Senior vice president First Bank System Inc., Minneapolis

How committed to banking is Susan Lester? The controller of First Bank System says she's amassed more unused vacation days than she could take in a lifetime.

"The trick about banking is that it tends to interfere with personal life," says the 36-year-old executive.

In her case, however, discipline has paid off handsomely.

In only two years, the Chicago native rose to one of the top financial posts at the rapidly growing Minneapolis bank, priming her as a possible successor to chief financial officer Rick Zona.

Ms. Lester oversees a staff of 200 people in the financial accounting, management accounting, and tax units.

First Bank is famous for its insistence on cost efficiency, lending an urgency to her job. But Ms. Lester shrugs off the pressure, saying efficiency has become a industry survival skill.

Even so, Ms. Lester says the flood of new federal rules is making life harder. "I feel an overwhelming sense of regulatory burden. It will be a real challenge to comply while keeping costs under control."

With her skill and experience, however, Ms. Lester appears perfectly positioned to glide with First Bank as it expands in the Midwest.

Fresh from the University of Dayton, she plunged into a full-time accounting job and graduate school, working for the former Ernst & Whinney while attending the University of Chicago.

After completing her MBA in 1984, she moved to Ernst & Whinney's Minneapolis office. Her primary client was First Bank, which four years ago recruited her as a vice president.

"I think they figured that my hourly billing rate would decline when I moved over," Ms. Lester quips.

While her rates may have gone down, her responsibilities certainly grew: Within a year she was promoted to her present position.

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