SAI Alumni Spotlight: Aaron Pempel

Since graduating from Cornell in 1991, Aaron Pempel (Campus Promotions '91, President '92) has accumulated an impressively wide swath of business experience. A Government major in the College of Arts and Sciences, Pempel has worked at Smith Barney and McKinsey, earned an MBA from Harvard, and helped develop a dotcom business before finally joining Nike, where he currently works as General Manager of the Running business in Brazil.

Pempel started out his Student Agencies experience selling coupons to local advertisers as a sales representative for Campus Promotions. He describes the experience as "tremendously valuable...having to face a small-business owner and convince them that your product was of value to them," noting that "selling is a fundamental skill that everyone needs to develop in business."

From Campus Promotions, Pempel moved up the ranks to become president of SAI. As President, he oversaw 22 businesses and started several new ventures including a DJ service, a student discount card, and most notably, Hired Hands, the moving and odd jobs company that remains a key business in SAI today.

He credits his time as president to helping him make "the toughest decisions" in personnel management and organization. Reflects Pempel, "At the end of my tenure, we had a terrific group of managers, working extremely hard, who help contribute to Student Agencies turning its first profit in several years."

According to Pempel, SAI was the starting point of his post-graduate career. While his work managing agency financials offered the Government major a solid foundation in business and finance, Pempel cites the network Student Agencies provided in launching his career as invaluable: "It led directly—100%—to my first job." Without the advice of his SAI network, Pempel says “I wouldn't have even applied [to his first job in investment banking] without them saying, take a look.” He admits furthermore, that "It’s also very unlikely that I would have been admitted to the Harvard Business School without Student Agencies."

Many people contributed to Pempel's experience at SAI, from members of the board to alumni to Ed, the full-time Student Agencies property manager. Pempel cites Dennis Tevlin (’91), Johnson school fellow and consultant, as "the person who contributed most to my learning." As he explains, "Dennis taught me things as simple as how to write a stronger letter by avoiding 'I' to how to delegate more effectively. He did a terrific job of coaching and guiding me, while always letting me make the final call on everything."

Pempel cites Student Agencies alumni David Lesser (‘87), Carl Contiguglia (’89), Peter Everett (’87), Michael Karangelen (’90), and Bobby Jain (’91) as mentors who encouraged him to take a look at investment banking. Recalls Pempel, "I missed the application deadlines...but [Contiguglia and Lesser] said, 'why don't you come to the events, just meet some people, see what you think.'" From this initial networking, Pempel landed a job at Smith Barney, and the rest is history.

Today, Pempel has found his place as head of Nike's Brazil Running business. An avid runner his entire life, Pempel ran track at Cornell for three years and participates to this day in running clubs within Nike. For his work with Nike, he has been able to work in Mexico and Amsterdam, see the world, and pursue his interest in running. To future Student Agencies managers and young alumni, Pempel advises, "If you can figure out if you can work in an area that you are really interested in, it makes life so much easier."

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