Alumni Advocate: Dan Kelly
By: Lavilla Capener | Photo By: Alex André
Dan Kelly (BBA ’84, MBA ’85)
When Dan Kelly (BBA '84, MBA '85) finds something that he likes, he sticks with it. In 1987, after two years in public accounting, he accepted an entry-level accounting position at American Family Insurance, and, after years of hard work and dedication, became the company's chief financial officer in 2011.
Throughout his 27-year career at the insurance giant, Kelly has maintained an active presence at the Wisconsin School of Business and the entire University of Wisconsin–Madison campus, giving guest lectures, speaking on panels, and serving on various advisory boards at the School, including the Dean's Advisory Board.
As a C-suite executive at a Fortune 500 company, Kelly is extremely busy, yet he remains committed to devoting his time to maintain an active connection with the School. His connection is rooted in his commitment to education.
"I thought it would be great to be an accounting professor, so I enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in the fall of 1987," Kelly says. "A month into it, I realized that I didn't want to pursue a Ph.D., but they had me continue teaching because they needed adjunct faculty, and that's what kept me connected at first."
Kelly continued teaching introductory accounting and then intermediate accounting while working his first jobs at American Family Insurance. This led to his participation in The Future is Now, a program for students to explore careers in accounting. After that, his involvement continued to grow.
"It's important to me because I feel like I owe a lot of my success to my time at UW, whether it was the academics, the friendships, or learning how to interact with people professionally," he says.
While at American Family, Kelly has taken pride in helping to deepen the relationship between the company and the University of Wisconsin–Madison—a relationship that spans more than 30 years and has led to more than $20 million in financial support for the university, including the $10 million gift that created the UW Health American Family Children's Hospital.
This summer, the company contributed an additional $675,000 to the School in concert with a matching gift from another generous donor, which elevated the American Family Insurance Chair of Risk Management and Insurance to a distinguished chair. Professor Joan Schmit, who joined the WSB faculty in 1988, holds the endowed professorship.
"It's important to me because I feel like I owe a lot of my success to my time at UW, whether it was the academics, the friendships, or learning how to interact with people professionally."
"Joan has been a great partner," Kelly says. "She has incredible integrity and cares about people, and those values are important to American Family as well."
As an active alumnus, Kelly finds camaraderie among fellow Business Badgers who offer up their time, insights, and opportunities to the community.
"Whether it's through the panels I've been on or advisory boards, people are genuinely interested in helping the university in any way they can," Kelly says. "The alumni who I meet at these events are highly energetic, highly engaged, and want to keep the momentum of our School strong. I have two sons who attend the School, so I want it to be strong for them. I also think that when alumni contribute back it adds to the overall strength of the university."
Most of all, Kelly is simply happy to help out students and alumni. "I'm a proud alum; I do what I can to be a good ambassador for UW–Madison and the Wisconsin School of Business," Kelly says. "I tell students and young alumni to have flexibility and patience. Learn the ropes, don't get disappointed, and stay the course. I applied to a lot of different jobs at American Family that I didn't get. In the end, it all works out."
AMERICAN FAMILY INSURANCE'S RELATIONSHIP WITH UW–MADISON