You'd be hard-pressed to find a more focused financial services executive than Titi Cole ’98 MBA, who serves as CEO of Legacy Franchises for Citigroup.
She describes the task of leading Citigroup’s consumer banking teams outside of the U.S. as a “privilege” and a “really, really fun role.”
The role has also given her a chance to put her leadership skills to the test. A nearly 20-year veteran of the banking industry, she has worked through the 2000 dot-com crisis, the Great Recession and most recently the 2023 failures of Silicon Valley Bank and other large regional banks.
“It’s really easy to be a leader when everything is going well, everybody’s excited and the market is up,” says Cole, who took on her current role more than a year and a half ago after serving as Citigroup’s head of global operations and fraud prevention. “That’s like a slam dunk. But the real test of leadership is in times of crisis, in times of challenge.”
Cole says she’s energized by how major institutions have stepped up. “The large banks have been a source of stability through this crisis, which has been good to see.” As for her role as a steadying force, she says, “It’s always leaning into that load. You have an opportunity to say, ‘Well, this is why I’m here.’”
That word — “here” — may describe Cole’s leadership style better than any other. She’s known as a hands-on leader and positive influence who works to understand the hurdles Citigroup employees face in real time. Her work takes her all over the world to reinforce bonds between Citigroup’s employees and its clients.
Yet it isn’t merely the CEO title that informs her responsibilities and approach. Cole gained accolades as a global diversity and inclusion champion
for Citigroup’s Global Consumer Bank. That role allowed her to transform diversity, equity and inclusion from a catchphrase into a path to strong corporate performance that depends on a wide range of skill sets and viewpoints.
Cole has also kept her Kellogg roots alive, visiting recently for Reunion 2023. “Just coming back and seeing the growth of the campus,
getting to be in the beautiful new Global Hub and seeing classmates and teammates I haven’t seen in 25 years — you can just feel the energy.”
She traces that overarching energy to her days working toward her degree. Cole touches on a theme many alumni cite: Beyond providing a strong financial education, the Kellogg School of Management offered an environment in which she could grow.
“I found the culture at Kellogg to be grounded in curiosity,” Cole recalls. “It showed up in the different kinds of classes we got to take, the accessibility of professors and the different experiences we shared. We had curiosity about each other, about the world, about the impact we could have on the world — and we shared an openness to challenging each other to do better.”
Cole sees parallels between what upcoming graduates have seen this year and what she faced. “I graduated in ’98, and two years later we hit the whole 2000 crisis,” she says. “So we didn’t know what was ahead of us.”
The lessons she learned then are just as applicable today. She advises today’s students and recent grads to have a plan, but be adaptable. She also cites the love of learning that Kellogg reinforced in her as essential to her success.
“I truly believe that when you stop learning, you stop growing and then you atrophy,” Cole notes.
“It doesn’t have to be formal learning, but please — remain curious, remain open and remain on a lifelong learning journey. Leverage the Kellogg School network and pay it forward.”