America trusts in Roger Ferguson. With an impeccable record of leadership across the public and private sectors, from America’s central bank to a trillion-dollar company that helps millions of workers in the education and the nonprofit sectors plan for retirement, he has proven himself to be a champion of the financial well-being of others. And on one of the darkest days in our history, he calmly and expertly secured the foundations of our financial system, helping the nation get back on its feet.
When Ferguson was growing up in Washington, DC, in the 1960s, his parents urged him to stay in school as long as possible. He heeded their advice: He went on to earn three Harvard degrees, from the College, the Law School, and the Graduate School, completing his PhD in economics in 1981. Ferguson worked in law at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York—where he met his wife, Annette Nazareth, a former Commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission—and in consulting at McKinsey and Company before his appointment in 1997 to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. He went on to become the first African American to serve as vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board. On September 11th, he was the highest-ranking Fed official in Washington; he succeeded in keeping financial systems stable during a time of unprecedented challenge and uncertainty for the nation and the world. He served under Alan Greenspan, who called him one of the Fed’s most effective vice chairs.
Larry Summers, President Emeritus and Charles W. Eliot University Professor, and a former secretary of the US Treasury, was Ferguson’s study group partner in graduate school. He describes his role in recruiting Ferguson to the Federal Reserve as one of his proudest accomplishments in the Clinton administration. “Roger Ferguson is a pillar of the global financial system,” Summers says. “Our nation will always be grateful for his steady hand at a moment of maximum peril when much of the financial system’s infrastructure was destroyed by September 11th. At countless less visible junctures, grenades that could have gone off did not because Roger was there. Capable, confident, yet shunning the spotlight, Roger Ferguson is a model of public service.”
In 2006, Ferguson left the Federal Reserve to lead Swiss Re, the world’s second largest reinsurance company. Today, he is president and chief executive officer of TIAA, the leading provider of retirement services in the academic, research, medical, and cultural fields. Douglas Elmendorf, Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy and Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, worked for Ferguson at the Federal Reserve and appreciates the strong values he has embodied throughout his multi-sector career. “Roger is committed to helping other people gain opportunities in their lives,” says Elmendorf, “and he has acted on that commitment both at the Federal Reserve and now as the leader of TIAA. What he has done in the private sector really has been a public service.”
Beyond TIAA, Ferguson has brought the benefit of his expertise to a wide range of organizations and institutions. He has served on the boards of the Smithsonian Institution, the Institute for Advanced Study, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; he co-chairs the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education and is a member of the Economic Club of New York, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Group of Thirty.
In 2003, Ferguson became a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, the University’s second-highest governing body, and he led the Board as president from 2008 to 2009. Drew Faust, President Emerita and Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor, appreciates that Ferguson, as a Graduate School alumnus, understood the intellectual mission of the University as well as the mission of the professional Schools. Reflecting on his service as an Overseer, Faust says, “He always was a calm and thoughtful and rigorously analytic presence. He cared deeply about students and their experience and made that a focus of much of his attention. He was also fun to be around; he has a great sense of humor, and his dedication to Harvard was evident and admirable.”
Faust believes that Ferguson’s Harvard education has suited him well for the roles he has held throughout his career. “The combination of a PhD in economics with a law degree is really a wonderful set of assets and training for a leadership role in business and economics,” Faust observes. “But he’s also just very good at being around people, getting the best out of them, and calmly moving through difficult situations. He’s a great person; you feel reassured about what you’re doing when you know he’s in charge.”
Roger Ferguson, for your stalwart leadership and service across the financial sector, and for shepherding our financial systems through one of the most perilous times in our nation’s history, we are proud to award you the 2019 Centennial Medal.