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Wall Street recruiter and USF alumna speaks with students about her career path

Katherine Elkahly speaking with students

Katherine Elkahly acknowledges that she took a "non-traditional" path to her high-powered career in corporate finance.

"I remember thinking I was going to go to fashion design school," she said. "I don't know what I was thinking, but practicality came knocking."

Now the executive director for finance analyst and associate programs for JPMorgan Chase in New York City, the two-time USF College of Business alumna recently told a group of USF finance students that she owes her career to three things: hard work, luck, and sponsors who believed in her potential.

But her career path wasn't always clear or easy. While working full-time, the Seminole, Fla., native attended St. Petersburg Community College and then USF. She married her husband at age 21, and graduated with a bachelor's degree and a 4.0 in finance. Then, through USF Career Services, she got a job with what was then Price Waterhouse as a financial analyst.

When she decided to go back to USF for her MBA, she would get up at 5 a.m., go to the gym, go to work, and then go to class two to three days a week.

"Looking back, I have no idea how I did it," Elkahly said.

Not long after she graduated with her MBA in 2001, her boss asked her if she would to move to Philadelphia to work with him at a spinoff company. Elkahly said he was one of her first "sponsors" -- someone who took her under his wing and introduced her to a wider network of people and opportunities. She moved to Philadelphia, which she says now was one of the pivotal points in her career, taking her away from home and opening doors to additional possibilities. The Philadelphia experience as a regional director of finance gave her experience that strengthened her resume and made her an attractive hire for any finance firm.

After the spinoff company sold to IBM, she decided to seek out opportunities in New York City on Wall Street. She was offered a vice president of finance job at JP Morgan, where she has worked for the past 10 years. In that time, another "sponsor" took her to Private Bank Latin America, where she rose to CFO. She told students not to be afraid of making a lateral move in their careers if it expands their career options.

"I took a move at the same level, but it gave me the opportunity to be the CFO of a private bank," she said.

Now the head of JPMorgan's finance campus programs, Elkahly said she finds a great sense of personal reward in getting to be a sponsor, of sorts, for students. She told students who hope for a similar career to pursue their work with passion and to be knowledgeable about the companies with whom they interview. She credits her own passion for her work with helping her form connections and trust with the people who helped her climb the ladder.

She said that the element of luck in having sponsors go to bat for her wasn't simply luck -- it was because those people had seen her work ethic and knew she wouldn't disappoint or embarrass them.

"They're not going to do that for you unless they know you can deliver," she said. "This sounds cliché, but in the morning I was the first person turning the lights on and on the nights I didn't have school, I was the last person turning the lights off."