When CJ Manning reflects on the educational path leading to his first job, leadership and internship programs served as guideposts toward the kind of work he would enjoy, and ultimately, make the focus of his budding career.
As a student at Grandview High School in Aurora, he said, “I wasn’t necessarily the student who was expected to go to college and really thrive.”
But this changed the summer of 2013 after his high school graduation when he participated in the Business Leadership Program at the University of Colorado Boulder -- now known as the KeyBank Business Leadership Program, sponsored by KeyBank Colorado, Key Equipment Finance and KeyBank Foundation.
“I really appreciated the Business Leadership Program,” Manning said, “because it was an opportunity for me to begin to connect with individuals -- both students and staff -- who were going to be critical in that process for me to get to, and through school.”
Coordinated with the CU Leeds School of Business Office of Diversity Affairs, the Business Leadership Program brought Manning together with about 35 other Colorado high school juniors and seniors who were first-generation, low-income, underrepresented students of color, and/or women from across the state to CU campus for a one-week, on-campus business intensive experience.
“I met current students at Leeds who were already going through some of the classes I was going to go through,” he said. “I met some of the staff members who were going to help advise me along the way. Making those connections early was huge, because once school started, there were people there who I already knew and could help me right away. That piece was huge.”
After he started as a freshman, the director of the CU’s Office of Diversity Affairs invited Manning to a meeting that included Lorraine Vega, senior vice president of corporate philanthropy for KeyBank Foundation, and Adam Warner, president of Key Equipment Finance.
“I had a chance to meet Lorraine and Adam and sit down and have a conversation about my experience with BLP, and how that experience helped ease my transition from high school to college,” Manning said. “That was the very beginning of my relationship with Key, and it started a chain of pleasant interactions.”
After completing the Business Leadership Program as a student, Manning went back as a counselor, where he served as a mentor to other students and was assigned to help a team think through the business challenges that are the focus of the learning experience.
As he progressed toward graduation, Manning was given the opportunity to be an intern, first during the spring at Key Equipment Finance, and then the following summer in Cleveland, working in enterprise commercial payments. During that time, he returned once again to the Key Business Leadership Program to serve as the counselor coordinator, a student leader overseeing the entire program.
“Key was generous enough to let me come back for a week in the middle of my internship,” he said.
As Manning neared graduation in December 2016, his interest in management consulting grew. He did not feel a spark, however, for banking. Still, his contacts at Key spotted an opportunity that offered some similar management consulting experiences working in a business-to-business environment.
Manning decided to interview for the position and flew to Cleveland, KeyBank headquarters, to meet with various leaders. Soon after he returned to Colorado, he received phone calls from the people he’d spoken to telling him they thought he would be a great fit for the group.
“I felt like in that process, that Key was very invested in my growth long term, not temporarily,” he said. By comparison, “when I was talking with peers at school who were going through the application and interview process, it was clear that my experience at Key was a lot different.”
He also interviewed with other companies, and “it felt more like they were just interested in hiring me because they needed help and a pair of hands. Key said, ‘hey, we are actually doing some things we think are pretty meaningful, and you can play a major part in that.”
Manning was offered and accepted the job as a corporate banking analyst in KeyBank’s Enterprise Commercial Payments group, where he started in January. He now works with payment advisors who are the business development professionals who meet with Key’s largest clients.
“There’s a huge learning curve to our business, and treasury in general,” Manning said. “But what makes it a little more difficult is also what makes it a little more exciting. Our business itself is always changing, and it’s been really fun to work in an environment like that.”