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#1 Beth Mooney

Chairman and CEO, KeyCorp

"People will cheer for you as long as you're a winner, but if you stumble, you run the risk that they'll pile on because you were so ambitious … Virtually every time I've been offered an opportunity, I think about the risk I am taking, and ask myself if my abilities measure up."

A common knock on female executives is that they are too timid when it comes to verbalizing their career goals, but Beth Mooney can recall telling colleagues two decades ago at Bank One the she hoped to someday have then-CEO John McCoy's job.

Mooney credits her father, a former chemist with Dow Chemical, for giving her the confidence to pursue her ambitions. "My dad had always told me to be what I wanted to be," says Mooney. "There were never these assumptions that I couldn't do something because I'm a woman.

"My mother, on other hand, always wondered why I wasn't married and having children."

This spring, Mooney boarded a plane to Colorado to visit her father at his nursing home. She wanted to tell him in person that she had just been named CEO at KeyCorp, the first large, U.S.-based banking company to appoint a woman to the top executive post.

"When I told him, he teared up ... and said he was so proud of me," says Mooney. "That he was 92 and still alive and could share that moment meant everything to me."

Three decades ago, women like Mooney were often the only females in management meetings and usually weren't invited when bank presidents would take their clients to lunch. Today, Mooney marvels at the strides women have made in a single generation, noting that scores of women hold key decision-making positions and that more and more are advancing to senior-level positions each day.

"There have been many talented, successful women who have come ahead of me, and I'm grateful for the trailblazing that they did," she says. "I realize that for a woman to get this job it's taken a village."

Mooney began her career in corporate banking, at Republic Bank of Texas in the late 1970s, and switched to commercial real estate lending (the "ultimate guys' club," she says) in the 1980s. From there, she took on a series of high-profile jobs, including regional and Ohio president for BankOne, chief financial officer at AmSouth Bancorp., and vice chairman and head of community banking at the $86 billion-asset Key, where she oversaw all of the bank's major business lines. Her aspirations were no secret. "I've always been transparent about being as ambitious as my skills would take me," she says.

Mooney's career also was propelled by great coaching and support from bankers including McCoy, former AmSouth CEO Dowd Ritter, and Henry Meyer, her predecessor at Key. "They were all mentors who took an active interest in my career," Mooney says. "No one gave me opportunities that I didn't earn, but they were looking for ways to give me opportunities to help me develop."

Mooney, who took over as CEO in May, also recognizes that she is an inspiration for other up-and-coming female executives. Ultimately she will be judged for her performance as a leader, and not for being the first female to run a big, U.S.-based bank. But Mooney believes that if she is successful in delivering results for customers and shareholders and making Key a more attractive place for employees, more women will aim for the C suite.

"I'm very conscious of those women who will look to me as a role model," she says. "That's why I feel a little extra obligation and a little extra commitment to do this well."

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KeyCorp Picks Beth Mooney as Next Chairman and CEO
Mooney in 2008 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking (#19)