Alumni Success Story: Chris Tarkowski ’08

Chris Tarkowski ‘08 realizes how fortunate he is in the choices he’s made throughout his life. He’s served in the Marines, partnered on two prosperous businesses and is working his way upward in his career. Yet, he is humbled by his success and draws from his experience to give back to his community.

Tell us about your educational journey.

I grew up in Mattawan and graduated from Mattawan High School in 2000. I didn’t know what I wanted to go into so I went to Kalamazoo Valley Community College for a year. I joined the Marine Corp Reserve three weeks before 9/11 and went right into active duty. I went to Iraq for two tours and returned in 2005, where I was then put on reserve status for two years. I finished one more year at KVCC and decided to attend Davenport University for my bachelors.

Why did you choose DU?

Many of my KVCC classes and even military experience transferred as credits toward my degree. I graduated in one calendar year, taking over twenty credits each semester. I took a leave of absence from my employer in order to go to school full-time. I pushed hard in order to catch up to my friends who graduated from college while I was in Iraq.

Describe your introduction to the financial world.

In 2005, when I came back from my second tour and was on reserve duty, I got my first job as a personal banker for JPMorgan Chase. I worked my way up and received my securities license in investments in 2006 and have been in finance ever since.

What attracted you to financial advising?

Even as a young kid I was interested in how to make money, grow money and invest money. My mom was in the financial world, working at Fifth Third Bank for over 30 years, and she introduced me to finance. She and my dad had me open up a Roth IRA after I got my first job, and I started putting money in it right away.

Financial advising services are not a common service people use. Can you explain the reasons for and benefits of having a financial advisor?

Albert Einstein once said, “Compounding interest is the eighth wonder of the world.” It doesn’t matter how much you have, it’s about putting a little money away at a time and paying yourself first. You can even seek hourly investment advice from someone who can help you put your financial plan to paper. I compare it to a personal trainer. People don’t know where to start, so you get a trainer. Then, you can’t imagine yourself with a six pack, but after working hard you start seeing results. And just like working out, you have to stick to a plan and keep a goal in mind in order to see long-term results.

How are you adjusting to your new role at RMB Capital?

RMB Capital is based out of Chicago but has been serving clients in the St. Joe community for over 20 years. Just in the past year, they decided to establish a physical office with full-time staff dedicated to their clients in St. Joseph. I welcomed the opportunity to help RMB serve their many clients here and establish new client relationships throughout Michigan. It’s been a wonderful experience so far, and I expect our presence here will continue to grow.

Tell us about your entrepreneurial endeavors.

In 2013, during my stint as a financial advisor in Dallas, I took five months off, became a partner in my friends’ business and helped them with the startup of their restaurant. It’s called Next Level Burger. It’s a 100% plant-based burger joint that has grown into eight locations with six locations inside Whole Foods Market. We plan to grow to 10 locations by the end of this year. I had a lot of fun in the start-up stages—helping with sales projections, logo design, restaurant colors and decor—but once we opened the doors, I was hands-off. I’m not involved in the day-to-day, but I sit on their board. I also just started a real estate business with a partner in Grand Rapids. We mostly buy and hold residential rentals. I also invest my own money in the stock market.

What are you passionate about professionally? Personally?

What keeps me going professionally is that I am helping people. Someone comes to you with a plan to retire or send their kids off to college, and then you help them achieve that goal. It’s very rewarding. I sit on two non-profit boards and a non-profit committee for a fundraiser. I’ve been very fortunate in my career and life, so I try to give back to my community. I sit on the Christopher Kelly Willis Foundation Board. I served with Corporal Willis in the Marines, and he was tragically killed in a car accident after he returned from Iraq. All the money we raise goes toward scholarships for children of a parent who was either killed or permanently disabled in a combat zone. One of our big fundraisers is a 250-mile bike ride, which I participate in. I also sit on a board for an organization called the Hands Up Foundation in Kalamazoo, which raises money to improve the quality of life for families in need. I sit on the benefit dinner committee of the Kalamazoo chapter for the West Michigan Big Brothers Big Sisters organization as well. I help with a fundraising dinner which hosts over 500 guests and raises over $500,000 every year.

What do you do when you are not working – any hobbies, interests, passions?

My wife and I enjoy spending time with our newborn daughter, Reagan. We like to go on camping trips in the summer, and I also train for the Warrior Ride biking fundraiser I’m involved with.

Who inspires you in your work, life, and/or volunteerism?

Six months ago this answer would have been different, but since the birth of my daughter, Reagan is my inspiration. The people I serve on boards with and the people I work with who are wildly successful have been role models in giving back.

Talk about your family’s values.

To sum it up: work hard. Because my wife and I can give my daughter everything she needs, people assume my daughter is going to be spoiled, but she will not. My half siblings were basically out of the house when I was growing up, so I was practically raised as an only child. You’d think my parents would have been easy on me, but my dad was almost the opposite. He taught me to work hard for the things that I wanted, and I want to raise my daughter the same way. We are so lucky to be living in this country and with all of the opportunities we have. I want my daughter to work hard and give back to her community.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

“Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” If you’re going to be working for 30 or 40 years, then you should be doing something that you enjoy. Also, “Don’t work for money.” I have a lot of clients who are successful. The richest clients are the ones who didn’t go into their career to make money. They did what they love, became really good at it and monetary success just followed.

How would you like to be remembered?

As the type of person who gave back. I hope that my track record shows that, in serving my country, sitting on boards and in the things that I do for my family and friends.


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