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KeyCorp CEO Mooney’s profile raised by acquisition

Beth Mooney is perched at the pinnacle of success, and the vantage point just rose higher.

Mooney is chairman, president and CEO of Cleveland-based KeyCorp, which on Friday agreed to pay $4.1 billion in cash and stock to buy Buffalo’s First Niagara Financial Group.

She is the highest-ranking woman in the nation in banking and the first to lead one of the nation’s 20 largest banks, which had $90 billion in assets when she took over, but will now have $135 billion. It’s the first big acquisition that she has overseen at Key. And she’s being watched closely as a result.

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The 38-year banking veteran has led KeyCorp since the May 2011 retirement of her predecessor, Henry Meyer, steering Ohio’s second-largest bank through the nation’s sluggish economic recovery, raising its profits and positioning it for growth. She was previously the bank’s president and chief operating officer, its vice chairman and head of Key Community Banking, and president of its primary subsidiary, KeyBank.

She is optimistic about KeyBank’s enhanced presence in the Buffalo region.

“Key’s business model will resonate here, and we look forward to introducing ourselves to clients and prospects in these new attractive markets,” she said Friday.

The native of Midland, Mich., whose background is in retail banking, commercial lending and real estate financing, joined Key in April 2006 from Birmingham, Ala.-based AmSouth Bancorporation, now part of Regions Financial Corp., where she had worked in various positions since 2000. She previously worked for Bank One Corp., Citicorp Real Estate Inc. and a couple of banks in Texas, where she attended college and graduate school.

She is known for being personable and sincere, meeting the top third of Key’s shareholders and employees in the bank’s 20 local markets in her first 100 days on the job. She also answers employee emails personally and sends hand-written thank-you notes. She’s regarded as financially conservative, and unlikely to overpay for a deal. But she has also overseen reinvestment in the bank, including a campaign to renovate the bank’s stodgy branches and add new ones.

She has also focused the bank more on corporate responsibility, diversity and community development, and has said her goal is to make a difference as a banker.

email: jepstein@buffnews.com