Johnson Elrod ’20Johnson Elrod ’20Graduation is the exciting culmination of college seniors’ university experience, but for those who have not yet landed a job or a place in graduate or professional school, it can also serve as a source of anxiety. Luckily, Johnson Elrod ’20 will soon be walking the commencement stage with a full-time job waiting for him. During his junior year, the Southwestern business and economics double major was accepted to the J. P. Morgan Chase Leadership Development Program, which provides on-the-job training to undergraduates who are passionate about entrepreneurship, innovation, or finance. 

Elrod deeply appreciates knowing that he has a firm place to land right after leaving Southwestern. “I’m around the Pike [Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity] house a lot, and every senior after 7:00 p.m. is sending out résumés to 200 or 300 companies. I’m helping, but I’m grateful I’m not having to do that,” Elrod says with relief.

An entrepreneurial and analytical spirit

Elrod came to Southwestern as a football recruit, but soon after he arrived, he realized that such a demanding sport might prevent him from interacting with the rest of campus as much as he wanted to. An injury soon cemented those changing priorities, and Elrod began focusing even more on academics and extracurricular activities.

As a first-year student, the former athlete honed in on economics and environmental studies as his majors. Economics was always the plan, he says, because he is an analyst at heart. “I think it’s cool that there are laws that govern it,” he shares. “The environment changes, but if you keep basic truths in the back of your head, you can tell a story [about] what’s going on in the country: Are we doing well? Are we doing poorly? … It’s like a big math puzzle to understand what’s going on, and I like breaking stuff down.” When it came to declaring a second major, Elrod still felt passionate about environmental studies, but he decided that business suited his purposes better because of, as he explains, “what I’m good at, where I can make an impact, and the skills I wanted.” He was also drawn to Southwestern’s business major in particular because the department excels at encouraging students to “be creative, to communicate, and to find the tools of what you’re good at. Getting an education in business at a school like this has been so useful. I can think a lot more creatively and more big picture.”

The creativity and communication skills Elrod cherishes are related to his ultimate career goal of building some sort of business. He doesn’t know exactly what kind of business it will be just yet because he’s constantly searching for inspiration and ideas. But as far back as he can remember, he remarks, “I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I used to sell sticks of gum or candy in elementary school. I started a little lawn service in high school.” Elrod’s desire to start his own company one day is not an inherited one; his immediate family are not entrepreneurs or business owners themselves. But, he explains, “I think financial freedom is important, and I also think that business is the best way to leave a lasting structure. Our country is built on that, [and it’s] my best chance to leave something behind when I’m gone.” 

From the classroom to the real world

The Chase program will serve as a solid foundation for Elrod’s aspirations, which is why the SU senior pursued it “aggressively” when he first learned about the opportunity by following the talent networks of various recruiters on LinkedIn. After an intense interview process that took place in 2018, during the summer of 2019, the Austin native moved to Dallas to engage in a 10-week summer internship at one of the international bank’s hubs. He worked on financing risk strategy for Chase’s Capital Markets Mortgage Portfolio, meaning he would examine regions of the country where the bank had made home loans, figure out where the company could potentially lose money (e.g., because homeowners might default on their loans given an economic recession or large local businesses laying off employees), provide decision-makers with recommendations on whether to keep or sell those mortgage loans to another company, and suggest where the bank might offer new loans.

Johnson Elrod ’20

After being enveloped by the warm and supportive environment of the Southwestern campus, Elrod admits that he initially worried that he didn’t fit in with the name-badge corporate culture of finance firm headquartered in one of the largest skyscrapers in the state. He also had to overcome impostor syndrome—that persistent feeling we sometimes get when we think we’re not as accomplished as our peers and that our presence at some school, job, or organization is a fluke. 

