The Brand Rebuilder

How Wilfredo Cruz helps create one, cohesive brand for Nuveen after its recent merger with TIAA

Branding is more important than ever these days, and companies that aren’t busy solidifying their brand are refreshing and/or strengthening their existing brands. The most important aspect of marketing is not just how you get your message out to the world but also what that message is. According to Wilfredo Cruz, the managing director and global creative director for Nuveen, there are three types of branding projects: creating a new brand, refreshing an existing brand, or a complete rebranding.

For the eight months Cruz has been working at Nuveen, he’s been working on the latter for the global investment management company. As a company that recently merged with TIAA and owns twelve affiliate brands, creating one cohesive brand for Nuveen is no small task.

“I describe it as drinking from a fire hose,” Cruz says. “That is the pace and the amount of things being thrown at us. Everything from corporate literature, to brochures, to fact sheets, to presentation decks, to interactive websites, to screensavers—anything that has a Nuveen logo on it—has to be updated.”

Cruz’s job is more complicated because the brand must combine elements from Nuveen, TIAA, and all their affiliates and sub-brands to ensure the message is one that everyone supports. It involves cutting through the clutter, redesigning, combining elements, and throwing out old systems to be replaced with new systems. This affects every aspect of the company, from internal to external communications.

Cruz’s biggest fear about becoming an in-house designer was that he would be bored. But Nuveen’s rebranding project certainly puts that fear to rest.

When Cruz went to Cooper Union to get his degree in art, he didn’t even know what a managing director was, and he certainly didn’t see himself working for financial firms. But he had some great professors at Cooper Union who introduced him to design.

“It’s like walking into a house with fantastic furniture, but it’s cluttered. All you have to do is put the right pieces in place and make the space work.”

Wilfredo Cruz

“Art was always about what I thought, what political view I might have, what emotional or romantic feelings I might be experiencing,” Cruz says. “Design is almost the opposite because you can’t do design for the sake of design. What really great designers know how to do is get into the heads of their clients, and more importantly, the audience.”

Cruz kept painting in his free time and, to pay the bills, he pursued design in the corporate world. Early in his career, he worked at the firm Wechsler, Ross & Partners, and the partners mentored and taught him a great deal about the financial services industry. It was because of his work there that Cruz was able to move to PIMCO, which had been a client of Wechsler’s a few years before when PIMCO had been going through its own brand refresh.

Cruz went from working with a wide variety of brands to just one. While he was restricted in what he could do with the brand design, he was able to dig deep into the work—a challenge he hadn’t taken on before.

Then Cruz got the opportunity to work for Nuveen and help recreate its brand. Nuveen’s problem was that it wasn’t very well known outside the world of municipal bonds. By combining with TIAA, it became a $900-plus billion company, which made it something of a sleeping giant.

Like when he was working at PIMCO, Cruz can only work within the brands he’s given, but there’s a lot to work with there.

“The opportunity is amazing,” Cruz says. “It’s like walking into a house with fantastic furniture, but it’s all over the place and it’s cluttered. All you have to do is move the right pieces in and out, put them in place, and make the space work.”

Cruz says that one rewarding aspect of having all those pieces is that, while the brand is new, he’s not creating anything from scratch. This, he says, is the worst thing you can do when it comes to branding.

During any branding project, the brand must be communicated clearly to all, but the brand itself has to be true to what the company is. In that sense, Cruz’s biggest challenge has been creating a clear and unified story to the many different groups coming together to work on the rebranding.

“Everyone wants to have a line, a say, a word—something that identifies who they are and what they believe in,” Cruz says. “You don’t want to just throw something at people and make them believe something. They have to feel like they have some ownership.”