One of the many benefits of our program returning to in-person learning is that we get to participate in in-person networking events. One of my favorite networking events held by the Wisconsin Business School leadership is the M. Keith Weikel Speaker Series. The Weikel Speaker Series enables Wisconsin MBA students to interact with and learn from accomplished business leaders and alumni. Executives from both the private and public sectors are invited to campus to address students. In addition to networking with our classmates and faculty, we are able to deepen our leadership skills by hearing the distinct perspectives of these visiting leaders.
This fall, we had two guest speakers. Our first visiting speaker was Jill Timm, a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater alumna and the current CFO of Kohl’s department stores. Jill joined Kohl’s in 1999 and has held a number of progressive leadership roles across several areas of finance. Prior to joining Kohl’s, Jill served as a senior auditor at Arthur Andersen LLP.
Our second speaker was Thasunda Brown Duckett, President and CEO of TIAA, a Fortune 100 provider of retirement and investment solutions for people working in higher education, healthcare, and other mission-driven organizations. Ms. Duckett joined TIAA after serving as CEO of Chase Consumer Banking, overseeing a banking network with more than $600 billion in deposits and 50,000 employees. Prior to that, she was the CEO of Chase Auto Finance, one of the leading U.S. providers of auto financing.
Both leaders are DEI trailblazers. Jill and Kohl’s CEO, Michelle Gass, are one of only five female CEO/CFO combos in the Fortune 500, and Thasunda is one of only two black women who are CEOs of Fortune 100 companies. Through both of their speeches, they stressed the need of finding and fostering relationships with mentors and sponsors. Along these lines, they both mentioned the need to establish your personal Board of Directors, a diverse group of individuals you can receive guidance or inspiration from. Thasunsda even included that she considers leaders she has not even met but has only read about as being on her Board.
I walked away from each of these speeches with a few one-liners to incorporate into my daily life. Jill encouraged us to not fear failure, and if we do fail, we should “fail fast,” quickly learning from our mistakes and immediately working towards improvement. Thasunda provided many one-liners, but two really stuck with me. The first is “your title is temporary; your character is permanent” which she stressed the importance of not letting our ego outshine our character and the empathy we show towards others. The second was “live your life like a diversified portfolio” in reference to how to we should allocate time and energy to the many obligations of our personal and professional lives.
I am grateful that we were able to have these extraordinary leaders meet with us in person and share such authentic experiences and insights. I plan to incorporate the lessons they shared into my daily life as I continue my journey of personal and professional growth.