Derek Klock Retirement
April 29, 2022
Derek Klock earned his Bachelors of Science in Finance degree from Virginia Tech in 1996 and his M.B.A also from Virginia Tech in 2005. Klock also joined the military and then came back to finish his undergraduate degree. After receiving his undergraduate degree he moved on to work in the banking and brokerage industry, but then decided to come back to Virginia Tech to complete his M.B.A. He worked in both bank management and as a personal and small business investment consultant. Klock also taught Risk and Insurance on a one-time basis as a graduate student. After leaving the banking industry he came back in 2006 as an Instructor of Finance and then moved on to become an Associate Professor of Practice in Finance in 2013, and then became a Professor of Practice in Finance in 2019.
Now, Klock is retiring and we sat down with him to reflect on his time here at Virginia Tech, discuss plans for retirement, and advice he has for students. The Finance department thanks you for all of your hard work and determination to help and teach students. We cannot wait to see what your future holds! Here’s what he said:
Q: What made you decide to be a student in finance at Virginia Tech?
A: By accident [actually], I started out as a freshman engineer and had a terrible time with the transition from high school to college. I didn’t do the things that a good student should’ve done. I didn’t attend class that frequently, and I’m probably one of the only teachers that some students have had that got suspended from school. But, it gave me an opportunity to reevaluate. That's when I went into the service and grew up a little, came back and did Financial Planning as an undergrad.
Q: Do you think your experience in the Military has influenced your teaching career in any way?
A: It changed my outlook, the best way I can put it is - it taught me that life was about more than just me. It taught me how to truly be in service to someone else. As a drill sergeant in the military, your entire day is consumed with the care of the 60 soldiers in your charge. You get them up, you tell them where to be, when to eat, what to eat, when they can shower and when they can write letters home. From the time you wake up at around 4 o’clock, to the time you leave at 9:30 PM or 10:00 PM at night, everything you do is for someone else. You're teaching them honestly how to survive on a battlefield, and its extremely important work. You need to set your own ego aside and you just do it. [The military] taught me work ethic, it taught me a servant mentality, it taught me what hard work really was. [When you are in a position to know] everything you need to know to do your job on a daily basis for 16 hours a day, 7 times a week, for 9 weeks it’s tough. When I transitioned back into civilian life a 40-hour week was easy, going to class was easy. I was used to being in class for 16 hours and now for 4 hours, it was very simple. When I was [a student] for the first couple of years I [only] went to half of my classes, and then when I came back I missed a total of 5 classes. My GPA jumped 2 points, it’s not that I got smarter I just gained a new perspective and a stronger work ethic. I was too immature and didn’t really know who I was so it took some extra time. I tried to bring that into the classroom, I try to push their boundaries unlike they have had pushed before.
Q: When you decided to continue your education, what were some factors that made you decide to come back to VT to complete your M.B.A?
A: I could have gone back out and changed a firm or a company but my scope would have been limited to that. Over the last decade and a half, I’ve helped all these students come out and so now I have 500 students at hundreds of different firms in 30 states working with thousands of different families, hopefully doing it in the image that I created for them. The scope and scale of change you can create as a teacher is just so much bigger. Good and bad, if I was a bad influence then that would have been reflected but the industry has grown so much over the past 20 years and I’ve had so many of my students at the forefront of that. It’s great and again humbling so much more than I could have ever created on my own.
Q: What led you through your career path taking you through all of these different positions from being a student, to joining the military, to being in banking, and then finally as a teacher?
A: I graduated six and a half years after I started. I wasn’t the prototypical student that would have ended up being a teacher. In fact, if you asked me at 22 years old to list a thousand jobs, teaching probably wouldn’t have been on it. I spent some time in the industry, and realized that the industry needed help. It wasn’t doing the things in personal finance that I thought should be done. It wasn’t working on behalf of the clients the way I wanted to work on behalf of the clients. After trying to fix it from within, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t steer that ship because it was too big so I stepped away, came back and got my MBA and built some business school credentials. I taught risk and insurance on a one-time basis as a grad student and didn’t think I was going to teach long term after that. I just had an idea that if I got my MBA I could work from a higher level within the industry and that would maybe help. As I was getting ready to graduate, Vijay came to me and said that there was a teaching position open down in Hollins and asked if I was interested. I hadn’t really thought about teaching full time. I taught courses about banking when working in the bank system and did a lot of instructing when I was in the military, so everywhere I was going I was taught. I went to Hollins part time for six months and after I started in a part-time capacity here in Spring 2006 teaching what used to be called concepts and skills and is now known as Financial Analytics. The rest is history. I ended up in the classroom for 17 years, much longer than I ever thought I would.
