UMB's Kemper Proves Boring Is Better: Best In Class

KANSAS CITY ( TheStreet) -- J. Mariner Kemper is something of an enigma to the banking world, but his careful approach may exemplify what it takes to maintain profits over the long haul.

The 36-year-old chairman and CEO of UMB Financial ( UMBF) seemed like a stick in the mud to the rest of the industry during subprime's halcyon days because of his risk-averse nature and focus on slow and steady growth.

This conservative business strategy, however, belies Mariner's creative flare and drive for success. When asked why he doesn't use his first name, he answers simply: "Because John's boring."

Mariner is the sixth in a line of Kempers involved in the top ranks of the company, starting with his great-great grandfather, William Thornton Kemper, who acquired a controlling stake in UMB's predecessor in 1913. William Thornton made the Kemper name a dominant force in the Midwest, having been a big investor in Commerce Bancshares ( CBSH) 10 years prior, and David Kemper, Mariner's cousin, is president and CEO of that Kansas City competitor today. See timeline:
Kemper Timeline
chart

Kemper was determined to be an artist when he was younger, having dabbled in ceramics during his time at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. He's also an avid runner who competes in half-marathons and splits his time between Kansas City, where UMB is based, and Denver, where his wife and two children reside.

When his two brothers stepped down for "personal" reasons in May 2004, Kemper was deemed best to lead UMB. He has spent most of the past two decades working at the bank, initially verifying employment records for credit card applications at the age of 16. He revamped its Colorado affiliate, building it out from the ground up. ("They made him work," says Peter Sorrentino, portfolio manager at Huntington Funds. "They didn't just say here are the keys - you drive it now.")

Since taking the helm, Kemper has worked to transform UMB from a regional bank into a financial-services provider with an assortment of products. He has kept a tight rein on credit risk, despite pressure from investors, and even the regulators examining UMB's books.

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