Meet TIAA’s CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett
By Nicole Casperson
For Black women in America, it is lonely at the top, with only four Black women CEOs to ever reign at a Fortune 500 company.
Ursula Burns was CEO of Xerox Co. from 2010-2016, and Mary Winston was interim CEO at Bed Bath & Beyond in 2019. Rosalind Brewer became the third Black female when she took on the role of CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance in March 2021.
A huge milestone happened in May 2021 for Black women and the financial services industry when Thasunda Brown Duckett made history as the fourth to join the ranks as she stepped into her role as President & CEO of TIAA.
TIAA is a top provider of retirement and outcome-focused investment solutions to millions of people and thousands of institutions.
And the company has a significant focus on technology, just launching last month the Client Tech Labs, a coalition of higher education institutions and industry leaders who, together with TIAA, will work to create fintech and other technology solutions.
With a powerhouse beyond imagination at the helm, we, as fintech leaders, can all learn from Thasunda this month and every month. 💪🏽
Let’s dive into her story.
Thasunda is a true icon in commercial banking and investment services.
She has held the CEO crown at some of the MOST prestigious institutions.
However, it wasn’t without incredible perseverance against the same odds many Black Americans unfairly face.
Our girl was born in Rochester, New York but raised in Texas. When her father lost his job, he relocated his family to start over. But it wasn’t easy.
Her family struggled to keep food on the table, and at one point, she lived in a place that didn’t even have furniture.
In her words,
“When you know what it’s like to look in the refrigerator and just see baking soda or know what it’s like to have your lights turned off, personal finance is important.”
Thasunda has been frank about how her firsthand experiences with economic uncertainty early on shaped her path.
Because of what she saw in her parent’s experience and the things she went through as a child, she was called toward finance to change the lives of people like her parents.
When Thasunda was an undergraduate at the University of Houston, getting her degree in finance and marketing, she landed an internship with the mortgage loan company Fannie Mae.
She instantly fell in love with the homeownership business and knew she had a future in it.
At the end of her time at the University of Houston, Thasunda was full of job offers.
But even though it was the lowest paying of all the offers, she chose to stick with Fannie Mae and began her career with them, leading affordable housing initiatives for people of color.
Her next chapter after Fannie Mae landed her at Chase in 2004, where she would stay until 2021, eventually working her way up to CEO of Chase Consumer Banking.
Some Hot Girl shit if I ever saw it.
Let’s break it down, though.
At Chase, she held the positions of:
- SVP for Emerging Markets and Affordable Lending (2008-2012)
- National Retail Sales Executive of Chase Mortgage (2012-2013)
- CEO of Chase Auto Finance (2013-2016)
While head of Chase Auto Finance, an area that is predominantly older white men, she realized that it wasn’t just the opportunity Black people in American corporate need, but the culture where they can be heard, understood, and embraced.
“If you’re given that opportunity, and you don’t have the culture, the minute you trip, you’re going to be rejected,” she shared during a panel discussion with Fortune.
Culture matters for people like Thasunda to be able to bring the technical acumen – which is just table stakes. But the highest form of diversity, in Thasunda’s words, is perspective.
With culture top of mind, Thasunda finally became CEO of Chase Consumer Banking.
LIKE A BOSS.
During her time at Chase, she worked tirelessly to educate others about the importance of financial literacy and to diversify the faces in the room and those receiving financial services.
She was the executive sponsor of JP Morgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways program, which focused on helping Black Americans access wealth, education, and career opportunities.
She was a leader of the Women on the Move initiative, which focused on providing resources to women.
Thasunda sits as the CEO of a new institution: The Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA), a fortune 100 provider of secure retirement and outcome-focused investment solutions to millions of people in higher education, healthcare & other mission-driven organizations.
In 2021 when Thasunda took the job, she became the 2nd Black woman currently leading a Fortune 500 company and only the 4th Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company as CEO in history.
TIAA is now the first Fortune 500 company to have had two Black CEOs.
Not great America. 🙄 BUT demonstrates the incredible odds that Thasunda had to beat to achieve success.
We are blessed that she didn’t take the easy road because she is an incredible advocate for all people.
With women like her in power, our institutions could genuinely change.
And Thasunda is a significant advocate for sisterhood – regardless of ethnicity.
“What we need from all of you is to commit to this sisterhood because the reality is, there’s not enough of us sitting out there, and so we need you,” she said in front of a crowd of majority white women.
“We have to decide diversity is not a business case,” she said. “It is what we are, who we are, and what we want to get done.
If we can join forces, we can make sure that we reach as we climb and that you can pick up that young black girl and let her know there are women from another company that looks like her that can ascend, and in the meantime, you’ll stand in the gap.
We need that to make corporate America a bit browner and more female.“