Thasunda Brown Duckett On Taking Business Risks And Being a Leader for Our Times
March 23, 2021
Thasunda Brown Duckett, the former CEO of JP Morgan Chase consumer banking, who led a network of 40,000 employees and 4900 branches, was recently named the CEO of TIAA, becoming the second Black woman currently leading a Fortune 500 company.

On her last day at Chase, she shared her thoughts on what it means to be the 'only', her passion for promoting financial health in underrepresented communities and much more.

You manage a large team, what changes have you implemented in your management style during the pandemic? Do you think your outfacing role as a leader has changed as well?

Not being able to see many in person, I’ve focused on staying connected virtually, and communicating even more often than usual. A lot of people are hurting and I have found that creating the space for openness and vulnerability is so important. Now more than ever we need to take care of each other. When someone is cared for, they tend to pay it forward. This approach has led to meaningful conversations and acts of kindness between employees, as well as with our customers, that are truly inspiring.

How has the pandemic changed your business strategy in a good way? How do you manage the delicate balance of driving productivity while still managing the well-being of your team?

The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority. In response to COVID-19, we quickly stood up a new branch operating model to continue to meet the needs of clients and employees, while keeping everyone as safe as possible. The pandemic has essentially accelerated our existing strategy. Trends expected to play out over years, took shape in a matter of months, so we accelerated our strategy to keep up with the evolving needs and preferences of our customers.

You’re on the board at Nike. How has that role shaped your view of the value and influence of boards? What is the path you see to getting more women and women of color on major boards?

There’s not enough difference in rooms. From our classrooms to our board rooms, we need to ensure they reflect the rich diversity of our world. My advice to CEOs is to look for the ONLY. Pay attention to those who may not be on your radar – they may prove to be the most valuable assets. To get more women on boards, it’s important to help women build and expand their networks, hone their leadership skills, and understand that their voices are necessary and required.

I’ve actively pushed myself to take risks and I encourage others to do the same. There will always be highs and lows in a career, but as long as you’re able to learn from every experience, you will continue to deepen confidence in your abilities.

You’ve spearheaded Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways program to drive wealth and financial literacy within the Black community. What do you see as the path to financial freedom for the Black community and how do you draw from your own upbringing and experiences to help shape the initiative?

I’ve experienced firsthand how saving and knowing how to budget can influence your life. I know what it’s like to grow up in a family struggling to make ends meet. My father worked for a company for many years, but didn’t know how to invest in his 401(k) plan. He didn’t think that this benefit offering was for him. That made it really tough when it came time to retire.

Financial health is a human right – a right that is out of reach for far too many people, particularly Black Americans. Advancing Black Pathways was born out of courageous conversations for the need to be intentional about driving outcomes. We need to give people the tools and resources to manage their financial lives and get on a road to financial health and resilience. This means meeting people where they are – breaking down retirement and investing in real terms, helping them understand what good credit looks like, and how to achieve and maintain it.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The people – connecting with employees and customers.

When is it an advantage to be a woman in your business?

Having empathy and intuition. As a Black woman, CEO, I know what it’s like to often be the only woman and woman of color in a room. I always look for the ONLY in a room, and give that nod of encouragement because I know what a difference a simple gesture like that can make.

What's a business mistake you've made and what you learned from it?

I've learned that there is no such thing as work-life balance. It’s time we busted that myth. Instead, live your life like a diversified portfolio. Write down everything that matters to you – your family, friends, community, job. Then allocate percentages so it all adds up to 100 percent. What this does is give you permission to recalibrate, make any necessary shifts and operate with intentionality.

Career highlight:

It’s been such an honor leading Chase Consumer Banking. And now I feel grateful for the opportunity to lead a company that’s helping millions retire with enough to live in dignity. I’m excited to help TIAA chart its next 100 years.

A business culture priority for you now is?

Look for the only, get proximate, understand headsets.

What's your advice on how to give and receive feedback?

Look at it as an exciting opportunity to exchange ideas, explore and learn. It’s a spark of light in your journey in life.

Was there ever a time your career was at risk? If yes, how did you overcome it?

I’ve actively pushed myself to take risks and I encourage others to do the same. There will always be highs and lows in a career, but as long as you’re able to learn from every experience, you will continue to deepen confidence in your abilities. And when you do this while anchored in your purpose, that is how you make an impact.

Women on your radar:

There are too many s-heroes to name. To me, it’s important to keep my eyes open and pay attention to those who may not be on my radar. It’s so important to help others find their voice and unleash their potential.

Productivity hack:

Create a morning routine and set your intention for the day, and keep a list of tasks you need to accomplish so you can check through them.

What steps have you taken to usher in a new generation of younger women? My purpose is to inspire people. To inspire them to know that their voice is necessary and required – to know that they must never dim their light. I’m very open about my experience, challenges and accomplishments. It’s important to talk openly about the mental gymnastics we may all have to navigate from time to time – no matter where we are in our journey. My hope is that young people of all backgrounds will be able to see someone who looks like me, someone who has this unbelievable passion, and be inspired to believe in their own abilities and to say, ‘I too, can ascend. I, too, can be a CEO. I, too, can someday be whatever it is that I aspire to.’

Photo Courtesy of Lucy A. Kennedy, Lucy Kennedy Photography, LLC



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