small school, big education - since 1973

Vanguard Alumni Connection - Rod Keith ‘76 and Robert Keith ‘79

Brothers Rod Keith (‘76) and Robert Keith (‘79), along with two of their siblings, attended Vanguard in its earliest days. Rod and Robert ended up in the same business at The Corporation of Interest Rate Management, a small, boutique advisory firm which has grown into a small international consultancy that manages over $40 billion in risk for its clients. The two have worked together at the firm for more than 30 years.

After Vanguard, Rod Keith attended Colorado College, the University of Texas and Baylor Law School. He tried his hand as a real estate developer in Dallas and then Chicago in the late 80s, but landed in the field  of financial derivatives, which he said captured his imagination. 

“It provides up-close exposure to the risks and returns inherent in commercial real estate investment without having to take them,” Rod said.

He added that the real estate industry has some great people, and also many great boondoggles. 

“Seriously, helping pension funds assure their investment returns or helping a developer structure more accretive financing, as well as many other aspects of our services all provide ongoing exposure to my favorite industry,” he said.

Robert was the youngest student at Vanguard in its first year of the school’s operation. After Vanguard, he attended Glasgow Academy in Glasgow, Scotland and then graduated from Baylor University in 1984 with a BBA in Finance. He worked for his dad’s manufacturing company for five years and then went to Texas Tech University where he earned an MBA in Economics and Finance. Then, Robert moved to Seattle, Wash. and worked for a commercial real estate firm for two years. Finally, Robert moved to Chicago at the invitation of his brother, to work with him at The Corporation for Interest Rate Management — and they are still working together at the firm 30 years later.

Robert said he chose his field because it involves finance, economics and interpersonal skills.   “Plus, there is tremendous satisfaction in teaching and helping people make better decisions,” Robert said. Robert said what he loves most is helping people, but unfortunately he has some less helpful news for everyone:

“Inflation will likely be higher for longer than most people expect,” he said. “It is a trend in the market — in the world — that is proving to be not so transitory.” Robert said he would advise students interested in a career in finance to learn as much as they can about supply and demand and also appreciate how to calculate and use present value and future value. “Also join Toastmasters and take a class at an improv or Comedy shop,” he said.

Rod said building relationships is a big part of his business. “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care,” Rod said. “That’s true for anything, but as a service provider you have to have a genuine deep curiosity about your clients’ needs in order to build a relationship as a trusted advisor. No computer will do that for you.”

Both Keiths said that Vanguard prepared them for success. “When I attended Vanguard, we were on the packet system, where you studied alone in a large, open setting with other students and worked at your own pace,” Robert said. “Similarly in business, there usually isn’t anyone telling you exactly what to do, so you figure what is needed and what it takes to succeed then get going. I realize this system is not for everyone, but it was certainly beneficial for many of us.”

Rod said he learned not to procrastinate in order to get free mods and by learning how to take initiative and responsibility.

Robert said his favorite teacher was science and biology teacher Charlotte Frederickson — “Fred.” “She made it real and allowed us to appreciate the beauty and rigors of biology,” Robert said. “I still remember the jingle we created to list the seven levels of classification: ‘Kelly poured coke on Fred’s green shirt à kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus & species.’”

Rod said Joe Flowers challenged his left brain, while Esther Bruck challenged the right.

Rod and his partner Rick Wilson have been together for 34 years and moved back to Texas pre-covid to spend more time at their ranch. They have two Briards named Gordy and Betty Rae. Robert has three children — twins Alison and Spencer, 22, and Lauren, 20. 

As for the rest of the Keith family: Kelly Keith Champlain now lives on the Richland-Chambers reservoir with her husband of 38 years, Joel Champlin. They have four boys, all married and with kids of their own. Russell lives in Dallas and works at Fujitsu. He has three children, all grown and gainfully employed.

Robert’s advice for today’s Vikings is simple. “Grades matter,” he said. “Find a sport that exhausts you physically and frequently. Communication is key. Learn to write, learn to speak and learn how to make and keep friends.” 

Rod said that if you make good grades in high school and learn how to study, then everything else is easy. “That way, when you go to college, your studies will never interfere with your education,” Rod said. “When you start
 your first job, try to find a church to join, or a not-for-profit to help with as well. They can always use volunteers and it’s a great way to meet people in a new city.”