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Ex-Air Force pilot finds finance adds ups nicely as a second career

03 April 2011

(St. Louis Post Dispatch)

 No, I had a nine-year commitment. When I graduated I got a scholarship to go to engineering school, which I got them to change to allow me to get an MBA. After I got my degree, I was assigned to fly the C-5 Galaxy from Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. It’s a cargo plane and I flew it all over the world for five years, when my commitment ended.

April 03, 2011  (Deb Peterson )

Kirk McDonald, 43, investment analyst with Argent Capital Management in Clayton, retired Air Force pilot, and founder and president of the St. Louis chapter of the U.S. Air Force Academy Association of Graduates.

FAMILY • Married to Toni McDonald, a homemaker and tennis teacher. Two sons: Andrew, 8, a second-grader at Trautwein Elementary School in the Mehlville School District; and Josh, 5, a preschooler. The family lives in South County. Kirk grew up in Connecticut and is the elder of two sons born to Jerry and Linda McDonald. Jerry is retired from Equitable Life Insurance Co., and Linda was a nurse and homemaker. His younger brother, Kevin, 41, works in machinery leasing in Wilton, Conn. He has one niece, Meredith, 5.

EDUCATION • New Canaan High School, 1986; U.S. Air Force Academy, B.S., 1990; University of Oklahoma, MBA with a concentration in finance, 1993.

When you graduated from the Air Force Academy, was that the end of your relationship with the Air Force?

No, I had a nine-year commitment. When I graduated I got a scholarship to go to engineering school, which I got them to change to allow me to get an MBA. After I got my degree, I was assigned to fly the C-5 Galaxy from Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. It’s a cargo plane and I flew it all over the world for five years, when my commitment ended.

What sorts of cargo did you transport?

All kinds of stuff. A lot of it was top secret but some of the stranger cargo was presidential limousines and dolphins – not in the same flight.

Did you think about becoming career Air Force?

Yes, I thought about it very seriously. I love the Air Force and I love flying planes. I loved them from the moment I first touched the controls. But all my life there were two things I wanted to do, and becoming a pilot was only one of them.

What was the other?

I always wanted to be involved in finance. I bought my first stock when I was 10. My father invested in the stock market, and I would read the market report in the paper when he would get home at night and he would explain to me what all the symbols meant. By the time I was 10, I had saved $600, mostly from lawn mowing, and I gave it to my dad and told him I wanted to invest. He told me to put my money in General Motors. He did that for me and by the time I was 16 I had doubled my investment. I owned a bunch of other stocks by that time, too.

Was it a hard decision to leave the Air Force?

It was really difficult because I love the Air Force. But I finally decided that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least try to get into finance.

Was your wife happy with that decision?

Very. Her dad was career Air Force and she wanted me on the ground.

Your wife is from Oklahoma and you’re from Connecticut. How did you wind up in St. Louis?

When I was ready to leave the Air Force, I interviewed for finance jobs and Arthur Andersen was the company I liked best. They gave me a long list of cities I could move to and I thought St. Louis looked good – not too far from my wife’s family and in the middle of the country so it would be easy to get to my family, too. I kind of moved here on a whim.

That was nearly 12 years and two children ago. Has the move been good for you?

We love it here. Both sets of parents have moved here, so that’s been great. And Toni’s only sibling, a sister, lives in Chicago, so her parents can get there easily to see her. This is just a great town, and we’ve made lots of friends. It’s so family-oriented and people are just so friendly.

When did you leave Arthur Andersen?

In 2003 I went to work with Fiduciary Asset Management. I was there for 8½ years, when the company was bought by another company, and then I got hired at Argent. My first day was Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.

Along with your kids and work, you keep busy with the U. S. Air Force Academy – Association of Graduates. What is that exactly?

It’s the academy’s official alumni association. When I moved to St. Louis I wanted to start networking with other academy graduates and I found that there was no alumni association here. So, I started one. I have about 100 graduates on my list, and the list keeps growing.

What sorts of things does the association do locally?

We have about six meetings a year and we have a really exciting event planned to mark our founders day dinner, which is April 30. The superintendent of the academy, Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, will be the featured speaker. He’s really outgoing and gregarious so it ought to be a lot of fun. His wife is going to come in for it, too.

Anything else?

Yes, we are having an “All Academies Charity Golf Tournament” on June 2. The Air Force, West Point and Annapolis will participate and the money we raise will go to “The Mission Continues,” an organization that was founded here by former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens in 2007.

Last, best book?

“Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the Civil War,” by Charles Bracelen Flood.

And you drive …

Nothing fancy. A 2002 Ford Explorer. It’s Air Force blue.