Roger Ferguson, CEO of TIAA, said interpersonal skills were crucial to his success.

TIAA CEO Roger Ferguson is set to retire at the end of April after 13 years as a corporate chief. Insider spoke with Ferguson about what he’s learned about leadership. He explained why empathy is the most important skill for leaders to develop and show today. This article is part of a series called “Secrets of Success,” which examines specific leadership tips from prominent business leaders.

Roger Ferguson knows a thing or two about leadership.

As the vice chair of the Federal Reserve from 1997 to 2006, he steered the country’s economy through the massive financial aftershock of September 11. After serving as an executive and then chair of reinsurance company Swiss Re for two years, he took the helm as CEO of TIAA in April 2008 – leading a financial-services company that manages over $1 trillion in retirement funds.

And in the past year, he’s overseen 17,000 employees through a shift to remote work during a pandemic and the racial reckoning following George Floyd’s death.

“I’m really proud of the fact that during those periods, we kept our values,” Ferguson told Insider. “We have come through these series of crises as a financially strong and stable company with ample capital.”

Ferguson is set to retire at the end of April, handing the company over to Thasunda Brown Duckett, former CEO of consumer banking at JP Morgan. As his tenure as the company’s chief winds down, he’s had more time to reflect on his career. He told Insider that there are four specific traits that define a good leader: expertise, vision, perseverance, and empathy.

Empathy, he said, has been the most helpful in his career as a leader – especially during difficult or uncertain times. Having this trait, regardless of your industry, will make you a better manager or executive, he said.

Empathy, as Ferguson defines it, is the ability to create an environment

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