Roger Ferguson Jr., the CEO of retirement and asset management giant TIAA, makes quarterly visits to Charlotte, the company’s biggest employment center with more than 5,000 workers.
He rarely talks to outside groups on those trips, but this week he spoke to more than 400 students at a program arranged by UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business, which is less than two miles from TIAA’s campus. The company’s headquarters is in New York.
It was a heavily scripted event with Ferguson fed mostly predictable questions from students, leading to mostly predictable answers. Ferguson, a Ph.D. economist and Federal Reserve Board member from 1999-2006, speaks in cautious terms. The words “Donald Trump” and “Brexit” weren’t mentioned in the hourlong session.
But Ferguson, 65, one of the nation’s most respected financial leaders and head of a not-for-profit that manages more than $900 billion, much of it for college and university faculty, made a few noteworthy points:
- Students should plan to receive no more than 75% of current Social Security payout levels once they hit retirement age because of the federal system’s financial problems. Payout reductions are very likely within the next 20 years. He didn’t offer an opinion on whether the system should be shored up to keep benefits level.
- Expectations that the Fed will raise interest rates two or three times in the next year “sound about right.’
- U.S. and global economies will pick up steam in the next few years.
- Knowledge received at business school has a shelf life of less than 10 years. One needs to be a constant learner.
- Students should read a newspaper every day.
He cited two key mentors: Jim Goodrich, a former chief operating officer of McKinsey & Co., the consulting firm where Ferguson worked for 13 years. Partly because of Goodrich, Ferguson said he was the first non-MBA hired by McKinsey.
Another mentor was Andrew Brimmer, the first African-American to serve on the Federal Reserve. The son of Louisiana sharecroppers, Brimmer’s rags-to-riches story inspired Ferguson.
Asked about networking, he suggested students show genuine curiosity about others. “Networking has to be natural,” he said. Following up on a question about how to compete against students from better-known b-schools, Belk Dean Steve Ott closed the session noting that many UNCC graduates have attained top-level positions throughout corporate America. “There is no impediment, no excuse,” he said.
The standing-room only crowd of students then filed out to grab a free sandwich, apple and cookie provided by the Niblock Student Center for Professional Development. The center is named after Lowe’s Cos. CEO Robert Niblock, one of UNCC’s most successful grads.