- After being diagnosed with cancer in high school, Sean Korpal was granted a wish by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
- Korpal, who had developed a childhood hobby and passion for stock trading and investing, ultimately decided to head to Wall Street and meet JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon.
One year ago, college sophomore Sean Korpal and his family stepped out of a limo in front of the towering office building at 270 Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. They were met by security guards, who ushered them into an elevator and whisked them skyward toward the executive offices, where they sat and anxiously waited.
“It was kind of nerve-racking,” Korpal, an undergraduate at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, told Business Insider. “We were about to meet a CEO.”
And it wasn’t just any CEO. The office belonged to JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon, one of Wall Street’s biggest titans.
Why was one of the most powerful men in the world taking a meeting with a family from a Detroit suburb with no material ties to JPMorgan or its business?
It’d be just as fair to flip the question around: Why would a young man, afflicted with a life-threatening cancer and granted the chance to go anywhere and meet anybody in the world, use the opportunity to meet the CEO of a bank?
When fatigue becomes a dark diagnosis
The Make-A-Wish Foundation has been around for decades, helping thousands of children with life-threatening diseases make their dreams come true. Most kids who are part of the program choose to go to Disney World, though many opt to meet a heroes or celebrities they admire, like tennis superstar Roger Federer, NBA legend Michael Jordan, and pop singer Selena Gomez.
Though there are some limits, the foundation has accommodated a wide-ranging array of experiences.
Sean Korpal’s experience started in May 2014, when the then-high school junior was cramming for end-of-year Advanced Placement tests and spending hours on the ice for his school’s hockey team.
Fatigue was understandable – expected, even. But the fatigue didn’t abate, and it was soon accompanied by a cough and 103-degree fever.
After going through days of symptoms without any improvement, Korpal was hospitalized and given a grave diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of blood cancer that is highly treatable among children but has a bleaker prognosis for adults.
A few months after undergoing chemotherapy treatment for the life-threatening illness, Korpal got word that the Make-A-Wish Foundation would be granting him a wish.
With a world of possibilities at his fingertips, Korpal immediately zeroed in on a longtime passion: financial markets and investing.
An unorthodox childhood hobby
Korpal’s unorthodox wish was guided by a similarly unorthodox childhood hobby.
At the age of 12, while playing around with the Stocks app on an iPhone, Korpal inadvertently discovered the world of stock trading and it quickly drew him in. After opening an E-Trade account with $US100 of his savings, Korpal soon became engrossed in the world of financial markets, reading books and taking in a steady diet of financial news from CNBC.
He dreamed of a career in investing one day.
By the time Korpal was ready to make a final decision for Make-A-Wish, it was roughly a year and a half after he’d been diagnosed, and he was pursuing a business degree as a freshman at the University of Michigan.
“I knew I wanted to pick someone who was well respected in the industry. Someone who was high up, someone with the notion that they got there for a reason,” Korpal said.
His mind finally settled on Jamie Dimon, whom Korpal said he respected for his pragmatism, character, and integrity.
Dimon had a cancer scare of his own in 2014. He underwent a taxing but successful chemotherapy regimen for throat cancer.
“I knew he would be straight up with me and tell me things how they are” and “that he would give me some real, genuine advice,” Korpal said.
The biggest take-away after meeting Jamie Dimon
Korpal’s nerves melted away when, after a few minutes of waiting, Jamie Dimon entered the office and cracked a joke. Dimon was dressed casually and invited Korpal and his family into a less formal office with a dining table and couches to relax on.
“That relieved a lot of tension,” said Korpal. He added that he felt, at that moment, that his instincts about Dimon being genuine and down to earth were validated.
They initially talked a lot about family and of Korpal’s condition, and then moved on to life and leadership advice. What was meant to be a 30-minute meeting lasted an hour and a half.
Security guards joked to the Korpals afterward that world leaders didn’t get that much time with Dimon.
The biggest thing Korpal said he learned from Dimon was about the power of relationships and the importance of humility.
“Being likable is more of an art than a science, but it’s incredibly important for success,” Korpal said. “The people at the top usually don’t get there on their own.”
Wall Street has a cutthroat image and reputation. But if you want to rise the ladder, you have to lean on others and empower others to succeed, he said.
Remission, and a one-year reunion
Several weeks ago, Dimon paid a visit to the University of Michigan, where he was invited as a guest speaker.
Korpal, whose cancer was in remission, had stayed in touch with Dimon, letting him know in September that he’d received his last chemo treatment.
After Dimon’s speech, and before Dimon was mobbed by throngs of excited students, the two were briefly reunited.
“I walked up to him after, and he instantly recognised me,” Korpal said. “He asked about my family and asked about my health.”
“He really was almost a celebrity on campus. But after meeting him, you realise he’s just another person like you or I,” Korpal added.
While he was in New York the first time he met Dimon, Korpal also got to visit the New York Stock Exchange, and he met CNBC hosts Jim Cramer and Carl Quintanilla, as well as NYSE President Thomas Farley. Korpal said the Make-A-Wish experience instilled a new sense of confidence and him and made him realise it was possible to bridge the gap between dreams and reality.
Korpal’s dream is to one day lead a trading division, be a fund manager, or serve as the CEO of a major company. He’ll take the next step in that mission this summer – Korpal will be a summer analyst in sales and trading at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.