Kathleen Kunkler, a diversity and inclusion champion at Morgan Stanley, encourages others to be their authentic selves.
Kathleen Kunkler’s Game Plan: Work Hard, Have Fun and Give Back
Kathleen feels fortunate to have done all three in her “incredibly fulfilled” life, giving credit to “serendipity.” This Global Sports and Entertainment Director has focused her practice on the complex financial needs of high-achieving women in the sports industry—from professional athletes, to coaches and athletic directors, to commissioners and sports journalists—and loves being able to “make their dreams come true.”
But she feels just as rewarded by her volunteer and philanthropy work. Whether it's helping HIV/AIDS patients or poverty-stricken people in Haiti, “it’s the kind of work I feel strongly about,” she says. For example, Kathleen helped found the Kansas City AIDS Service Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the first Kansas City AIDS Walk. She’s traveled to Haiti several times, on rebuilding missions with the University of Oklahoma women’s basketball team, after the 2010 earthquake. And she helped grow the Women’s Intersport Network of Kansas City, one of the largest organizations in the country that advocates for girls in athletics.
Once a girl in athletics herself, Kathleen played basketball and softball at William Woods University, where’s she’s a board trustee and was recently named a distinguished alumna. After college, she became a Financial Advisor. Several years in, however, she longed to work in sports, specifically women’s basketball. “I went to the Women’s Sports Foundation summit that year looking for a job in the industry,” says Kathleen. “Sitting around a table in one of the sessions, I was asked to introduce myself.” She told the athletes: “I am a Financial Advisor, and I want a job in your industry.” Their response was “no, no, no…we need your help!’”
A Financial Game Plan
Speaking with members of several women’s sports associations after that, it became clear that she could use her knowledge and experience to advise them. Because these atypical clients can have erratic cash flows over their athletic careers, financial planning and investment strategies are crucial. “It’s a unique industry with unique problems and solutions that go with them,” Kathleen explains. “You can’t win a national championship with a bunch of point guards; you have to have a different strategy.”
She spoke often on “developing your own financial game plan. I picked up a few clients, then a few more, and the rest is history.” She also began hosting a reception each year at the Women’s Final Four, an event that has turned into a highlight of the tournament. “Sports almost took me out of wealth management, but it ended up keeping me in,” Kathleen smiles.
It’s with a strategy of balance and a foundation of extreme trust that Kathleen sets herself apart. “My clients trust me, and that’s something I take very seriously,” she says. Perhaps it stems from her upbringing in Kansas, where she learned from her charitable parents the meaning of “noblesse oblige,” the French term referring to the obligation to act honorably and generously.
Kathleen is particularly generous with her support for the LGBT+ community. She’s a member of the Midwest Council of Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and chancellor of the LGBT+ Council at University of Missouri, Kansas City. She spearheads an annual Pride Breakfast that raises scholarship money and general funds for displaced LGBT+ students. “It’s so significant to have the community come together to raise funds for these kids so they can go to school,” explains Kathleen of the students who might be estranged from their families due to their sexuality.”
Be Your Authentic Self
Not coming out herself until she was an adult, Kathleen is grateful for an inclusive work culture, where she always felt comfortable and supported. She hopes her doing so helped coworkers evolve in their “own journey of inclusiveness.”
A long-time member of the Firm’s national diversity and inclusion council, she is proud of Morgan Stanley’s efforts to “really move the needle” in this area. “It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s a smart business strategy as our client demographics shift,” she adds.
This year, Kathleen was named a Morgan Stanley MAKER, joining a group of trailblazing women of accomplishment nominated by their peers. Reflecting on the honor and her career, she shares more words of advice: “Always be your most authentic self.”
Kathleen has brought her full self to work every day for the past 34 years, grateful to be able to share her passion for not only sports, but music. Growing up singing in church and in the school choir, she’s been the lead singer of Kathleen & The One Night Stand Band, an all-girl rock, country and blues jam band, for the past 25 years. It’s one of the many reasons why she feels “as if I’m at the buffet, and my plate is so full that it’s dripping off the sides. That’s how blessed I am.”