However, he eventually began to bond with his fellow interns over lunch and develop mentoring relationships with his supervisors. Those conversations and doing the work itself helped him build confidence that he belonged. He was also happily surprised to learn that the big bank was filled not just by “older white guys in suits” but also a diverse team of individuals from various age groups, races, and ethnicities who “really cared a lot” and enabled “everyone [to] learn about each other’s cultures.” Some of the employees even donned untucked button-down shirts.

“It was super interesting to see how they do things,” Elrod recounts, especially because he had the opportunity to work with tremendous amounts of data, learned how to use data visualization software, gained exposure to the chain of decision-making, worked with teammates across the globe in India, and improved his presentation-making skills. He adds that what made the internship “fun” was getting “to apply stuff I learned in my economics classics.” And beyond academic theories of the marketplace, he feels that certain soft skills he’s learned at SU, such as asking good questions in class and engaging in office hours with professors, enabled him to contribute to discussions and build relationships with higher-ups at Chase.

As part of the leadership program, Elrod will join the company full-time after graduation. He’ll complete eight-week rotations in various sectors for two years, learning the ropes and assessing which part of the organization interests him most, whether it be commercial banking (his first assigned rotation), small- and medium-size business, or home and auto loans. Then, after those two years, he will apply for a position within a division of his choice, and if accepted, he’ll be promoted to an associate position. That promotion comes with an additional perk: he’ll have the opportunity to simultaneously take coursework and earn his M.B.A. from one of the bank’s partner universities. Elrod looks forward to returning to Dallas and to the team of interns and supervisors  “I think being there, being around those types of people, and working up the ladder will prepare me for [my future],” says Elrod.

And what did he learn about leadership from his internship? “I’d say being compassionate, having empathy, understanding the importance of effective communication, and taking the time to talk with employees and having a vested interest in wanting them to improve,” he responds. “Leaders want [employees] to succeed because that’s reflective of you as a leader if [their employees] can grow.”

On Southwestern: “I’ve gained from all of it”

On top of his internship at Chase as well as his two academic majors, Elrod has been an active campus presence at SU, serving as the junior class representative for the University’s Student Government Association as well as the recruitment chair and then president of Pi Kappa Alpha. He also helped restart the once-dormant Economics Club, a small group, he says, “of mostly other geeks like me [who] get in a room and talk about whatever we think is interesting.” In addition, a community-engaged-learning course taught by Associate Professor of Education Alicia Moore inspired him to serve as a mentor and tutor to underprivileged middle-school students in Georgetown, which he looks back on as “a really cool experience.” 

However, he says that he doesn’t think any single part of his Southwestern Experience has been most meaningful. “I can say that I’ve gained from all of it,” he reflects.

For example, he says, “Academically, my communication skills have just improved dramatically… . My writing and presenting have improved dramatically, which will be a huge help for business.” He adds that just getting to be around his professors—”some of the smartest and most well read and knowledgeable, thoughtful people in their fields”—has been one of his favorite experiences. He’ll miss getting to talk about “theories and ideas” during office hours, even if, he laughs embarrassedly, his instructors might occasionally chastise him for “not doing his homework.”

Socially, Elrod says that the intimate size of the University enabled him to meet people from various backgrounds: “I don’t think I’m going to meet anybody else like them. I know they’re unique and interesting, and they push my thinking… . I think the conversations I’ve had here are definitely the most interesting, invigorating, and mentally stimulating I’ve ever had in my life.”

And in terms of his extracurriculars, he adds, “I’ve had even more growth in my organizational leadership experiences. I had been on sports teams before and [in] leadership positions in that, but there’s a lot of structure and control over you. But in these organizations, you’re the one making the decisions.” He says that his experiences have taught him how to balance the personalities and motivations of group members and alumni donors with the broader goals of each organization—a juggling act he’s now prepared to handle as he prepares for his postgrad job at Chase. “It was really interesting getting that experience, working with people, and seeing what that dynamic is like when you’ve got to get things done, make sure it lines up with people’s motivations, and [assure] that they’re gaining from it… . It’s been awesome for me.”