Ensuring Opportunities for Future Students
At a crucial time when Kemp was finishing his engineering coursework and beginning his MBA, his father became quite ill and unable to work. “I walked into the JGSM financial aid office and told Professor David Thomas my story. He controlled some special funds, and in a week I had additional scholarship aid. It was great to get that kind of help and I always remembered it.”
As a proud and grateful alumnus, Kemp makes it a high priority to make leadership-level gifts to the Johnson Annual Fund. He currently serves on the Dean’s Leadership Committee, reaching out to encourage others to make similarly significant gifts. “I feel that giving back helps to ensure that other students get the same opportunity I had,” he says. The Annual Fund is an essential resource that enables Johnson to achieve strategic goals. Because Annual Fund gifts are unrestricted, the dean has the flexibility to invest in vital strategic areas that impact the school’s ability to excel and innovate – and on occasion, to offer the kind of emergency aid that made such a difference for Kemp.
Tom Kemp recalls his entire Cornell education as extremely valuable, and at various points throughout his career, he has put to use virtually all of the knowledge and skills he gained through his engineering and graduate management coursework. In particular, he says: “Hal Bierman’s course in capital management, Art Nilsson’s course in finance, and Dick Conway’s (founder of Cornell’s computer science department) beginning computer course are studies that have stuck with me all my life.”
In a sense, Kemp began his career before he graduated. His part-time job at the Cornell Computing Center gave him first-hand experience in computer programming and business consulting while helping him pay for his college education. While at Cornell, he undertook a couple of entrepreneurial ventures. For one, he hired a pilot and aerial photographer and had an aerial color photograph taken of the Cornell campus. He produced 16 x 20-inch color lithographic prints he named “Cornell in Color” and sold them through the campus bookstore. The photograph was developed in the bathtub of his campus apartment with portable, aerial photo processing equipment. This project was an outgrowth of his summer work with a high-tech company that did substantial consulting work in the photographic and aerial reconnaissance field. “I did not make much, if any, money,” he recalls. “But I learned a lot and before graduating I sold my remaining picture inventory and paid off the loan I had made to start the venture.”
His post-collegiate career includes significant executive management responsibilities, primarily as a CFO in a number of diverse industries. These include high-tech startup companies; electronic component manufacturing; government contracting work providing various engineering and technical consulting services; house ware products manufacturing; coal mining; and wholesale distribution. Kemp has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to achieve significant results through effective management of the finance function. “One principle I learned from my coursework at Johnson and other individuals I worked for is that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Finance provides the scorecard on the business, and by interpreting the numbers for management, you can help them develop the business roadmap and stay on course,” he says.
Kemp still works part-time as a consulting CFO to a number of high-tech, venture capital-backed firms, and as a board member of WinWholesale, a large privately held plumbing, electrical, industrial distribution company based in Dayton, Ohio, and with locations throughout the U.S. WinWholesale’s annual sales now exceed $1.7 billion.
“I became involved with WinWholesale in its early years because I knew some of the company’s founders and learned that the company was having some accounting and clerical processing issues that needed solving. I offered to write some software programs to migrate the company to computerized processing and help solve the problem. Their management agreed, the programs worked, and that was the beginning of a career-long association with the company as a board member. This association would never have happened if I had not taken Dick Conway’s beginning computer course and also obtained my Johnson MBA.”
Throughout his distinguished career, Kemp has applied what he learned at Cornell. Now, he helps to ensure that the opportunities he found so helpful and “life-defining” are also available for today’s students.