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1. Avid Modjtabai
Senior EVP For Consumer Lending, Wells Fargo

Avid Modjtabai might not be the next chief executive of Wells Fargo. But to hear her boss talk about her, it's clear she's in the running to succeed him.

"You have this very, very talented leader" who has run several departments at Wells over her 19-year career there, "and each one is better when she leaves it than when she's found it," says John Stumpf, CEO of the fourth-largest bank by assets.

Stumpf still has six years before he hits the company's mandatory retirement age of 65 and says he's in no hurry to leave early, but thinks Modjtabai has played her hand well.

"Avid is one of those people that has just continued to meet and exceed every expectation," he says, adding carefully, "she and others in our company have big runways and big opportunities."

It's Modjtabai for whom he saves what has to be the highest compliments of all at Wells, which religiously calls its employees "team members" and is the only one of the big U.S. banks that could be described as having Main Street folksiness: "Avid is the best team player I've ever been around," Stumpf says.

At 50, Modjtabai has played many roles at the San Francisco-based bank, but her last two have been her most challenging yet. As head of technology and operations, she oversaw a major piece of the integration with Wachovia Bank, tying systems together and trying to present a seamless façade to customers as Wells digested its crisis-era purchase.

Since last summer she has overseen the company's massive consumer lending operations, including mortgages, cards, student lending and auto finance at a time of drastic change for each of these businesses.

"There's a lot of change happening specifically in this part of financial services-all sorts of new regulation, the [national mortgage] settlement, consent orders," Modjtabai says. "You're working through those while you are also rethinking the business model."

The consumer lending group-created last July when Wells consolidated eight existing business units and put them under the leadership of Modjtabai-comprises 62,000 employees and $355 billion in loan balances, or about half of the bank's total loans.

Born in Iran, Modjtabai has been back there only twice since leaving the country after high school to attend college in the United States. She has an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering from Stanford University.

Although most of her recent jobs at Wells have dealt with technology and the Internet, Modjtabai doesn't consider herself a techie-but she doesn't have a traditional banking background either, noting that her current role is "the first pure lending job I've had."

Wells originates one of every three residential mortgages made in this country. Some regulators are worried about overconcentration in the housing market. Modjtabai says Wells' dominance is mostly a byproduct of external factors, and not positioning by the company. "At the end of the day, consumers will vote with where they take their business."