Thomas W. Jones From Campus Revolutionary to Powerful Financial Services Leader

CFD 586 – Thomas W. Jones: From Campus Revolutionary to Powerful Financial Services Leader

Thomas W. Jones is the Former Vice Chairman, President & COO at TIAA-CREF, the largest pension system in the country. He was the former Vice Chairman of Travelers, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Freddie Mac, and the Former Chairman & CEO of Smith Barney Asset Management. He was the former CEO of Global Investment Management at Citigroup and Former Treasurer at John Hancock Insurance Company. Thomas W. Jones is currently the Founder and senior partner of venture capital investment firm TWJ Capital and author of the new book From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir. 

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Podcast Highlights

  • Who is Thomas W. Jones? 

Thomas W. Jones was on the cover of Newsweek in 1969 as an iconic revolutionary while studying at Cornell. As a student, Thomas felt that America was at a crossroads and that his generation was tasked with the job of raising the price of oppression. Due to his effort and the effort of countless others, America chose to embrace the spirit of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and has made significant progress over the last 50 years towards equality.

In a certain way, Thomas’s life story and career in business is like a microcosm of the story of the growth and development of America as a whole.

  • Did the fight look like what you thought it would?

Thomas was pleasantly surprised when America took the path of opening up opportunity instead of the path of oppression. He believed the toughest fight would be in the business world and he figured that he would have almost no chance at success, but he needed to try. He had to approach business in a way that he provided his own psychological support, because he knew he wasn’t going to receive any from the outside.

He discovered that if you actually deliver a true 100% commitment, there is a large gap over time between the people who are delivering only 95%. The 5% gap seems small but it compounds over the years and people start to notice. For Thomas, this meant people in the upper echelons of business recognizing that he was getting the job done and eventually taking him on in a mentorship type of relationship.

  • Where does your motivation and fortitude come from?

It takes a certain level of self belief and self confidence to take on tough challenges. For Thomas, his confidence came from his experience in school. At that time, the philosophy of school in dealing with a gifted child was to accelerate them, and that meant that Thomas had skipped two grades. This meant that he was much younger than his peers and once he had entered high school he encountered a number of bullies. It was then that he decided that he wouldn’t let others define who he was. That self possession developed into the mentality that even if he was facing insurmountable odds, Thomas might as well try to get it done.

Most people never figure out what they are capable of because they never actually put 100% into trying to be their best. You can never know what you can do until you give 100% effort. It’s a wonderful gift that you can give to yourself to learn what your highest potential is. When you learn what your capacity is, you will be able to channel and master it, and you will find arenas where you can give 100% and be successful.

Thomas’s faith discipline has been another crucial element. Even in the midst of a crisis, praying and trying to see the good in the situation allowed Thomas to continue to fight. Life is going to have times of trial, and having spiritual faith that can sustain you is very important.

Striving is one way to make life meaningful. A story like Thomas Jones could not have happened anywhere but America. 

Every single year Thomas would set three goals for himself and having the discipline to achieve those goals each year had a major impact on his life.

Early on in Thomas’s marriage, he and his wife made some very important decisions. The first was for Thomas to get his MBA at night school in order to acquire the skills he knew he was going to need for the future. And the second was the decision to live below their means and save his wife’s salary each year. That later allowed them to purchase their first property in Boston which was the first step towards accelerating their wealth.

Reference: From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir, Thomas W. Jones

  • Thomas’s Takeaway

The first step is to believe in yourself, the second step is to make a plan in one year increments that will get you from where you are to where you want to be. You can also pull that back. What are you going to get done this week to move you down that path? What about this month? Each accomplishment adds up, and the accomplishments of several years in a row will move your life forward in ways that you can only dream about. When things don’t go right immediately, don’t be defeated. Believe in yourself and the power of putting in 100% effort.


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