By Andrea Leinfelder
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As CEO of Chase Consumer Banking, Thasunda Brown Duckett oversees nearly 50,000 people. She shares her journey to the C-Suite including some of the most important lessons she learned along the way.
Thasunda Brown Duckett’s career has been shaped by Cougar pride and a Texas-tough work ethic.
She stands among the most powerful women in banking, according to American Banker. She’s also been named a top 100 leading female executive by Automotive News and listed among the top most influential blacks in corporate America by Savoy magazine. And her roots can be traced back to Arlington, Texas, where she moved with her family as a child. She also went to the University of Houston, where she honed her leadership skills.
At UH. she earned two undergraduate degrees and scored an internship at Fannie Mae, where she’d later work to boost homeownership among African-Americans and Hispanics as director of emerging markets.
Moving to Chase, she would oversee mortgage bankers and then lead the company’s auto finance division before becoming CEO of Chase Consumer Banking in 2016. Duckett now oversees nearly 50,000 people including more than 2,000 in the Houston area, where Chase is the region’s largest bank by deposits.
On a recent visit to Houston, met with Texas Inc. to talk about her passion for helping people save, the inspiration and support she received from her parents, and the challenges confronting retail banking.
Q: What brings you to Houston?
Things to know about Thasunda Brown Duckett
A: We are testing a pilot with two nonprofit organizations that will be inside of our branches to provide financial literacy, insights and information to help customers still recovering from Harvey. When you look at the stats across the country, 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 to cover a shock — and clearly that happened when Harvey hit.
Q: You talk about savings a lot. Why is this something you’re passionate about?
A: I know growing up what it’s like to not have your lights turned on. I know what it’s like to have your parents get the first set of furniture when we moved to Texas, and then we got robbed and we were back sitting on cartons. I would wake up and have Christmas presents, but then they would be up at night writing. They were trying to balance it all out after they made that sacrifice to give us toys. I didn’t understand that until I was older.
Q: How did experiences like this shape your perspective on saving?
A: My passion around savings is anchored around: It’s not what you make; it’s what you keep. It’s giving people the tips. My dad didn’t understand his 401k. He only had his pension. And it wasn’t until I graduated that I was like, ‘Dad, this is not going to be enough to retire.’ So my father, at the time in his late 40s or 50s, he maxed out his 401k. You want to talk about a hit? All of a sudden you bring home a lot less to go put in your 401k. The sacrifice that he made. And my father was able to retire with my mother. But the fire in my belly is — how many Otis Browns had these benefits that he didn’t know about? That’s the power of financial health.
Q: How have your parents shaped you into the leader you are today?
A: My dad and my mom were CEOs without having a CEO title. My parents are some of the smartest people that I know without having all of the degrees I may have. Because they taught me the power of having gratitude. They taught me the power of empathy, character and being two-times better. If I didn’t achieve something, my parents would say, ‘But were you better’? Sometimes it’s not good enough to be on par. You have to be sometimes in situations where you are so good you just cannot be denied. And I think that’s important being African-American, being a woman, and knowing that I want to be so good, so excellent, that I just cannot be denied.
Q: How do you feel about being the first African-American to hold this position at Chase?
A: The hundreds and hundreds of emails and letters I received from employees all across the globe, it humbles you. I had a man send me a note. When he saw my picture, he wept because he was able to show his daughters what’s possible. I understand that it was not a given for women or minorities to be in the position that I’m in. Not because of intellect or academics, but just because of the way it was. And to see now, today, one generation removed from segregation, that I’m the CEO at JPMorgan Chase, I’m like, ‘Wow, I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.’ I hope I’m inspiring others — men, women, black, white, just people — to see the power of inclusion. The power of talent.
Q: How are you using your role to lift up other African-Americans and women?
A: Anyone can get on my calendar at work. And what’s great is that many times they’re women of color or they’re minorities. And it’s a safe environment. So for example, there was a woman who called me and she was going to be doing an interview for the firm. She had a very natural hair style, very short hair. She said, ‘I want to represent the firm, should I do something to my hair?’ And I said, ‘Well, let me just ask you a question. When you go to church on Sunday and you want to look your best, how would you wear your hair? That’s how you wear your hair when you’re representing this firm.’
Fast forward, what I did not know is she was battling cancer. What she was really saying is, ‘Am I enough while I’m fighting cancer and I’ve lost my hair. Will I be enough in representing this great company?’ I think it really just shows who we are as a firm and who we are as leaders to have employees be comfortable enough to ask my thoughts. To have an employee who cares so much about this company that she really wants to put her best foot forward. But then lastly, being an African-American woman, being able to understand that the way in which she looked was absolutely beautiful. And it was professional. And it was exactly the look that she needed to be her very best.
Q: What advice do you give others about organizing their time?
A: Live your life like a diversified portfolio. Write down everything that matters to you and then allocate it. I like my girlfriends, I love being a mom, I want my kids to travel, I love reading. And then you allocate. Life is going to have ups and downs. You’re going to have volatility. But over time, you outperform if your life is diversified. Over time, you can say, ‘I’m a good mom,’ even though certain times you don’t feel like you are. ‘I’m a good partner,’ or ‘I’m a good daughter.’ Sometimes I may not feel like I’m a great daughter because I haven’t seen my parents in a while. But if I look at it over time, I can say, ‘I’m a really great mom. I’m a really great executive. I’m a really great daughter. I’m a really great philanthropist.’
Q: Let’s switch to banking. What are some of the biggest challenges for retail banking?
A: I think there are two things: cyber is always going to be important in protecting customers’ data. And that is something that is job No. 1 for us. And making sure that our customers know the role they play to keep their data safe, to keep their information safe. No. 2, your competition is not just traditional banks. Your competition is fintech (financial technology companies) that is solving one particular pain point for a customer. And so you cannot be complacent. You have to ask: What is the problem they’re solving and that is attracting customers to them? And then, how do we understand that in a way that we can do it faster, quicker, better? So that our customers don’t have to leave the Chase ecosystem to meet their needs. Our model has always been to build, buy or partner. And so, as we look at what’s going on around us, we will always ask ourselves — is that something we need to be doing ourselves? Is that something we can partner with another entity? Or is that something we buy over time?