For as long as he can remember, Michael Kelleher wanted to join the military. His mother wasn’t keen on the Marines, his first choice, and was relieved when he signed up for the Coast Guard Reserves during his sophomore year at the University of Minnesota. “I told my mother I was so stubborn I found out a way to go out to Afghanistan anyways,” he joked. “She didn’t think that was funny, but it did end up being an amazing experience.”
The Afghanistan deployment was just one of several amazing experiences Michael had in the Coast Guard before joining Securian Asset Management (AM) in 2018. Two days after graduating with an undergraduate degree in political science, he was called to Louisiana to help with the BP oil spill. For a year and a half he worked on back-to back assignments there: first, working to ensure the safety of civilian crews; then several months surveying waterways by helicopter, looking for oil booms; then preparing the documentation that was used for various court hearings.
From there, he spent six months in Kuwait, followed by the Afghanistan stint, where he was selected to be part of a small, elite team attached to an Army transportation brigade, an assignment made complicated by the need to handle hazardous materials. Then it was back to Louisiana to work on the Phase IV of the Hurricane Katrina recovery, helping with the cleanup of the small navigable waterways in the southern part of the state.
The skills he acquired in the military—assessment, analytics, documentation, management, the ability to be calm under pressure and, as he put it, “navigate through tough situations”—are all skills he is able to apply to his role as an investment analyst. He just didn’t know it then.
Finding a new path as a civilian
After three years of active duty as a Petty Officer Second Class, Michael was ready for a change, but wasn’t sure what he wanted to do as a civilian. A brief job search came up empty. But his overseas service qualified him for the GI Bill, so he headed to graduate school, earning an MBA from the University of Iowa. A summer internship at AFLAC in New York City gave him a taste for finance. AFLAC was impressed enough to offer him a full-time job after graduation.
Two years later the Twin Cities, where he grew up as the youngest of three kids, beckoned. Securian AM ended up being a perfect fit. “I really enjoy the challenge of private placements. My favorite part is taking a look at new investments and underwriting new deals. On the private side you get to look at a variety of different businesses, and rarely are two the same. I may be looking at a sports league one day, a Real Estate Investment Trust the next, an airport the next day. I help out with a lot of the third-party managed accounts work as well, and I really enjoy getting the face-to-face interaction with the portfolio managers and clients instead of just sitting behind a desk looking at numbers.”
A supportive environment for reservists
Michael is still in the Coast Guard reserves, a commitment that requires one weekend a month and two weeks a year for training, often in Duluth. The Securian AM culture is wholly supportive, from the top down to the managerial and colleague level.* “When I do my leaves it’s never a question of having changing dates—it’s always just ‘yep, go ahead.’ Sometimes I have to do three-day drills, so I take an extra day off. It’s never been an issue. Even when I was deployed to El Paso for 60 days in 2019 it wasn’t a problem. Everyone else just stepped up and made things seamless back here.”
When Michael does have free time, he and his wife, a physical therapist, like to travel, with a special affinity for hiking in national parks with their dog, an Australian shepherd named Kona.