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Malaika 1
• Jul 2, 2021

TD celebrates the dedication and bravery of all military personnel. We have a growing community of veterans who bring a unique perspective to our business and a passion for going above and beyond. Our mission is to build upon our commitment by creating a community where all active duty, reserve, former military and services members can share their experiences, grow their careers and raise awareness of veteran matters to our colleagues, customers and communities.

During her 12 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, Malaika Townes, a chemical specialist, did a stint in Iraq, where she helped farmers clean land contaminated with buried weapons.

She learned how to coordinate with fire departments and other organizations to protect civilians in case of potential chemical attacks when she returned to South Carolina.

Those skills and experiences have proven vital in Malaika’s work at TD Bank, where she started more than five years ago as a team manager at a TD Contact Center before being chosen as one of 10 in-house veterans to be trained for project manager roles.

“That was a great opportunity,” said Malaika, now a project manager for Shared Services and Data & Analytics in TD’s Greenville, South Carolina office. Her supervisor had suggested she consider the training program because of her earlier experience.

It makes sense for the bank to look to veterans as promising project managers, given the expertise they developed in the service, according to Malaika.

“I could see why TD Bank decided, ‘You know, this is a great opportunity to use military people.’ I had to understand how to set up and plan with other organizations that were not military,” said Malaika, who was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant in 2008.

Veterans have critical skills to solve problems

The military background, combined with strong family role models, had prepared Malaika for success. The Army experience strengthened her confidence, leadership, and belief in doing things the right way rather than taking shortcuts.

"The leadership, the morale and the work ethic are engrained in me. I bring it with me every day," she explained. "It taught me how to use challenges to my advantage, to learn and grow from them,” she said.

“Having that will to go out and learn, that’s another thing as well. That’s a big benefit here. Did I know how to do project management the TD way? No, I didn’t. But I had the will to learn, to embrace it - that drive for learning,” said Malaika.

Drew Watt, TD Bank Senior Vice President, Portfolio Executive for Shared Services and Data & Analytics, can't say enough good things about having veterans on his team.

"In addition to being appreciative of their service, having veterans on my team adds incredible value because they bring critical tools such as organizational and problem solving skills, as well as the ability to work well in a team, which are important to successful project management." he said.

Fourth of July has special meaning for veterans

Malaika looks forward to spending Independence Day with her husband's family, who have strong military roots and seeing the fireworks at night in her hometown of Greenville.

One song always played that day has a meaning for her.

"They start the Star-Spangled Banner toward the end and that gets you pretty emotional about the reasons why we celebrate the Fourth of July, for those freedoms and rights the country fought for," she said. "It’s a very emotional experience, even if I hear it right now. You think about what you did and what you went and served for. It makes me feel proud about serving for my country.”

Strong Family Foundation

No doubt some of Malaika's drive was nurtured by a strong family.

Distant relatives adopted Malaika and her younger brother and sister – who are both retiring from active duty military service this year. Malaika's birth mother asked the family members to take them in when they were about to become foster children.

Her adoptive mom and dad guided the siblings.

“Those are the ones that gave me the strength to start building the foundation and getting on the right path,” she said. “They were willing to do that. They took that step for us so that we could have a better future for ourselves.”

Malaika became the first woman from her birth family to graduate from high school.

“I was raised by a lot of strong women in my family,” she said. Her dad, who also had a military background, “was definitely strong, and hard as well. That parent instilling that structure” helped as she went into the military.

Enlisting in the Army Reserve allowed her to stay close enough to home to support her siblings while venturing away from her parental safety net. She wanted to prove to herself she could do something on her own.

She also wanted to set a higher bar for her siblings.

"It wasn't about rising above expectations," she said. "It was about setting new ones and going farther than our parents had."

Giving back

Malaika has also derived strength from her relationships at TD, where she enjoys support and guidance from colleagues she considers to be her very own "executive board" – a professional network of trusted mentors, sponsors and peers, men as well as women.

She earned an associate’s degree in electrical telecommunications from ECPI University while in the Army and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in project management from Strayer University, with support from TD’s tuition assistance benefit.

Mom to a 13-year-old son and 22-year-old stepdaughter, her “bonus daughter,” Malaika’s actively giving back, serving as the TD Bank’s Veteran Business Resource Group co-chair, president of TD's Toastmasters Greenville chapter, member of the Black Employee Network and the Individuals with Diverse Abilities (IwDA) community, and as mentor to other women across the bank.

"We can get so caught up in pushing forward that sometimes we don't stop to pull each other up," she said. "We need to be deliberate about growing each other, there is always something you can teach or learn from someone else."

Want to learn more about veterans?
TD Salutes Veterans: Natalie A. Lawrence Defines Grit in Every Aspect of Life
TD Salutes Veterans: How Difficult Conversations About Race Can Spark Change

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