Embracing the Unknown
Curiosity propels Thasunda Brown Duckett from childhood dreams to becoming TIAA’s first female CEO.
By Justin Walker
Thasunda Brown Duckett, MBA ’01
President and CEO; TIAA
New York City, New York
Thasunda Brown Duckett has always had a curious nature, which has come in handy as her career has taken her to heights she could only dream of as a child.
Duckett was born in Rochester, New York, before her family settled in Texas. She attended the University of Houston and earned a bachelor’s in finance and marketing. Upon graduation, she began working at the Federal National Mortgage Association, also known as Fannie Mae.
During her time at Fannie Mae, Duckett decided to pursue her MBA. Baylor’s Executive MBA (EMBA) program in Dallas was a good fit, as she could attend class and study when she wasn’t working.
“The students in my classes at Baylor were incredible,” she said. “The quality of the conversations and the studies were richer because we were already working, and we brought more of all of who we are into the program.”
A few years after completing the program in 2001, Duckett moved to JPMorgan Chase & Co., working her way to CEO of Chase Consumer Banking. In May 2021, Duckett became the first female CEO of TIAA and became only the third Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Duckett credits the EMBA program with providing a firm foundation in her career, thanks to the knowledge shared by her professors and classmates.
“My leadership style took form at Baylor, as I was simultaneously learning and applying those lessons to my career,” she said. “It set the stage for me seeing myself as a leader who could champion a bold vision and create real positive change.”
Her leadership has led to many recognitions and honors, including being named to Fortune’s list of Most Powerful Women for several years in a row. Baylor also recognized Duckett as the 2022 Alumna of the Year due to her advocacy for closing achievement gaps in wealth creation, educational outcomes and career success.
Duckett knows she wouldn’t be where she is today without staying intellectually curious and embracing opportunities.
“Continuing to grow and learn is a superpower. Always ask the next question and then the one after that,” she said. “Remain humble, be open and stay curious so you can take advantage of ‘disruptive’ opportunities that open your eyes to possibilities.”