will undoubtedly continue to accept women in leadership ranks.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced on Labor Day that full-time women now earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men, statistically unchanged from 2005 though real median earnings for both sexes declined in 2005 and 2006. Most of the honorees in this year's ranking appear to have successfully navigated the shoals of corporate America to rise up the ranks. "I sense a new readiness to acknowledge that 'leadership' and 'success' in society can be defined in various and particular ways for women other than the myth that we have to be superwomen, everything to everybody," observed Bank of America's Amy Brinkley, when speaking to the Women's Network last year. Brinkley, who has consistently been ranked in The 25 MPWIB, was ranked No. 7 this year. "In fact, doing away with that myth-that we can be superwomen, that we can 'have it all' unconditionally-is a piece of business I say we go ahead and finish for good."

The inability to "have it all" means choices and consequences getting to the top. In the magazine's second year of surveying honorees, some 66 percent of respondents said they had never considered working outside of banking, even though more than 57 percent did not start their professional careers in banking. Of the 34 percent who have pondered the idea of leaving banking, the most attractive options were hedge funds or other alternative-investment companies (41 percent); consulting (18 percent); insurance (12 percent). Nearly 30 percent chose "other." For those who had never actively considered leaving banking, the most attractive options-should they think about their next gig-in financial services would be consulting (50 percent), technology or other service providers (17 percent) and asset management (eight percent). Another 25 percent chose "other."

And in considering their next professional move, compensation was not the motivator for a single respondent. Some 72 percent said a new challenge would be the reason; 15 percent said it would be to seek a new corporate culture; 11 percent said it would be for additional skills and greater responsibilities; and two percent said a lack of career path at their current job would get them out the door.

Mentoring, once again, proved to be an important issue: 85 percent of respondents reported having a mentor in their career, and 92 percent said their first mentor was a man. Moreover, 98 percent said they mentored other women at their institution.

When asked to what they attribute their professional success, two factors gained equal weight of 41 percent: a commitment to doing what it takes to get the job done and the ability to surround yourself with competent team members. The next most important factor was the influence of parents, at nine percent. The guidance of a mentor earned four percent; two other factors, education and good career moves, earned two percent each.

When asked what they consider their most precious professional asset, 43 percent said it was their leadership ability; 27 percent say their character; 16 percent said team-building; seven percent said attitude; five percent said knowledge of the business; and two percent said work ethic. Some 89 percent of the women surveyed said they did not regret pursuing a job that would have advanced their careers in the first 10 years of their professional lives, while 11 percent said they did. And only 20 percent said gender played a role in not being offered a position at least once in their banking careers, while 80 percent said gender was never a factor. In looking at the group from a demographic perspective, 78 percent of respondents are married; 11 percent are divorced; nine percent are single; and two percent are widowed.

Further, 67 percent have a partner or husband who works full-time, while 33 percent have a partner or husband that does not work full-time. More than 82 percent of the women have children or stepchildren. Most respondents had no full-time household help, although 40 percent had a housekeeper; 18 percent had a nanny for childcare; 13 percent had a driver; and eight percent had a cook.

Balancing work and family commitments remains a perennial issue. Some 37 percent of respondents report struggling moderately; 20 percent do so occasionally; 15 percent say rarely; and 15 percent always.

Further reflecting the work/life balance struggle, 39 percent report only zero-to-five hours spent during the work week on personal/recreational time; 37 percent report six-to-10 hours; 13 percent report 11-15 hours; and 11 percent report 16-20 hours. In terms of physical fitness, 65 percent of respondents spent zero to five hours a week exercising; 35 percent reported 6-10 hours; none reported doing so 11-15 hours or 16-20 hours.

And to what extent does the work week extend past five days? Some 38 percent report working weekends often, while 54 percent report doing so sometimes and six percent never doing so. Similarly, 54 percent of respondents report not taking all of their allotted vacation last year, while 46 percent did. More than 77 percent of respondents admitted to working while on vacation.

Hiring women at the top is more than just a public-image issue; it's a profitability issue. In a recent survey by Catalyst, Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentages of women corporate officers reported, on average, a 35.1 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total return to shareholders than did those with the lowest percentages of women corporate officers.

How do all these numbers shake out? These detailed profiles of 50 women who are reshaping the banking industry are making a difference not only in their own careers, but of those of the men and women around them, and on the top and bottom lines of their banks. "There are no secrets to success," Colin Powell, former secretary of State once noted. "It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure." Clearly, that's something these women already know. And the corporate world is taking notice.

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