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A Moment in Time, Impact of a Lifetime

By Keith Kemph – President & CEO at BlackFin Group


There I was, 21 years old and fresh out of college. I was jumping from waiting tables to selling thermal pane windows in a call center and later running the mail room of a commercial real estate development firm that had a staff of one, me.


Fighting to find my path in this world, I remained restless, working overtime to find a job that could lead to a career. A career that provides me the self-fulfillment I crave, the opportunity to be a valuable contributor, and eventually find promotional opportunities – looking to prove everyone wrong that predicted I wouldn’t account for much in life.


Chip on my shoulder, sure.


My due diligence pays off. I interview with a woman named Diane at a finance company. A job that promises working in doors, only one late night a week, occasional Saturdays, good pay, Sundays and holidays off. Two days later I was offered the job. The only conditions Diane shared was that I must be persistent, listen to those around me, and remain on the phone. She promised I will be challenged, I will learn, and there will be plenty of promotional opportunities – if I work hard enough. While I had no experience, she could see I had the drive. Within a week I started my new job as a bill collector. Fifteen of us working in a smoke-filled office in Santa Ana, California. I was collecting on loans that charged 39% interest rates. I was conducting the occasional late-night repo of customer cars who failed to pay and was knocking on doors to collect tv’s and waterbeds used for personal collateral on loans in default. It was the start I needed. Only to later move into consumer lending, banking, mortgage banking while moving from sales manager to branch manager, from regional management to executive teams and Director at a Fortune 500 firm – now President & CEO of what is quickly becoming the leading consulting firm in the financial services industry.


While my interview with Diane lasted less than 45 minutes, her decision to hire me changed the course of my life. She provided me a path. A way into an amazing career. Over the next 27 years I would provide very well for a growing family, achieve my personal and professional goals, and positively impact the lives of countless colleagues, consumers, clients, and business professionals. To top it all off, I now have an endless amount of amazing life stories and experiences that most only dream of...


While I had the drive, I needed the opportunity. Diane gave me the break I needed.


This moment of self-reflection a month ago, at the prompting of an invite to join the NAMMBA Visionary Ambassador program, made me quickly realize that it’s not an ‘opportunity’ to pay it forward – it’s now my ‘responsibility’ to pay it forward. It is my ‘Diane moment.’ NAMMBA Ambassador Program provides me the framework to intentionally attract, recruit, develop, and mentor the next generation of financial services personal. As highlighted by Tony Thompson, CEO of NAMMBA, said, “Being a NAMMBA Visionary allows CEOs and senior leaders to give back and pay it forward in our industry.”


While everyone has a story, and my story certainly isn’t anything special, my hope is that even if it’s just a handful of people who can be inspired to join the NAMMBA Visionary Ambassador program – collectively, we have the ability to influence the lives of a whole new generation of financial services professionals.


And the timing could not be better. Tony Thompson highlighted this by saying, “In the last recession, the Generation Z-ers saw us at our worst, in this recession, they will witness us at our best. The NAMMBA Visionary Campaign will allow us to give back to the next generation by connecting them to our thriving and robust industry. As leaders, we have a responsibility to give back to the industry that has provided each of us incredible opportunity. The epitome of servant leadership is a NAMMBA Visionary.” Moving forward, I challenge you to do your part. Even if it is not by way of the NAMMBA Visionary program, find a way to give back, pay it forward, to our great community in Financial Services.

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