From Wall Street to the Classroom
Michael Kender started teaching at his alma mater in spring 2009 (pictured) and has continued doing so in the fall term.
As a senior bond specialist at Citigroup, Mike Kender (chemical engineering '83) helped Virginia Tech students get the kind of internships that are critical to starting a career in the competitive world of Wall Street finance. Now that he's retired from Wall Street, Kender is working to help even more Hokies.
This semester, the New Jersey resident is flying back and forth weekly to teach two Pamplin College of Business finance courses: Valuation and Corporate Governance, a senior-level undergraduate course, and Mergers & Acquisitions,an M.B.A course.
Kender's experience in mergers and acquisitions and as a supervisor of the Citigroup unit that assessed high-yield bonds dovetails with the course material, says J. Gray Ferguson Professor of Finance Vijay Singal, who recruited Kender to teach.
"Basically, what he's been practicing he's going to convey to the students," Singal said days before Kender first started teaching in the spring. "It's a great opportunity for the students. They're going to get someone who has done this for most of his adult life, and he can speak from his own experience."
Kender and Singal knew each other from Kender's visits to Blacksburg to speak to Virginia Tech's finance students, especially its two student investment teams: SEED, which focuses on stocks; and BASIS, which focuses on bonds (see sidebar above). When Kender told Singal that he planned to retire from Citigroup, they started talking about what he would do next.
"I said that I'm too young to sit around the house and do nothing, but that I hadn't decided what the next phase of my career would be," Kender recalls. "I said that I was thinking about a few different things, one of which was teaching. He said, 'It's interesting that you should mention that--we're looking for a couple of professors.'"
Given his career and his desire to give back to his alma mater, it's natural that Kender has been involved with Pamplin. But he has also stayed connected with the chemical engineering department, from which he graduated. He has served on that department's advisory board, as well as on the College of Engineering's advisory board. He is also on the College of Engineering's steering committee within the Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future.
Kender and his wife, Lisa, have created a chemical engineering scholarship and a graduate fellowship. They have supported other university programs as well, including the Marching Virginians, for which Kender played saxophone while an undergraduate, and WUVT, where he was a DJ.
"One of the reasons why I came to Virginia Tech was that I was offered a scholarship, and this is my way of paying it back," Kender says of the assistance he and his wife provide to students. "Somebody was generous to me, so I should be generous to the next generation."
Kender grew up in Pittsburgh. He was initially attracted to Virginia Tech because of its strong engineering program, its low out-of-state tuition, and its cooperative education program, which allowed him to get both classroom and real-world experience. He did his co-op work at at Koppers, a Pittsburgh-based chemical company. After graduating, he worked as a process engineer for Allied Chemical, which is now part of Honeywell.
Kender says he enjoyed that work, but "I noticed after a couple of years that the people who really seemed to be climbing up the ladder in the organization were the guys with the M.B.A.s."
So he enrolled in the University of Virginia's M.B.A. program, where he became interested in finance and Wall Street.
"Finance is an analytical field, just like engineering, so it fit my skill set and my personality," Kender says. "I like to analyze things and solve problems, and finance is a field within business where you can do that."
Kender earned his M.B.A. in 1987 and spent his first five years on Wall Street as an investment banker, mostly working on mergers and acquisitions, before he shifted gears to become a debt analyst. He worked for Smith Barney, which later became part of Citigroup.
"My job was to analyze the bonds and loans of industrial companies and then give advice to traders and institutional investors as to whether those debt instruments offered attractive investment opportunities," he explains. "Ultimately, I ended up managing the groups that performed that function at Citigroup."
At the start of this decade, Virginia Tech's Department of Finance reached out to Kender and other alumni who worked on Wall Street. The goal was to set up a network of professionals who could help students find work in a field that, even in good economic times, can be tough to break into. An informal group of a few dozen alumni, known as the "Hokies on Wall Street," was the result.
"A typical student sitting in Blacksburg really doesn't get direct exposure to Wall Street," Kender says. "They learn about it in some of their classes, but they're at a big disadvantage relative to a student at NYU or Columbia in New York, who are surrounded by it day in and day out. The way to level the playing field is to leverage the Virginia Tech alumni in New York who can help them.
"We've been able to build a group of alumni that students can contact, direct questions to, and visit if they come up to New York. We've been able to get a number of students hired for internships and full-time jobs as a result."
Kender adds, "It's a much tougher job market right now, but my advice for students who are genuinely interested is to at least try. Get to know the alumni. If you can't get a job now, then stay in touch. When things eventually improve, at least you've got a built-in network instead of starting from scratch."
According to Kender, students who want to excel on Wall Street need to be hard-working self-starters who are willing to work long hours. They also need to have strong writing and speaking skills so that they can communicate their ideas, Kender stresses. And, of course, they need the analytical tools to do the job: a solid grounding in finance and accounting, he says.
Through his ongoing involvement with the finance department and the "Hokies on Wall Street," Kender encourages students to develop the skills to work in finance. But now he is also teaching them some of those skills himself--on Mondays and Wednesdays for the Pamplin College of Business.
A version of this article first appeared in Virginia Tech Magazine.