Photo by Lee Pellegrini

Saying he always welcomes the opportunity to spend time with college students, TIAA president and CEO Roger Ferguson recently spoke for nearly an hour with first-year Boston College MBA students at the Carroll School of Management.

“I’m really glad I came – it was a good use of my time,” he said afterwards. “I thought the students’ Q&A showed an awful lot of sophistication and understanding of the current situation with the markets and economy.”

Ferguson’s talk, inside a packed Fulton 130, touched on several topics, including the need for action to prevent a retirement crisis and the lack of trust towards the financial services industry.

“If people don’t trust financial services firms, how are they going to achieve the financial elements of their dreams?” he told the audience. “We always put our participant’s interests first; it’s our first value and I expect that we’ll continue to live up to those values.”

Ferguson also spoke of managing crisis as a leader, recalling how on 9/11 he was the only Federal Reserve governor in Washington, DC, and had the responsibility of keeping the finance world from grinding to a halt. Ferguson described how his team issued a short statement to inspire confidence and then made sure there was “ample liquidity” to support the entire U.S. economy for several days, working with central banks around the world, letting all checks clear on the Fed balance sheet, and ensuring ATMs had ample amounts of currency.

“It wasn’t the most important thing we did but in some sense it was the most colorful. I was really concerned that if people went to ATMs and there wasn’t enough money, then you’d start to get a run on the bank. I’m proud how it worked out – to the best of my knowledge there was only one ATM in the entire country that ran out of $20 bills.”

Ferguson identified four key traits to being an effective leader: expertise, empathy, vision and fortitude. 

“Fortitude is important because the path is never straight – there will always be the thing that blows you off course. I think people want a leader who uses that expertise to not panic at the moment of challenge or crisis, and continues to lead with calm confidence while making adjustments that are wise. Leaders need to be shock absorbers, not shock amplifiers.”

Approximately five million people have $1 trillion invested with TIAA, which counts Boston College among its longtime clients.

“TIAA has been a tremendous partner with the University,” said Vice President for Human Resources David Trainor. “The opportunity to have Roger here at Boston College is something that we jumped at and we’re really thrilled that he could come. When Roger often goes out to universities across the country, he tries to spend some time with students to get a sense as to what’s important to them, but also to share some of the important messages about financial literacy and the importance of a good education.”

–Sean Hennessey / University Communications