Thasunda Brown Duckett is an executive who needs little introduction.
This leadership icon has forged her own path in a business environment where opportunity is far from plentiful for women of colour, especially when it comes to reaching positions of authority.
As one of only two Black female CEOs at the helm of Fortune 500 companies, Duckett is undoubtedly a role model for a new generation of aspiring female leaders, and has gratefully accepted the great responsibility that comes with such great power.
Tenacious and talented
Unlike many of her leadership peers, Thasunda Brown Duckett was not in a position to profit from a privileged upbringing.
Born in Rochester, New York, Duckett and family initially moved to neighbouring New Jersey, before settling in Texas. Her mother, a teacher, and father, a warehouse and truck driver, supported their three children to the best of their ability, but it wasn’t always easy.
Duckett has spoken in the past about not having a lot when she was a child, making her rise to the top all the more impressive. They managed to get by, however, and an eager-to-learn Duckett later graduated from Sam Houston High School.
Determined to give herself the best-possible chance of succeeding in life, the budding young businesswoman attained an undergraduate degree in finance and marketing from the University of Houston, providing her with the tools necessary to step into the world of work.
By this stage, Duckett’s tenacity and talent was abundantly clear. Multiple, generous job offers came her way but, in 1996, she accepted her first permanent position with Fannie Mae, where she had already completed an internship.
During her eight years at the government-sponsored enterprise, Duckett made it her mission to assist disadvantaged communities and increase homeownership among minority groups, while simultaneously putting in the hours to achieve her MBA from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.
Having been selected as Alumna of the Year in 2022, Duckett told the university magazine of her humble beginnings and determination to give something back.
“While pursuing my MBA at Baylor, every step of the way I felt connected with this inner spirit around financial insecurity,” she said. “How can more Americans have the ability to take care of their families and ultimately transfer something to the generation after them?”
Natural born leader
Duckett arrived at a crossroads in 2004, when JPMorgan Chase & Co came calling.
Ultimately, it proved too good a chance to turn down and she flew the nest to become an SVP in Emerging Markets and Affordable Lending at Chase bank, based in New Jersey.
So apparent was her ability that Duckett continued to progress through the ranks at remarkable pace, running the home lending division for the entirety of the Northeast (2008-2012) and then managing 4,000 mortgage bankers across the US (2012-13) – all while bringing up two young children.
Almost inevitably, Duckett stepped up again to take the reins as CEO of Chase Auto Finance in 2013. She stayed in the role for three-and-a-half years, during which time she made it her duty to build a healthy workplace culture and helped the business achieve an unprecedented level of satisfaction among auto dealers.
The final chapter of Duckett’s astronomical rise at JPMorgan came in 2016, when she was appointed CEO of Chase Consumer Banking. Here, her eyes were opened even further to the economic strife facing millions of people in the US and, while helping the organisation expand into new markets, she also pushed continuously for financial inclusion and empowerment.
Moving to insurance giant TIAA in 2021 has allowed her to uphold these values to an even greater extent. Under Duckett’s stewardship, the company is expanding its mission beyond higher education to all Americans saving for retirement.
A true trailblazer
Following the recent resignation of Rosalind Brewer from Walgreens Boots Alliance, Duckett was, for a few weeks, the only Black woman in charge of a Fortune 500 firm (she now has Toni Townes-Whitley, the new CEO of Science Applications International Corporation, for company).
Whether at TIAA or elsewhere, she seems destined to remain in the upper echelons of business for many years to come, albeit with the hope of being joined by more female allies.
Duckett’s positive influence on everything she touches means she certainly hasn’t been left wanting for recognition. In fact, it’s become difficult to keep track of all her accolades, which have come from a host of respected outlets including American Banker, Forbes and Fortune.
It goes without saying, however, that Duckett has never done anything with commendation in mind.
This is perhaps reflected best by her founding of the Otis and Rosie Brown Foundation, set up in honour of her parents back in 2013. Its mission is to highlight extraordinary people, organisations and corporations who utilise ordinary resources to enhance the wellbeing of others – embodying everything Duckett stands for.
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