Morningstar Inc. CEO Kunal Kapoor ’97 gives the Wendell Whiteman Memorial Lecture at Monmouth College
A strong liberal arts education is great career preparation.
That was one of the messages Morningstar Inc. CEO Kunal Kapoor ’97 gave Monday in his Wendell Whiteman Memorial Lecture at Monmouth College.
“We’ve studied the attributes that successful people have at Morningstar,” said Kapoor, who took over as the independent investment firm’s chief executive officer on Jan. 1. “One of them is ‘grit’ – the notion of seeing things through. What we’ve noticed is that people out of big-name colleges don’t have it, but liberal arts graduates tend to.
“So when you’re out on those job interviews, make sure to talk about examples of how you’ve seen things through.”
In addition to an outstanding education, Kapoor said that his experiences at Monmouth also connected him to faculty who became lifelong mentors. Because his Monmouth faculty – who he said he holds in the same regard as those he studied under while earning an MBA at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business – took an interest in him personally, Kapoor said he was able to create a double major in business and environmental policy at the College.
“That’s one of the wonderful things you can do at Monmouth,” Kapoor said in a 45-minute talk held in the Kasch Performance Hall of Dahl Chapel and Auditorium. “Another is taking classes outside your major. I went in kicking and screaming to my art history class, but it was one of the most rewarding classes I had here. It took me out of my comfort zone.”
Kapoor didn’t offer students a “silver bullet” about how to work their way up from an entry-level position to CEO. But he offered several observations that have been shaped by his two decades of experience in the financial industry.
“There are no silver bullets,” he said. “The benefit to that is that you can stop looking, and you can get on with your own story.”
One of the keys to Kapoor’s rise at Morningstar has been a willingness to take on positions that other people wouldn’t do.
“He’s taken jobs outside of his comfort zone,” William Goldsborough ’65, chair of the College’s board of trustees, said in his introductory remarks. “He’s redefined his comfort zone.”
“It’s good to be contrarian,” said Kapoor, speaking to that point. “There’s a sense of sameness out there. I’ve made it a career by doing jobs that most people won’t do.”
Doing so gave him a wide range of experiences within Morningstar, and it also led him to discover that “planning is good, but adherence to it is optional.”
For example, Kapoor said that when he started at Morningstar, he aimed to eventually run the firm’s analyst team. He achieved that goal within six years. Because of the experiences he gained along the way, he realized he was capable of more than he had planned for in his career.
Kapoor also stressed the importance of being a well-read person. He said the “the No. 1 question we ask on our interview is ‘What are you reading?’”
The Whiteman Lecture Series annually brings prominent leaders of American business and industry to Monmouth. It is named in memory of Wendell Whiteman, an alumnus of the College and long-time executive of Security Savings Bank in Monmouth.
Kapoor was the seventh Monmouth graduate to speak in the series, all of whom rose to CEO of their respective companies. The others were the late Harold “Red” Poling ’49 (Ford Motor Co.), Walter Huff ’56 (HBO and Co.), the late James Pate ’63 (Pennzoil), John Courson ’64 (Mortgage Bankers Association), Kevin Goodwin ’80 (Sonosite) and Hiroyuki Fujita ’92 (Quality Electrodynamics).