10 of the Most Powerful Women in Finance

What does it take to become ranked as a top woman of finance?

Pretty much the same thing it takes for a man: knowledge, competence, creativity, perseverance and maybe a little luck thrown in, to boot.

The women on our list are at the top of their field, setting the bar for the next generation of female financial superstars. But at the same time, they are still continuously expanding their sphere of influence.

A soft drink executive is leading the healthy eating movement; a former computer executive is raising $1 billion to pursue opportunities in China; a finance minister is being primed to take over one of the world's most influential banks.   

All of these women have remarkable resumes and are at the top of their game. So, in no particular order, here are our top 10 most powerful women in finance:

Abby Joseph Cohen -- Partner/Sr. U.S. Investment Strategist, Goldman Sachs

As one of the most influential economic analysts in the world, Abby Joseph Cohen is known throughout the financial industry for her bold (and generally bullish) calls on the U.S. stock market.

Adding to her clout is her position as partner and chief forecaster for Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS), perhaps the most revered and vilified firm to survive the recent economic crisis.

Cohen was famously bullish on tech stocks in 2000 and the U.S. stock market in 2008, and critics point to her failure to foresee the bursting of either the dot com bubble or the housing bubble. These critiques make her forecasts lightening rods for debate.

But regardless of whether her calls have always been right, one thing is certain: Cohen ranks with Ben Bernanke, Warren Buffett and Bill Gross on the list of financial voices to which every investor pays attention. 

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Indra Nooyi -- Chairman/CEO, PepsiCo

Indra Nooyi is only the fifth CEO in PepsiCo's 46-year history. 

Born in India, Nooyi is one of the most high-profile executives in America, owing largely to her status as a female, foreign-born CEO who often appears at PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) events wearing a sari.

"Being a woman, being foreign-born, you've got to be smarter than anyone else," Nooyi has said.

Since taking over the head spot in 2006, Nooyi has pushed Pepsi to take bold (and controversial) risks, including a foray into "good for you" foods. Unsurprisingly, that qualifies as a huge departure for the traditionally drink-centric company.

After acquiring Tropicana, Quaker Oats and Russian dairy Wimm-Bill-Dannj, Nooyi has come under fire for what some see as a losing strategy. Nooyi's reply, according to the Wall Street Journal: "We are confident that we will reinvent the cola business the right way."

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Mary Ma -- Founder, Boyu Capital Ltd.

After serving stints as CFO of Chinese computer giant Lenovo and managing director with private-equity firm TPG Capital, Mary Ma recently announced that she was leaving TPG to start her own $1 billion China-focused private equity firm, Boyu Capital.

China's private equity market is fast-growing, competitive and lucrative. Ma's fund will be going head-to-head with some of the most successful private equity firms in the world, including Blackstone (NYSE:BX), Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co (NYSE: KKR) and her former employer, TPG Capital. 

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Lubna Olayan -- CEO/President, Olayan Financing Company

Since 1986, Lubna Olayan has served as the CEO and President of Olayan Financing Company (OFC), the Saudi arm of the Olayan Group, which in turn is one of the largest firms in Saudi Arabia.  

OFC is one of the largest investors in Saudi and regional stock markets. In December 2004, Olayan was elected to the Board of Saudi Hollandi Bank, the first woman to join the board of a publicly listed company in Saudi Arabia. She is also a non-executive director on the Board of advertising and communications giant WPP.

Olayan is also an advocate for progressive business practices in the Middle East. She is active in the World Economic Forum and serves on its Arab Business Council and Women Leadership Initiative.

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Shari Arison -- Business Owner, Bank Hapoalim

American-Israeli businesswoman Shari Arison wasn’t always a dominating female figure the financial world.

But in 1999, her father, billionaire businessman Ted Arison -- founder of Carnival Cruise Lines (NYSE: CCL) -- died and left her 35% of his holdings, which included his Israeli empire and a substantial piece of Carnival.

Without much experience, Arison is following in her father’s footsteps and currently owns several businesses, including Israel’s second-largest banking institution, Bank Hapoalim, and the country’s biggest construction firm, Housing & Construction Holding.

Arison has also been a big local media draw in recent years. In 2003, she sparked a wave of protests when she fired 900 workers from Bank Hapoalim.

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Ana Patricia Botin -- CEO, Santander UK

In 2010, Ana Patricia Botin was named CEO of Santander UK -- the British banking subsidiary of Spain’s largest bank, the Santander Group (NYSE: STD) -- and became the first female CEO of a UK bank.

As the daughter of the Santander Group’s chairman, Botin has been tasked with repairing the bank’s customer-service reputation and pulling off an initial public offering

By doing so, she will prove that she deserves to succeed her father and continue the 115-year-old family business of running Santander.

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Carrie Tolstedt -- Sr. V.P. of Community Banking, Wells Fargo

In 2007, Carrie Tolstedt was appointed Senior Executive Vice President of Community Banking at Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), taking command of 6,600 branches and 120,000 employees in 39 states and the District Columbia.

"Some think of power as force or authority," she said at her acceptance dinner. "I view power not as force, but as capacity. Our capacity to perform with effectiveness. Our capacity to use our influence and knowledge. Our capacity to mobilize the energy of others and the capacity in others."

She has been with Wells Fargo and its predecessors for 20 years and was named U.S. Banker's Most Powerful Woman in Banking for 2010.

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Abigail Johnson -- President, Fidelity Investments

Abigail Johnson may have been born into a prosperous family -- her father's company, Fidelity Investments, is one of the largest mutual fund firms in the world -- but she still had to earn her success.

After obtaining her MBA at Harvard University and a brief stint as a consultant at Booz Allen & Hamilton, Johnson joined her father's company as a stock analyst, the bottom rung at the Fidelity ladder.

Today, she oversees all of Fidelity’s customer- and client-focused businesses, including Fidelity institutional, personal investing, workplace investing and Fidelity investments institutional services.

But with Fidelity's chief executive, Edward C. Johnson III, in his 80s and no public succession plan in place, it is rumored that Johnson is being positioned to take the top managerial role at the firm.

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Gail Kelly -- CEO, Westpac Bank of Australia

Gail Kelly is known as Australia's most influential businesswoman and is currently the CEO of its second-largest bank, Westpac.

Kelly began her banking career as a teller, earned an MBA while pregnant with her oldest daughter and continued her remarkable climb to the top of an industry dominated by men. She has enjoyed a fast-track career in banking largely because of her managerial skills and remarkable headway in improving banking profitability and increasing the bank's return on assets.

But her dramatic ascent has not been without controversy. Increases in interest rates on loans from her bank, along with a move to send jobs offshore has provoked much disdain from Australians.

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Christine Lagarde -- Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF)

As France's minister of economic affairs, industry and employement, Christine Lagarde was a top official of one of Europe's most powerful economies.

But with her appointment as the new leader of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), she's primed to be one of the most powerful people in global finance.

Lagarde was at the forefront of negotiations for a bailout of Greece and is known for her strict insistence on fiscal responsibility but has been criticized for mishandling the European debt crisis from the beginning. She's recently urged the European Central Bank to take further steps to stabilize the eurozone's economy.

With French banks having the largest exposure to Greece -- an estimated 65 billion Euros held by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) -- Lagarde faces unprecedented turbulence in Europe that poses challenges to the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr: Sam Churchill.

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