by Ellen Armstrong (New York City)
These days, we look for the bright spots in finance and the economy anywhere we can find them. Fortunately, in the case of the Wall Street Journal’s 50 Women to Watch, there are plenty of bright stars on whom we can focus our attention.
First on the list is Sheila Bair, the Chairwoman of the FDIC, who has been in the headlines of late, between her cogent testimony on Capitol Hill on the roots of the financial crisis and her key role in negotiations of various federal bailout packages. She has been an outspoken advocate of protecting homeowners facing foreclosure, as well as protecting America’s bank accounts in the wake of one bank failure after another.
“She very likely will be the only agency head to come out of this crisis with an enhanced reputation,” says Camden Fine, president and chief executive of the Independent Community Bankers of America. “She may go down in history as one of the top two FDIC chairmen ever.”
Look for Ms. Bair to have a prominent role in any upcoming financial rescue package for Citibank, as well as the Big 3 auto companies, who might require access to government financing in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Number 2 on the list is another Glass Hammer favorite, Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo. In tough times, Ms. Nooyi has helped PepsiCo. stay competitive by launching a comprehensive cost-cutting program that will save the company $1.2 billion over the next few years.
Third on this list is Barbara Desoer, President, of Mortgage, Home Equity & Insurance Services at Bank of America. As with many of the top women on this year’s list, Ms. Desoer has risen to national prominence in the context of the subprime mortgage crisis and has succeeded under pressure. Some say that she is next in line to succeed CEO Ken Lewis.
Coming in fourth on the list, Hu Xiaolian, the deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, as well as the administrator of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, is not exactly a household name, but she’s one of the most powerful women in the world. Her role as manager of China’s $2 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves, including the world’s largest holding of US Treasury bonds, will keep her front and center on the global stage as the financial crisis plays out.
Christine Lagarde, Finance Minister of France is ranked fifth. Her efforts to turn Paris into a global finance hub and shepherd France through the economic downturn have attracted attention in world financial circles. Recently, she led the multibillion-euro cash injection into French banks and proposed a series of tax cuts for French businesses. Before becoming trade minister in 2005, she spent five years in Chicago as chairwoman of international law firm Baker & McKenzie.
Rounding out the top 10 are Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Kraft Foods, Ho Ching, CEO of Temasek Holdings of Singapore, Ellen Kullman, President and incoming CEO of DuPont, Ann Mulcahy, Chairman and CEO of Xerox, and Laura Tyson, public policy professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and economic advisor to President-elect Barack Obama.
This year’s crop of Women to Watch is fairly diverse, hailing from many different countries and ethnic backgrounds. Prominent African American women included Ursula Burns, President of Xerox Corp., who is one of the highest-ranking African American women in the corporate world, and Melody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments. 37-year-old Phuti Malabie, Managing Director of South African-based Shanduka Energy is a relative newcomer to the world stage of women in business. Celina Antunes has parlayed her Latin American experience and connections into success as Chief Executive for South America at global real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield.
The women listed above are just the top of the list of Women to Watch. Check out the article for more details on prominent African American and Hispanic women in business and finance, additional Women to Watch in Asia and Europe, as well as 40 “rising stars”.