Thasunda Brown Duckett, M.B.A. '01

From an early age, Thasunda Brown Duckett’s father taught her to shoot for the moon because even if she missed, she would be amongst the stars. In May 2021, Duckett became only the third Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she was named top executive of TIAA.

Duckett is the first female CEO of TIAA, a leading provider of secure retirements and outcome-focused investment solutions to millions of people and thousands of institutions. TIAA is the No. 1 nonprofit retirement market provider, paid more than $4.2 billion to retired clients in 2021 and has nearly $1.4 trillion in assets under management as of Aug. 30, 2021.

“When I think about the opportunity to lead and to be in a position to have a voice, it’s deep within me, because I know that I can be the change,” Duckett says. “I know that I can bring a different perspective to how to solve some of the toughest problems in our country.”

Born in Rochester, New York, Duckett and her family moved to New Jersey before settling in Texas. Her father was a warehouse driver for Xerox, and her mother was a teacher.

“We didn’t have a lot,” Duckett says. “We had our financial insecurities. We had our ups and downs. But through it all, our faith and our values were at the center of everything.”

After earning undergraduate degrees in finance and marketing from the University of Houston, Duckett entered the workforce at the Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly known as Fannie Mae. She later moved to JPMorgan Chase & Co., where she held a variety of positions and was eventually CEO of Chase Consumer Banking before accepting the top position at TIAA.

Duckett credits her humble upbringing for instilling her foundational values of faith, character, teamwork, tenacity and work ethic. She references a line from one of her favorite books — Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg — in saying that had she mapped her own career, she would have missed it.

“Growing up, I didn’t know what corporate America was,” Duckett says. “While in college and pursuing my M.B.A. at Baylor, every step of the way, I felt connected with this inner spirit around financial insecurity. How can more Americans have access to the ability to take care of their families and ultimately transfer something to the generation after them?”

Duckett entered Baylor’s Executive M.B.A. program while working at Fannie Mae. She says Baylor’s values made it the ideal choice, and she praised the professors for their caliber of teaching, genuine care and beneficial conversations.

“It was also about the other students; we all had similar values,” Duckett says. “We were curious about learning. We loved Baylor, and we became better leaders through the program. The M.B.A. was more than a piece of paper.”

Duckett was among the top 10 women on the 2021 Fortune Most Powerful Women list. She also landed on the 2021 EBONY Media Power 100 list and earned the Executive Leadership Council Achievement Award. In 2013, Duckett honored her parents by founding the Otis and Rosie Brown Foundation, which advances the belief that all have the duty to extend a helping hand.

Throughout her career, Duckett has been a passionate advocate for closing achievement gaps in wealth creation, educational outcomes and career success. She has served in numerous volunteer roles that support minorities and enhance professional growth.

“For me, it’s personal. I know what it’s like to open up the refrigerator and only see baking soda. And somehow my parents made a way. I know what it’s like to rent and not have home ownership until I graduated and helped my parents buy their first home,” Duckett says. “You can’t help but be grateful that you have an opportunity to write new stories, to show what’s possible for other young girls or people that just don’t see themselves in power positions based on their background.”