TIAA-CREF President and CEO Roger Ferguson Shares Advice on How to Prepare for Making an Impact
Students from the C. T. Bauer College of Business recently had the opportunity to get career advice from a financial services industry president and CEO.
Roger Ferguson leads Fortune 100 financial services organization Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (more commonly known by its acronym, TIAA-CREF), the leading provider of retirement services in the academic, medical, research and cultural fields. During a trip to Houston in April, he shared his background and insight with Bauer students.
Ferguson discussed with students lessons from a career that has spanned the worlds of business, public service, consulting and law. He also gave advice on how Bauer students can prepare themselves to make an impact in the business world.
“Invest as much as you can at a young age in formal education, which you’re already doing,” Ferguson said. “The economy heavily depends on [education] as degrees drive labor markets, in a sense.”
Ferguson, who is the former vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, also encouraged students to be continuous learners. He illustrated this point by describing his experience as the only member of the board in Washington, D.C., on 9/11, when he led the Fed’s initial response to the terrorist attacks. Ferguson’s actions helped to keep the U.S. financial system functioning while reassuring the global financial community that the nation’s economy would not be paralyzed.
“I didn’t have an MBA degree, and I knew the basics of accounting when I started out in my career, but there was a lot of learning for me to do,” Ferguson said. “Even more so at the Fed during 9/11, if I didn’t learn all of the technical stuff, we would have had a very different outcome. Even though you will have your degree, your education is very much still ahead of you.”
Ferguson described his modest beginnings — his mother had a college degree and worked as a public school teacher, but his father did not. Ferguson earned his bachelor’s in economics, a law degree and a doctoral degree in economics; all from Harvard.
Prior to joining TIAA-CREF in 2008, Ferguson was head of financial services for Swiss Re. He was previously an associate and partner at McKinsey & Company and an attorney at Davis Polk & Wardwell.
“I think if you aspire to be the top in your discipline, then you’re going about it wrong,” Ferguson said. “I never aspired to be a CEO, as I was not a corporate type person.”
Ferguson explained that a successful career should be like a “climbing wall,” navigated both horizontally and vertically, trying new things and taking calculated, reasonable risks — something he says is hard for most people to imagine.
“It takes a huge amount of bravery to try something new in order to learn. It’s very challenging,” Ferguson said. “If you’re willing to have that mindset, people will work with you more.”
He closed his remarks by discussing the importance of personal finance and financial literacy.
“Finance is what allows people to dream and build success,” Ferguson said. “You have to think about your financial well-being. Determining needs versus wants and budgeting can be tricky, but watch and learn from the mistakes of others.”
By Danielle Ponder