This week I had the pleasure of speaking with Jana Brown, Senior Vice President & Human Resources Chief Operating Officer at TIAA.  Jana’s specialty has been running HR as a business and being able to attain a maximum degree of engagement leading to increased performance and workforce results.  Jana’s perspective has been shaped by over 25 years of experience from front lines sales or HR related services, through the development of training and talent organizations and finally through to HR leadership. 

                My first interaction with Jana was an unfortunate one.  A last minute conflict meant that she could not attend the HR networking dinner that I was organizing and had to send her apologies the morning of the dinner.  Now I have been doing conferences and networking events for 11 years so I have experience with rejection, even at the last minute, and I’ve come to be able to see those rejections that are unfortunate circumstance and those that are a little more fabricated.  In those 11 years, I can probably count on one hand the number of people that have offered such a genuine apology as Jana.It was her apology that inspired me to find out a little bit more about Jana, explore her career history and see what shaped this level of humility.

Jana talked about her education briefly at the start of our interview, highlighting her BA in communications and public relations from Stephen F. Austin University, Nacogdoches, Texas.  From there she moved into her first role, in sales, as an account executive for The Travelers in which she sold employee benefit programs.  After a short period of success, she found her way into sales training, leading and training the future generation of sales executives at the company.  In our early interactions, it was clear to me that Jana grew up as the quintessential small town girl that you’ve seen in a million heart felt movies.

Now I don’t really have a continued method to these interviews and the resulting blog articles.  Sometimes it’s chronological and sometimes I focus on 3-5 key points.  Mostly I simply try to find the best way to highlight the nuggets in these exceptional careers.  In this case I’ve skimmed over about 10 years of hard work in a single paragraph (sorry Jana) but with good reason.  When Jana was at school, she had massive admiration for the head cheerleader.  This girl then went onto Stephen F. Austin University thus inspiring Jana to become head cheerleader and follow the same course to become the first person on her Mother’s side to get a degree.Isn’t it funny how and where we can get our inspiration from but, more importantly, how our heroes can influence us to action?  Who are your heroes and how are they influencing you?

As our discussion progressed, we quickly moved onto management, as throughout Jana’s career she has had the opportunity to manage projects, division to entire functions.  A challenge that did not come easily to her, something that echoed in my life and I think is something that has a little truth in many of people’s lives.

By the time Jana took her first management role, she had already accomplished a lot and achieved more than what was expected of her.  Being the first of her family to achieve a degree and to step away from a small town she had embraced risk, learned a great deal and had succeeded in all challenges that were placed in front of her, all without having a role model with which to follow.  In order to reach this point, she had to become synonymous with hard work, risk taking and invention.  However, not everyone has the same experience in reach where they are which led to a small amount of difficulty and clashes when personalities and values didn’t match her own.  Jana needed to reinvent herself and become the version of Jana that could take her to be an outstanding manager, rather than an outstanding worker.

This led her to become the Director for Human Resources at Cigna, lead a Talent Organization for Aramark before finally starting in the HR department at TIAA and climbing the ladder to Senior Vice-President.  The final transition before being able to lead the entire people function of a $37bn organization with over 16,000 employees.  But, in order to succeed in this position, Jana had to make one final transition.  It was no longer enough to be a good manager, she now need to be a good business leader.

Upon entering HR, Jana made a conscious decision to explore all that the function had to offer including how it supported the other functions.  She knew sales well, training and development but then had to embrace talent, finance, operations and more.  She needed to understand how P&L affects shareholders and how talent can effect culture and performance in order to become a true business driven executive.  Which actually brings me to the final point that I found interesting about Jana’s personality.

During our conversation, I heard her mention “I’ve never met a job I didn’t like”.  I could tell that she was on a bit of a flow so I let her continue whilst triple underlining this phrase in my notes.  I found this interesting because, as I study happiness and stress, I’ve not really seen any correlation between happiness and money, but it’s more about the perspective on the jobs that we do.  Jana says that she was always able to see the learning opportunity in every role that she had.  Wouldn’t this give every job an opportunity for growth and excitement?  Well I don’t have the answer to that question just yet but  we certainly can’t argue about Jana’s success and I can personally attest to her happiness.  So maybe it’s something we should be thinking about. more tips can be found at

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