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1. Nandita Bakhshi
President and CEO, Bank of the West

She has traveled further than just about anyone in banking, culminating with her recent ascension to the top job at one of the nation's 40 largest banks.

But it was not a journey without risk.

On her way to becoming the chief executive at the $77 billion-asset Bank of the West, Nandita Bakhshi repeatedly took calculated career risks. This history major from Calcutta, India, also challenged the cultural expectation that a wife should put her husband's career ahead of her own.

Over time, Bakhshi developed expertise in retail banking. She led integrations of newly acquired banks and learned how to deal with regulators. She became seasoned in navigating the cultural nuances of multinational banks.

But Bakhshi also traces her achievements back to the early years of her career, during the late '80s and early '90s. She started out as a part-time teller before spending time as a branch-based salesperson.

"I understand sales. I know what motivates people in the front lines. I understand what it takes to serve those customers, how do you relate to them, and how do you make sure that you have a 'wow' experience with a customer," she says.

Here are four key traits that Bakhshi identified when asked about moving up to CEO, a title she officially took on July 1.

An Analytical Mind

"I have been a clear thinker," Bakhshi says. "I would say I have the ability to cut through the clutter and kind of go to the point. I'm not an engineer by training. But I think like an engineer. I can break it into little parts, and then I can build it up again. I'm a linear thinker, where I can say ... 'What are the 15 steps?' But at the same time I like to be creative."

A Drive to Improve

"I'm extremely selfish," Bakhshi says. "I like to learn more today than I knew yesterday. So in any environment, I go in and I'm like, 'OK, what is the nugget I picked up?' I'm constantly asking for feedback. 'Tell me what did I do wrong.' 'What could I do better?'"

"I am not afraid of challenges," she says, before adding: "But that's something that has developed over time. I don't know if I came with that."

A Sense of Humility

"I truly believe that as a CEO, or as a leader of an organization, you're in a service role," Bakhshi says. "You're really serving your employees, your colleagues and your customers. And that's ... a value I've always had in me."

The Leadership Gene

"Leading an organization, leading change, leading a culture is what really excites me," Bakhshi says.

"I don't know if I have ever really thought of myself as a CEO — and you can't ever really think like that, until you're in the position, and you see what it means. But I've always aspired to be a leader. Whatever I've done, I've aspired to lead the institution, and provide direction strategically, and help the team move and navigate to that strategic direction."



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