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Alumni Spotlight: Kay Dempsey

Kay DempseyThe year was 1971.The number one rated TV show was All in the Family with Archie Bunker as its main character. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was sky-rocketing to the top of the charts with “Mr. Bojangles.”  No network newscasters were women. And Kay Dempsey graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in communications and became a pioneer in the male-dominated financial services industry.  

Dempsey decided to enter this field because she hoped to help small and family-owned businesses avoid the fate of her parents when they watched their 50-year-old family business evaporate because of poor planning. As a pioneer in the financial services field, she was frequently motivated by those who told her she was not able to do something. She recalls the first sales contest she won. The prize was a man’s shirt. She graciously returned the shirt saying, “I don’t have a necktie I can wear with it.”

As founder, president, and CEO of The Dempsey Companies of Atlanta, Kay Dempsey has been providing financial guidance to her clients for nearly 40 years.  She has also managed to use her communications education extensively in her work. She has many articles published each year in industry periodicals such as “Journal of the Society of Financial Service Professionals” and “Practice Management.”  She is also a frequently requested speaker and lecturer, which allows her to utilize the writing and broadcast skills she learned while earning her degree at UT. Her passion for higher education is driven by the experiences of her parents.  They encouraged her to get a college degree and taught her to have great respect for those who displayed the discipline, tenacity, and commitment to earn a diploma.

In addition to having a very successful career, Dempsey is a strong supporter of the College of Communication and Information (CCI) and the University of Tennessee. She indicates that her desire to “give back” is motivated by the mentoring she received as a student in an area of study not traditionally pursued by females. Her professors helped to build her confidence with their compassion and caring. “We as alumni have an obligation to ensure the university keeps this quality and caliber of professors,” says Dempsey. “UT needs to attract and retain professors in the future who will sustain and build on the college’s reputation for excellence.” 

As part of her desire to give back to CCI, Dempsey and her husband David hosted an alumni reception at their home in Atlanta to help CCI connect with Atlanta area alumni and to honor CCI’s 2010 Hileman Award winner Alan Greenberg who also lives in Atlanta. Dempsey was inspired by the many recent graduates who attended the event. She and other more seasoned alumni spent time during the reception sharing advice with young alumni on networking and interviewing. She said opening the invitation to all graduates underscored for her the important role CCI alumni can play as role models and supporters of those just out of college. Her advice to other CCI alumni is to reach out to newer graduates, get involved in the college, play a more active role, and stay in touch with the university and college through CCI “publications” like Scoop and Circle Park News.  “We are all busy, and we all get approached by a variety of charities. However, we need to get involved with our alma mater by leaving self-perpetuating gifts – both current and deferred—to ensure that the educational quality of CCI’s programs are sustained,” says Dempsey.  She also encourages alumni to discuss options with their financial advisors. “Start small and grow your giving over time. Don’t wait as long as I did.” She advises that getting into the habit of giving is best started early.

Dempsey’s other key motivation for being involved with CCI is the current state of the media. She feels it is important for issues to be presented fairly and for all sides of a story to be represented. She agrees with Stephen Covey’s Habit 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” To recent CCI graduates she offers the following gems of advice:

  • Build a clear vision of who you want to be.
  • Enhance your listening.
  • Continually seek education.
  • Surround yourself with positive people.
  • Don’t listen to the poor economic news and employment statistics; make your own reality.
  • Concentrate on your God-given skills.
  • Let your positive attitude and hard work be your calling card.