Q:What’re some highlights of your experience at Virginia Tech, for teaching and in your overall experience?
A: You have to recognize the long-term education for the students. We’re teachers and we watch what we have done in the past one to ten years down the road and say I still remember getting that note is something you need to focus on. I’m trying to teach them that most of the boundaries that they set up for themselves are artificial. They can do more. They have to be taught that there is an expectation and I'm not budging on my expectations, they will rise to the challenge. I used to say on the first day of class “I’m going to get 29 class periods out of you, and you can decide if it’s over one semester or two.” I think students take it to heart if you show you're serious about their education, and they can become serious about their education.
Their appreciation will come in the long term even if it doesn't come semester to semester. You have to have a strong sense of self to hold that line in the face of descent and anger. It becomes harder over time and it does ware on you. Like I said before, I never thought I would be in the classroom for 17 years, 7, 10, 12, but not seventeen. I’ve been extremely lucky to teach at a full-time capacity without a Ph.D. at an elite research one institution surrounded by some of the smartest people I have ever met. It's incredibly humbling. Going from one year basically as a student in Dr. Easterwood’s class to having an office across the hall from him and having him treat me as a peer, I was incredibly fortunate. I tried to make the most of that for others to follow, I was the first one out of the gate to go from an Adjunct to a full-time instructor and moving into the professor of practice, and then to move from assistant to associate to full professor of practice all internally. I may be overstating this a little bit, but if I haven’t done as much as I could I could’ve tainted this experiment for others and now we have a dozen or more professors of practice and we didn’t have any when I started. It’s been a wonderful change to watch.
[One of my fondest highlights is that] I have a basket of letters [I’ve collected over the years] and whenever I get a card or note from a student or former student I read it and put it in that basket. That’s one thing I’ll take with me when I leave. It’s just like when I left my last group of soldiers one of them came up and gave me a wad of papers and they wrote me little notes expressing their gratitude for what I taught them about themselves.
Q: Since you’re finalizing your career at Virginia Tech as an instructor, do you think that you accomplished what you set out to do?
A: I had no idea what I could accomplish when I started all of this, I was wandering around aimlessly in the dark. Again, I didn't do it by myself. I had input and listened to so many employers and what they were hungry for with new employees. I listened to students, my wife, my department head and many other people that helped me get a mental picture of where we were and where they wanted the industry to go. I took all of that input and tried to add it into my classes. The curriculum is what the curriculum is, you work in the confines of your syllabus but all those extra lessons and working with a 1,000 or more students on their resumes and going to 30 conferences over the years with students while also listening to thought leaders in those spaces. One of my favorite things to say to my students was you paid for an education and I’m going to provide some life lessons for free. I think that it’s true 80% of college is not what you learn in the classroom, but as a teacher I think you can bring in, subtly, some life lessons. Finance is easy, life is messy. The other thing I have to give credit to is the 5,000 I’ve had across the years that pushed, questioned, and desired more. They made me learn multiple ways to answer a question. Part of that I give credit to Dr Kumar. I had him as a first year MBA student and he would craft different ways to answer a problem. To have that ability takes so much time and care. I will never be Dr. Kumar, but I hope in some small way I was able to emulate what he did for me in the classroom.
Q: What is your favorite memory while at Virginia Tech?
A: Being able to work with my wife every day. Being able to work with smart people every day. Having the attention of smart students. I was very proud to win both the university teaching certificate and university career advising award. That was because Vijay gave me the opportunity to work in multiple roles and do multiple things. If I wasn’t able to do different things I wouldn’t have been able to last this long, I would have gotten bored. Virginia Tech is my alma mater and very few people are able to teach at the university that they grew up in. I had knocks along the way I came in and got put on academic probation, academic suspension, I changed majors four times, and I graduated six and a half years after I started. But to come back and be welcomed back to the MBA program and faculty ranks. I don’t know what you can’t love about it. Virginia Tech is my home. My wife and I have a combined 66 years of affiliation with this university. We have five degrees between us with this university. We’ve taught a combined 58 years with Virginia Tech with tens of thousands of students between us. Forever a Hokie. To help shape and craft your home is the best job there is.
