On Oct. 4, Daniels College of Business (DCB) hosted Roger Ferguson, CEO of TIAA for its Voices of Experience Speaker Series. The Voices of Experience Speaker Series invites CEOs and significant leaders into the DU community to share lessons they’ve learned in their leadership career. The hour and a half long event featured a discussion between Ferguson and DCB Dean Brent Chrite. Toward the end of the event, Chrite invited the audience to ask a few questions. Topics covered included Ferguson’s early life, financial literacy and the current state of the financial world.
The Clarion sat down with Ferguson for an exclusive interview. The interview was conducted and condensed by John Poe.
Q: What are some specifics about your company culture?
A: TIAA is very mission driven. It is a place where we bring an academic approach consistent with our client base. All of that has allowed us to take a long term perspective in what we do and we firmly believe in putting client interests first. I think all those things drive us to be a unique organization.
How do you hire? What do you look for?
We look for a number of things. One is that our mission will resonate with people. If you don’t like our mission this is not a great place to work. Two is that we really want people who are willing to work in a challenging financial services world, so you have to be interested in money. Three is value, diversity and inclusion. I need [people]who are comfortable working in teams that are not like them, if you will. The fourth thing is that we need people really ready to learn. What we do is highly technical. Our product set is not the average that one sees, even in financial services. People have to have a certain amount of patience to learn who we are and what we do.
Alongside being CEO of TIAA, you are also a board member of Smithsonian’s Board of Regents, Alphabet, Inc., General Mills, Inc. and many others. What propelled you to pursue these companies and not others?
In each case there is something I can learn. Obviously with Alphabet, the leader in technology, who wouldn’t want to be on that board? General Mills is fascinating. They’re an iconic company [that is]150 years old and frankly dealing with some dramatic changes in taste dealing with a generational shift. Whatever I can learn from a company dealing with generational shifts, I’d want to learn. A number of institutions I’m on the board of are leading iconic not for profit organizations [like]The Smithsonian [and]Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. I like to be in and around leading institutions that represent our client base as well.
Those were two councils that President Obama started during his first term. In both cases, it was a really positive experience in that President Obama was very interested and listening to outside voices. [It dealt] with some really intractable problems, one must say. It felt to me that we were making a contribution by bringing some new ideas into the conversation and I was really pleased and honored to have a chance to serve.
What advice do you have for new college grads?
First, a career is not a straightforward climbing ladder. Be prepared to have some successes and some failures. Be curious. Recognize that with all the learning that you have had, there’s a lot more learning to have. Go out there with gusto. You bring a lot to the marketplace based on your generational views that the rest of us can learn from.
The next Daniels’ Voices of Experience Speaker Series will take place in January.