Terri D. Austin

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Chief Diversity Officer, American International Group Inc., New York City

Terri D. Austin became a lawyer on her grandfather’s advice. “When I was young, [he] once advised me to become a lawyer because I could argue my way out of everything,” she says. Today, she is the chief diversity officer at American International Group Inc., a world leader in insurance and financial services. In that role, she provides executive oversight for AIG’s worldwide diversity efforts and is responsible for expanding and implementing the company’s diversity initiatives. Under her leadership, the AIG diversity Web site was launched and a full-time disability coordinator was hired to expand AIG’s disability initiatives.

Austin joined AIG in 1990 and has held such positions as vice president and chief compliance and ethics officer in the Domestic Brokerage Group and senior vice president and general counsel of the firm’s Domestic Claims Unit. Prior to joining AIG, she was a litigation associate at the New York law firm Richards & O’Neil L.L.P., where she successfully tried two cases to verdict, and before an assistant counsel with the New York City Law Department. Austin has a law degree and a journalism degree from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College in Iowa.

While her knack for arguing may have shaped her career path, Austin says her greatest motivator was her mother, Amanda Fouther, who instilled in her “a desire to learn and a positive attitude, no matter how difficult the obstacles.” Children are a tremendous source of inspiration, she adds. “My experiences with not only my children, but all children, enabled me to see the world with a fresh perspective,” she says. Austin now serves on the board of New Alternatives for Children Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports disabled children and their families.

Austin is aiming for higher heights. “I think with my legal background and my diversity background, I would be a great candidate for a CEO position of a Fortune 500 company,” she comments. Until she gets there, she is enjoying her current responsibilities at AIG and engaging in a few high-energy extra-curricular activities. She recently earned a black belt in tae kwon do and has completed running three New York City marathons.