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An Unlikely Banker

by P.J. Kemerer, MBA '13 (9/17/12)
P.J. Kemerer, MBA '13As a former music teacher, P.J. Kemerer explains how he's made the career switch to finance

Shortly before beginning my coursework at Johnson, I had the opportunity to have lunch with MFI Director Steve Calk. As we discussed my future and what companies might be a good fit for me, Steve kept mentioning a commercial bank. I found this interesting, because I was looking quite specifically at corporate finance roles and did not have much interest in banking. How would a managerial finance immersion prepare me for a career (or at least a summer internship) in commercial banking?

Very well, as Steve obviously knew then, and I soon found out. The commercial bank Steve had mentioned ended up offering me a summer internship in my hometown of Harrisburg, PA (my mom was thrilled!), and I spent the next ten weeks applying the concepts and strategies I learned in MFI, with a unique twist – I got to sit on the other side of the table. You see, the immersion explores issues related to corporate finance such as capital structure, valuation, and investment from the perspective of a CFO. As a banker lending to CFOs, I was able to use what I had learned at school to evaluate the fiscal policies, operational processes, and overall creditworthiness of prospective clients.

My internship employer seeks to differentiate itself as a trusted advisor to CFOs and financial teams, and the corporate finance acumen I developed through the MFI program allowed me to speak intelligently with CFOs. Because of the financial modeling skills I developed through my MFI coursework, I also had the opportunity to do special projects for the Chief Credit Officer and the Bank’s Executive Management team. Every day brought new challenges, and I felt prepared to overcome them because of the skills and knowledge I gained in the MFI program.

I also had a lot of fun during my internship. I spent a few days with the rest of my intern class at the bank’s headquarters in Buffalo, N.Y., where we got to see Nik Wallenda’s famed tightrope walk across Niagara Falls. My boss and I entertained clients at a Baltimore Orioles game, where the O’s crushed the Boston Red Sox (much to the chagrin of my boss, a native New Englander). I went on many client calls, including one to a fast-growing regional brewery (I had to sample the product as a matter of due diligence). I worked with outstanding people who love their jobs and invested time and energy with me to ensure I would flourish.

As a former music teacher, I had absolutely no knowledge of anything related to finance before business school. Everything I needed to be successful I learned here at Johnson, and the MFI program played a huge role in my development. I have now accepted a full-time position with the bank as a commercial banker, but with my MFI training I could just as easily have become a financial analyst or a consultant. What will you choose to be?