Teresa Hassara, executive vice president and head of institutional business at TIAA-CREF, says values and people matter in choosing a career.
After earning a master’s of business administration degree from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, Hassara continued her career in the financial services industry because of the values and people she found there.
“I think a good values set and financial services, in particular retirement planning, fit on multiple dimensions,” she said. “The work is meaningful. You can make a real difference in people’s lives. It was also an industry in high growth mode. There was an opportunity to make a difference in a growing business.”
Hassara, who grew up in Ohio and did her undergraduate work at Vanderbilt University, has spent nearly 30 years in financial services, including 17 at Fidelity. In 2009, she joined TIAA-CREF, which provides financial and retirement planning services for employees in the not-for-profit world. Today, as a member of the firm’s executive management team, Hassara leads TIAA-CREF’s Institutional Business, the firm’s largest client division, which serves more than 16,000 organizations representing nearly 4 million employees.
Throughout her career, Hassara has been a tireless advocate for comprehensive financial education and inclusion for women and those in underserved communities.
“I strongly believe great companies reflect the communities and customers they do business with,” she said. “You can’t adapt your products, services and vision proactively enough if you are not experiencing the world as your customers are experiencing it.”
Hassara has been particularly focused on empowering women, both within the financial services industry and to take charge of their financial futures.
She is the executive sponsor for TIAA-CREF’s Women’s Employee Resource Group, which provides recognition, development and networking opportunities for female employees. Nearly 50 percent of women in the firm participate in one of nine group chapters across the country. She also helped champion the development of TIAA-CREF’s innovative Woman-to-Woman Financial Empowerment Series. The series engages and educates women on financial topics through interactive workshops that encourage them to take control of their own financial futures.
“We realized that women are often less confident in their ability to effectively prepare themselves for retirement and manage their financial futures,” Hassara explained.
This commitment to equality and financial empowerment extends beyond Hassara’s day job. Outside TIAA-CREF, Hassara is a member of the board of directors at Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based nonprofit focused on improving the lives of low-income youth and adults by helping them attain postsecondary credentials and better jobs. She is also involved with Strong Women, Strong Girls, a curriculum-based organization that works to counter the discouragement of girls in under-resourced communities.
Her advice to young women is to find a mentor, leverage workplace resources and focus on values and people.
“There are lots of companies, lots of different cultures, values,” she said. “As you’re interviewing, assessing a job, does it feel like home? A good fit? In a way that feels right for you? Do folks cherish the values that you do? You want a good fit from both a work perspective and a values perspective.”