The job descriptions of Bank of the West's branch employees have changed substantially, so Chief Administrative Officer Beth Hale provided each of them with a passport as a tangible symbol of their journey.

Hale heads the team that has remade how Bank of the West's 560 branches are staffed and operated. The bank, a unit of French banking giant BNP Paribas, provided customized training for each employee, to fill in gaps in their professional experience, as it implemented a universal banker model on the retail level.

As the training progressed, the passports were "stamped" with the new skills learned along the way "to show both our journey to improve the customer experience and to show the paths each employee took," Hale said.

Bank of the West Chief Administrative Officer Beth Hale.
Bank of the West Chief Administrative Officer Beth Hale.

Depicting the branch transformation as a journey is a reminder that the road to success can be bumpy and unpredictable, but also exhilarating.

Bank of the West's president and chief executive officer, Nandita Bakhshi, can attest to that. Bakhshi left India at age 27, when her husband moved to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. She left behind her career as a schoolteacher, took a part-time job in Albany, N.Y., as a teller and now — after a journey that took her from BankOne to FleetBoston to Washington Mutual to TD Bank — is one of just a handful of female CEOs at a major bank in the United States.

The idea of a long journey has been "one of the major themes throughout my 30 years in banking," Bakhshi said.

She reached her goals, she said, by seeking "helpful guides along my professional path, both within and outside the world of banking. They taught me, by example and precept, how to deal with all kinds of challenges — not only the agony of setbacks, but also the euphoria of success."

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Other executives are following Bakhshi's lead in helping guide professional development. Kristin Nelson, for example, has built a comprehensive training program for the bank's wealth management group, where she is head of sales strategy, training and business owner solutions.

The program includes weekly seminars called the Knowledge Builder Series that gives wealth managers insight into the latest industry trends.

These initiatives reflect the core lesson that Bakhshi learned on her own journey to leadership - it's essential for leaders to continue their roles as mentors.

"I encourage everyone to become a mentor, teacher and guide to others whenever you are able," Bakhshi said. "It is invaluable experience in helping you to continue to learn as a leader."

Headquarters: San Francisco

2016 Financial highlights:
Assets: $83.7 billion
ROE: 4.75%
ROA: 0.75%

Female representation among corporate officers: 31%

Female representation on operating committee: 27%

The Team: Nandita Bakhshi, Meghan Birmingham Leader, Mary Borg, Michelle Di Gangi, Eileen Dignen, Beth Hale, Maria Lazzarini, Kristin Nelson, Patricia Nowak, Emma Pertat, Ann Von Germeten, Vanessa Washington