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Q&A with Roger Ferguson, president and CEO, TIAA-CREF

2014 Metropolitan College of New York Commencement Speaker

As graduates interview for jobs, what qualities should they be selling to potential employers? What would you look for in a candidate?

Earning a degree is about developing your human capital - and that's the key to success. Graduates have made a profound investment in their reserves of human capital through their experiences at MCNY. The best way grads can honor their hard work and achievements is by committing to positively impact the world. I challenge graduates to harness their human capital and hone their best qualities to truly make a difference in their personal lives, their professional lives, and the communities in which they live.

TIAA-CREF has a proud heritage and a mission-based culture which is reflected in a set of core values that our employees live day in and day out - in the way we do our jobs and in the way we interact with one another. Those values are:

  • Put the customer first
  • Act with integrity
  • Deliver excellence
  • Take personal accountability
  • Operate as one team
  • Value our people

To build the culture we need for continued success in a highly competitive marketplace, we must ensure that our values are more than just words. We want to see those same values reflected in all of our employees and in each candidate that applies for a position at TIAA-CREF.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing today's working adult college graduates?

The economic environment continues to be a challenge. And today's graduates have higher levels of debt than previous generations. To be truly successful, it's imperative that graduates commit to giving their financial lives the same kind of focus as their work and social lives. Now more than ever, college graduates need to learn the concepts of personal finance. This means knowing how to use credit wisely, borrowing and budgeting effectively, and having a long-term financial plan. The truth is that many Americans - including college graduates - struggle with these and other elements of financial literacy.

Graduates must take the time to educate themselves and direct some of their amazing brainpower to their financial lives. If they start saving now - even just a little on a regular basis - they can have a huge impact on their financial wellbeing later in life.

What are some ways that students can become more financially savvy to ensure a comfortable financial future?

Financial education is very important to us at TIAA-CREF and we're determined to help Americans gain the skills they need to achieve lifelong financial well-being. We have an extensive education section on our website (tiaa-cref.org) that I urge students and graduates alike to check out.

We've also collaborated with the Council of Graduate Schools to launch a one-of-a-kind tool that helps students understand how the type of degree they pursue can impact their future earnings. With this tool, GradSense (gradsense.org), students can better plan for lifelong financial success. The GradSense website also provides students with loan repayment advice, spending tips, and career guidance.

Now that they have a degree in hand, how should grads go about enhancing their careers?

I believe graduates will have the greatest impact when they see their career path as more of a climbing wall than a ladder. I implore graduates to really go after what they want in a career and make the most out of it. But be open to trying different things; don't be afraid to change course if that's what your heart is telling you to do. My own career path has been anything but straight, but I have loved applying my human capital in a diversity of positions and organizations.

It's also important to commit to being a lifelong learner. Continuous learning is absolutely essential in today's ever-changing world. To thrive in this environment, you need to see yourself as someone who is continuously growing and evolving his or her human capital to align with the way the world is evolving. If you see yourself as a lifelong learner, you will feel confident about your ability to handle the changes that will inevitably come your way. And keep in mind that continuous education does not happen just in the classroom. It's more a state of mind.

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Mailing Address MCNY (431 Canal Street New York, NY 10013 · 529 Courtlandt Avenue Bronx, New York 10451)
Phone Number  (800) 33 THINK | 212 343 1234