Q: What are some of your most challenging experiences while being a faculty member?
A: The biggest challenge for any teacher is the first time you teach a class. You can take all the classes, read all the books, and prep but you never know what you don’t know till you teach a class. Students come at you from all these different angles that you never anticipate and the growth the teacher experiences in the first couple of semesters is just huge. You get a class under your belt, then you get another and it starts all over again. You are a more seasoned teacher but it’s a new class with new students and some classes are static but there are many changes. Staying on top of the change in what you’re teaching is a challenge I didn’t foresee. I also didn’t expect the time like in my first class Concepts and Skills. I probably prepped for 8 hours ahead of class for every hour I spent in class, but it still wasn’t enough. It took me 4 years to get fully good at it but then you change classes and start over. Good, bad, or otherwise I’ve taught 8 different classes at Virginia tech with different flavors, starting and ending points. The amount of time it took to be a good teacher was surprising. I watched my mom and dad be teachers and I knew the amount of time it took for them but I never knew how much time it took to be good in the classroom and that was by far the biggest challenge. It sounds so much easier as it is, as a teacher you must be authentic. I had a student come to me in the first few years and I’ll always remember this comment he said “real recognizes real” and I filed that away. If you are real with your students they’ll be real with you. If you put in an act in the classroom that doesn’t match with how they see you walking down the hall or coming to your office it will undermine their faith in you. To just be authentic, when I walk in the classroom I act the same as I would walking down the street. I treat students like adults and speak with them in adult terms, I don’t pull punches, and that’s become more difficult over time. I am rough around the edges but as long as the students understand I was real they accepted the way I delivered it. Knowing who you are as a teacher and understanding the power you wield you have to be careful with that. The student teacher power differential is sacrosanct. You have to make them do things you need to give them respect or you won’t receive it. The first day of class I let them ask me anything. I want them to trust me. Being authentic and making them trust me is the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned as a teacher.
Q: Would you like to credit any of your peers at Virginia Tech?
A: I have to hand out a lot of credit and thanks to Vijay. He gave me the opportunity to walk in the door the first time and supported me every step of the way. Without his support I wouldn’t have been up for promotions or the opportunity to get my contract renewed. I wouldn’t have become the teacher and leader that I am today without him and other faculty members' support. They taught me how to build exams, do classroom administration, and I came from a long line of teachers but not college. I also have to give my wife credit because she’s the one who built the Financial Planning program. Without Ruth and Vijay, you wouldn’t be talking to me today. Nobody does it alone, every great basketball player has a formative coach, every great field general in the military had someone that came before that taught them how to lead and how to strategize, every great teacher had a formative teacher, or department head, or spouse that supported them through their endeavors. Vijay always has been [this for me], he advocated for this program, he advocated for my hiring initially, and has been tremendously supportive of my entire career, the whole 17 years.
Q: Do you have any last words for your peers?
A: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure and my honor to have been welcomed into this family. To sit in Dr. Kumar, Dr. Easterwood, or Dr. Shome classes and to watch the material come alive was something that was inspiring. I’ve lost some folks along the way, I used to have conversations with Meir Schneller and Mike Cliff certainly helped craft me as a young teacher in his unrelenting pursuit for strong students. Dr. Keown, he taught me how to write an exam question. He brought me and my wife in on a couple of his textbooks 25 years ago, and I learned what college textbook writing was like and then turned around and I co-authored my own. He has also been my friend, confidant, and mentor for half of my life. I still look back at him walking back and forth the isles in 136 Smithe with colored markers all over his hands when I took Corporate Finance with him in the Fall of 1995. He’s been an essential figure in my development as a student, adult, and faculty member for half my life. Without them, I would not be here today. It's been awesome, thank you.
Q: What is a piece of advice you would like to give to Finance students?
A: Find what you are passionate about, don’t just follow the money or your parents’ ideals.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve received during your time while at Virginia Tech?
A: Be yourself. Be authentic. Demonstrate that you care about the students’ success.
Q: What are you looking forward to doing in your retirement?
A: Travel. Spend more time with family. Volunteer with disaster relief organizations.