By Thomas W. Jones

Clifton R. Wharton, Jr., Chairman, and CEO, TIAA-CREF, 1987―1993 In stark and compelling prose, Thomas W. Jones tells his story as a campus revolutionary who led an armed revolt at Cornell University in 1969 and then altered his course over the next fifty years to become a powerful leader in the financial industry including high-level positions at John Hancock, TIAA-CREF, and Citigroup as Wall Street plunged into its darkest hour.From Willard Straight to Wall Street:  A Memoir provides a front-row seat to the author’s triumphs and struggles as he was twice investigated by the SEC—and emerged unscathed. His searing perspective as an African American navigating a world dominated by whites reveals a father, a husband, a trusted colleague, a Cornellian, and a business leader who confronts life with an unwavering resolve that defies cliché and offers a unique perspective on the issues of race in America today. From Willard Straight to Wall Street begins on the steps of Willard Straight Hall where Jones and his classmates staged an occupation for two days that demanded a black studies curriculum at Cornell. The Straight Takeover resulted in the resignation of Cornell President James Perkins with whom Jones reconciled years later. Jones witnessed the destruction of the World Trade Centers on 911 from his office at ground zero and then observed first-hand the wave of scandals that swept the banking industry over the next decade. From Willard Straight to Wall Street reveals one of the most interesting American stories of the last fifty years.

“This is the long-awaited and deeply revealing autobiography of Tom Jones, one of the leaders of the armed takeover of a Cornell University building by black students in 1969, later a successful Wall Street executive for many decades. Jones tells his quintessentially American story with passion and conviction, and with a mixture of pride and regret. For a country still grappling with racial issues fifty years later, this is a seminal account of a life of dramatic action and religiously inspired thought.” Hunter R. Rawlings III, Cornell University “This story will put to rest any notion that Wall Street is a fair, squeaky clean, meritocracy-based system that is team-oriented and color blind. Tom rose above it and triumphed, in part due to his commitment to excellence. A great read by a wonderful man.” Joseph Deane, Former Executive Vice President, PIMCO “Tom Jones presents a unique insider’s perspective on the causes of Citigroup’s collapse. As head of Asset Management, he helped to make it a powerful profit center while gaining the respect of all who worked for and with him. This story is a must-read.” Hersh Cohen, Co-CIO, ClearBridge Investments

Follow The Story of Thomas Jones from his days at Cornell fighting the system to his rise to the top of Wall Street:  

  • TWJ personal story of grit and perseverance, climbing high and overcoming adversity, from guns at Cornell in 1969 to the heights of Wall Street;
  • TWJ life journey is a microcosm of America’s racial progress in the past fifty years;
  • A message that all Americans should be proud of how far our country has come, even as we acknowledge how far we have yet to go.

Guns at Cornell

  1. “The wheel of history, I thought, had turned; my generation was to be the African Americans tasked with the obligation and destiny to finally ‘draw the line’ and end our oppression in America.” (page 25)
  2. “In a five-year span, President John Kennedy had been assassinated, Malcolm X had been assassinated, Martin Luther King had been assassinated, and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. We were in an endless war in Vietnam, where hundreds of black soldiers were dying every month. Riots were raging in cities across America…” (page 25)
  3. “I also believed… that the history of America abounds with many white Americans of conscience and goodwill who fought alongside blacks to overcome America’s racial history and to create a better country.” (page 35)
  4. “I wanted to return to my roots. And my roots were faith and optimism. My parents’ lives were stories of hope and optimism…I returned to my roots determined to align my life with people who share my fundamental moral values…regardless of race or socioeconomic status. To paraphrase Dr. King’s famous words at the 1963 March on Washington, I decided to select my friends and associates on the basis of the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.” (pages 35-36)

Building a Career

  1. “I later came to understand that the most successful senior executives in large business organizations are… like coaches for sports teams…The best mentor relationships are usually reciprocal, and I made them look good…” (page 41)
  2. “I told my [wife] that even though I was doing very well…I didn’t think I had the training, skills, and credentials to sustain success over the long term… I enrolled in the evening program at Boston University … because the more prestigious business schools at Harvard and MIT did not offer part-time evening programs…” (pages 47-48)
  3. “For the first time, I discovered the difference between working hard and working to full capacity…I discovered that, like most people, I had rarely exceeded a 95 percent level of effort…The five points separating 95 and 100 don’t seem like much – and they aren’t, on any given day, or any given test or work assignment. But it’s a lot when it’s compounded every day, week after week and month after month…” (page 50)
  4. “Tom visibly embodied the intersection of diversity and excellence. His performance was so first-rate that not a single individual in the company could call Jones an affirmative action appointment.” – Retired TIAA-CREF CEO Clifton Wharton autobiography, Privilege and Prejudice (2015) (page 92)
  5. “Despite a penchant for numbers, being effective, Jones insists, is not about being the smartest person, or always having the right or best answer. ‘It’s about getting the best out of other people, creating harmony, cooperativeness, and a sense of purpose’.” –Black Enterprise Magazine, June 1994 (page 101)

Life at the Top

  1. “Arguably, the year 2000 was the pinnacle of Citigroup’s overall success. The Citigroup 2000annual report was titled Lead. By Example. The ‘Financial Highlights’ page showed Citigroup’s net revenue of $77.7 billion, and core income of $14.1 billion, up 14 percent and 25 percent, respectively, over 1999… The 2000 annual report showed my business, Global InvestmentManagement and Private Banking Group, with $3.3 billion total revenues, up 22 percent from1999; net income of $674 million, up 12.5 percent from 1999; and assets under management of$401 billion, up 6 percent from 1999 in a difficult stock market environment…” (pages 131-132)
  2. “My office was on the forty-fifth floor, the top floor, of the northwest corner at Seven World Trade Center. The plane flew right over my head…to smash into … the building across the street behind me. Had Seven World Trade Center been a few stories taller, or the incoming plane dipped a little lower, I most likely would have died that morning.” (page 136)
  3. “In 1997 I joined the board of directors of Freddie Mac, also known as the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, the second-largest financier of mortgages in America. My primary interest …was that it afforded me additional insight into mortgage risk analytics.” (page 145)
  4. “I had been recruited… to join the Altria Group board of directors in 2002. Altria intrigued me primarily because of my curiosity about what went into its marketing wizardry…” (page 205)