Weaver aims to position TIAA-CREF for the future

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Connie K. Weaver joined TIAA-CREF, a financial services company focused on the nonprofit sector, earlier this month as exec VP-chief marketing and communications officer. Weaver—who moved to TIAA-CREF from The Hartford Financial Services Group and has held marketing positions at Bearing Point and AT&T—described the move as the “capstone” of her career. In an interview with CMO Close-Up, she described her first few weeks at TIAA-CREF, her initial plans for marketing the brand and how the job combines both b-to-b and b-to-c elements.

CMO Close-Up: What appealed to you about joining TIAA-CREF?

Weaver: This is an amazing franchise that has for 92 years served very well the higher education, education and nonprofit areas. It's now an opportunity to really help and to grow and expand the franchise, to expand the brand and truly work with a management team that is really engaged at a customer-focused level. I find that extremely exhilarating.

One of the other reasons I came here is that I've done b-to-b and b-to-c marketing all my life, on and off and in different flavors. The thing I like about this business is that it is both a b-to-b business and a b-to-c business. In my role I have end-to-end responsibilities, ranging from market-sizing insight, RFP support and support of the sale process. For example, once you've won the business and you're hired by a university, you turn to the b-to-c model where you then market to their participants. Intellectually, this is a fascinating business.

I view this for me and my career—and I've been very lucky in working for some very fine companies—to be kind of a capstone. It's the first time in my career that I've gone into such a strong and highly regarded franchise and been the kind of player I think I can be at the table. I'm really working with a team to take this company forward. To me that's the nirvana of marketing.

CMO Close-Up: What have been your first steps at TIAA-CREF?

Weaver: I've been here three weeks, so I am in a listening and deep-dive mode. I am trying to understand very quickly what the opportunities are, what the strategy is. The good news is I'm very impressed with how we serve our customers better today but coupled with a longer-term lens looking at how our business and this market will evolve into the future. I like the balance of both strategic and operational focus. Now I have a series of priorities [including] really understanding our brand and how our brand can grow, and stretch and really go forward. There's much to be done, but there's a good foundation here.

CMO Close-Up: What do you bring to TIAA-CREF from your previous experience at Bearing Point, AT&T and elsewhere?

Weaver: Every one of those companies—and they're all wonderful brands—were at different stages of their evolution when I joined. Some were in more of a defensive mode, some were in more of an offensive mode and some went through a little bit of both while I was there. The thing I like about what I find here is that this is a company poised to go forward.

So I go back to the foundation and understanding the place from which you are starting and understanding what the principles of the brand are—but also understanding how you stretch the brand into the future and remain relevant to the future customers as well as your current customers. I came here because marketing is a priority, and it's the right time and the right place to do what I do. And that is exciting.

CMO Close-Up: It's almost a cliché that CMOs have short tenures and also have difficulty gaining a seat at the table to truly influence company strategy. How do you feel about your position at TIAA-CREF?

Weaver: One of the most attractive elements of this job was the fact that they were looking for a strategic business partner. The chemistry is good with the members of this management team and the CEO that I work for (Roger W. Ferguson Jr.). I have a seat at the table here. When you're someone like me and you do what I do, you want marketing to be part of a strategic future, not a cost. I can tell you that marketing is all about strategy here.

CMO Close-Up: Some marketers describe marketing's key function as turning employees into brand ambassadors. What is your philosophy on employee communications?

Weaver: Branding begins at home. Employee communications is such an important part of the marketing mix. Growing 8,000 brand ambassadors, people who are engaged, excited about the mission, who are working in the right direction, is the best way to focus forward and embrace change. Change can be freedom. It can be fun; it can be exhilarating. It shouldn't be fearful.

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