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Fifth Third Bank CEO Establishes Graduate Fellowship at IUPUI School of Science

When Kevin Kabat (MS’81) was pursuing his graduate degree in Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology at the School of Science at IUPUI, little did he know the knowledge he was gaining would someday help him steer an organization through a global economic catastrophe.

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the CEO of Fifth Third Bancorp, Kabat did just that. His guiding hand and firm belief in his employees helped the corporation survive the darkest days of the Great Recession beginning in December 2007.

Kabat realized that a key to Fifth Third’s survival was keeping loyal staff on board. Despite concerns from board members and investors about the costs, he insisted on support for employee training programs, believing that it would not only help the company retain its best employees, but improve operations as well. His plan worked.

“My psychology training helped me to remember the importance and the value of people,” Kabat said. “It’s the people that differentiate you from your competition.”

As he prepares to step down as vice chairman and chief executive officer of Cincinnati-based Fifth Third, Kabat is mindful of the difference the I/O Master’s program made in his life. To show his gratitude, Kabat has established a fellowship at the School of Science that he hopes will inspire and positively influence the lives of future I/O graduate students.

“The relationships I had with the psychology faculty were pivotal,” Kabat said. “Their emphasis on quality and confidence in me as a student gave me the analytical-thinking, problem-solving, and innovative leadership tools that I applied to great use throughout my entire career.”

The Kabat Fellowship in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Leadership will be awarded annually to a graduate student accepted into the I/O program and will fully fund the individual’s studies. The endowment supporting the fellowship will provide the student with a stipend and provide coverage of healthcare costs and university fees. Investments from the School of Science will cover the student’s full tuition.

According to Simon Rhodes, Dean of the School, the fellowship will also enhance the students’ profiles as they seek full-time employment or seek further graduate degrees, as well as significantly enhance the I/O area’s ability to recruit outstanding students and further build the program.

Kabat entered the I/O program after graduating from Johns Hopkins University with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. At IUPUI, an employee turnover project introduced him to the banking industry, and after graduation Kabat landed a job at Merchants National Bank in Indianapolis. He joined Old Kent Bank in 1982, and served in a variety of executive leadership roles, culminating with his appointment as vice chairman and president. When Old Kent was acquired by Fifth Third Bancorp in 2001, he continued in senior management positions, and in 2007 was named chief executive officer.

In 2013 Kabat received the inaugural John T. Hazer Distinguished Psychology Alumnus Award in recognition of his outstanding career and community achievements. The award is named after Kabat’s  I/O mentor, who remembers his protégé well:

“I have always been impressed by Kevin’s abilities and his character,” Hazer said. “I think that he was an outstanding choice for Psychology’s inaugural Distinguished Alumnus Award, and we are deeply appreciative of his financial support for the I/O program.”

Charles Chu, a Yale University graduate, is the first recipient of the Kabat Fellowship. He plans to pursue a career in academic research with a specific focus on diversity initiatives and intergroup relations within organizations.

“It is my distinct honor to be the first recipient of the Kabat Fellowship and to follow in the esteemed footsteps of such an accomplished alumnus,” Chu said. “His generous gift has allowed me to pursue my academic interests in intergroup relations in organizations. Mr. Kabat’s leadership and strength of character inspires future I/O Psychology professionals such as myself and demonstrates that doing right by your people and doing good business go hand in hand.”

Kabat said, “Knowing how much the financial support from scholarships meant to me and my family when I was a graduate student at IUPUI, I felt like the opportunity to create this fellowship was the most appropriate way for me to have an impact on student success.”

I/O psychology graduates take positions in companies and organizations where they improve human resources practices and systems and build strong talent management and professional development programs.

Story by Brett McLaughlin, IU Foundation, bmclaugh@iupui.edu

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