A Single Interview Changed His Whole Life, Now He's Paying It Forward

Nov. 5, 2019 - Wendy Martin

More than 50 years after Mike Kline landed his dream job in the insurance industry, he and his wife Joan have created a $100,000 endowed scholarship at the VCU School of Business to give back to the university that Kline credits with his success.

“I give all the credit in the world to VCU”

Kline’s story has its start in 1969 – a year when the VCU School of Business graduate was down on his luck. Just before graduating in June of 1968, Kline had taken a job with the Ford Motor Credit Company. “Jobs were very difficult to obtain,” he explains. “I was supposed to be a ‘management trainee’ but I was primarily a ‘repo man.’”

Less than one year into his fledging career, Kline reached his breaking point. “I had to go out on Christmas Eve and collect someone’s paycheck as he was leaving work, and that did me in. I decided right then and there, ‘This isn’t for me,’ and I quit.” Kline and his wife Joan had a young daughter and a newborn son.

“I quit without having a new job. My parents lived in New Jersey, so we? went to Jersey and stayed with them. I met an insurance agent whose primary company was Chubb & Son. He introduced me to Chubb and I was invited to interview. I spent a half-hour to 45 minutes with each one of the executives.

“I must have made some kind of impression because they hired me right on the spot. I like to call that a ‘VCU Success Story’ not a “Mike Kline Success Story’ because VCU prepared me for it.”

VCU interviewing techniques made all the difference

“I give all the credit in the world to VCU,” Kline continues. “All the other people in my class at Chubb that year were Harvard, Yale, Ivy League graduates. Phi Beta Kappas, the whole nine yards. None of them had every heard of VCU.” Yet it was at VCU, Kline believes, that he received the instruction that gave him a critical edge over his competition.

“My favorite instructor was Dr. Russell Johnston,” Kline explains. “He taught interviewing techniques and that was a primary factor in my getting that job. I remember him saying ‘Answer what they ask. Don’t elaborate.’ Whatever he told us, it worked. I remember the director of human resources at Chubb saying to me, ‘We’re going to have to start interviewing at VCU from now on.’”

A successful career in insurance

Kline spent a total of 10 years with Chubb & Son, rapidly advancing in underwriting, before leaving the company to try his hand at land development and construction. He eventually returned to insurance, this time with Church Insurance. “It was a captive company that only wrote primary insurances for Episcopal churches and their entities. Being an Episcopalian, it was really more of a mission for me as opposed to a job. That was a great experience. I spent 10 years with them too.”

Upon retirement, Kline and his wife began to consider their legacy. “We are both believers in giving back, not just to our community, but to those things that are dear to our hearts. I’m so grateful for having attended VCU, so we decided ‘Let’s make a scholarship fund so students can benefit directly.’”

Over a period of about five years, the couple steadily contributed a total of $100,000 to create the Michael and Joan Kline Endowed Scholarship. The fund generates an annual scholarship of about $4,000 per year and is now in its third year.

“There are no restrictions on Mike and Joan's scholarship, other than it is for a student in the School of Business. This gives the School great flexibility to award the scholarship to any deserving student,” says Joey Broussard III, senior director of Development for the VCU School of Business.

Overcoming adversity to achieve a degree

This year’s recipient, Rohit Karnati, expressed his gratitude at the recent VCU School of Business Endowment Day luncheon. “Education is a privilege I dearly respect,” Karnati told the assembled guests. “Being a first-generation student, I strive to be a role model for my younger brother and to fulfill the high expectations my parents have for me.”

Karnati is a junior majoring in Finance with a minor in Computer Science. He described the dedication and perseverance his parents exhibited and the adversities they faced in immigrating to the United States from India. “Their life story always puts me in tears,” he said, earnestly.

While not immigrants, the Klines certainly overcame a great deal of adversity for Mike to earn his degree in industrial engineering from VCU. During his sophomore year, the young married couple learned they were pregnant.

“I had to take a year off and work while Joanie had the baby – our daughter. Then I switched my studies to the School of Business and finished up there. Joan worked three jobs while I was going to school. I worked full-time in a testing laboratory on Cary Street and at the YMCA on weekends.

“We had a joint effort, I like to call it,” says Kline. “She persevered through the whole thing and together we got it done. She didn’t graduate from VCU, but she was my strongest advocate and certainly a partner in my education.”

VCU prepares its students for the future

In his remarks, Karnati explained that the Kline scholarship eased the burden on his entire family and enabled him to focus on his studies as well as travel to other cities for internship interviews.

The Klines are optimistic that VCU will prepare Karnati as well for his interviews as the university prepared Mike for his. “I never would have received my job it hadn’t been for my education at VCU and the preparation they gave me,” Mike recalls.

“I hope VCU students know their future is bright. They are graduating from a school that really prepares them for the future.”