PAYING IT FORWARD
Sanford business leader Kel Normann gives back to ECU
By Spaine Stephens
When Akeem Richmond sank the buzzer beating three-pointer to win the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament for ECU last April, few were prouder of the junior player than Sanford business leader Kel Normann ’85.
Normann grew up with Richmond’s father and the two played basketball together through high school. Without a son of his own, Normann enjoyed watching Richmond grow up and had recognized the youngster’s talent early on. He encouraged him to practice, attend basketball camps and do well in school so that he could set his sights on playing college ball. Normann was pleased when Richmond’s path led to East Carolina. It was another hometown success story.
Normann helped create the Head of Class Project,which awards $50,000 annually to the faculty and staffof the best performing elementary school in Lee County.
The initiative is the first of its kind in North Carolina.
Normann is familiar with those. He also is a small-town success story who says he is proof that good things can happen when a community leader encourages young people to pursue their dreams. That’s why he gives time, talent and money to ensure that students at ECU and beyond have a chance to realize their goals.
“He is one who expects the best and helps others see opportunities,” says Dr. Jim Westmoreland, associate dean of external affairs for the ECU College of Business.
Normann, who earned a degree in marketing, is managing director of the Normann Financial Group of Wells Fargo Advisors. He sees it as an honor, privilege and responsibility to give back to his alma mater.
A past member of the College of Business Advisory Council, he has served on the ECU Foundation board for 13 years and has chaired the board’s investment committee for 10 years. Normann is a member of the Order of the Cupola, the Chancellor’s Society, the Old Austin Society, and the Leo W. Jenkins Society. He is a life member of the East Carolina Alumni Association and supports the ECU Educational Foundation, better known as the Pirate Club.
He and his wife, Parker, established a business scholarship that annually recognizes a full-time undergraduate business major who displays superior academic achievement and demonstrates financial need. Normann and his family also give to the EC Scholars program—the university’s most prestigious academic scholarship. In addition, the Normann family provides funding for an Access Scholarship, which rewards students with academic promise who need financial assistance. He also has made contributions to the College of Nursing, College of Human Ecology, Student Life and the ECU Foundation.
“All the people I’ve met through the years through the ECU Foundation motivated me through their passion and energy for ECU,” Normann says. “It became contagious.”
An education to last a lifetime
Normann grew up in Snow Hill, the son of two ECU Pirates. His father started a retirement home business and had rest homes in Snow Hill, Goldsboro and LaGrange. By the time he was 10 the family moved to his mother’s hometown of Sanford so his mother could join her parents’ own retirement home business.
It was early on in that city that the first flickers of determination caused Normann to observe the way the people around him set out to achieve their ambitions. Many of Lee County’s textiles and brick industries and other businesses were the result of local citizens who built lives and careers from the ground up. “It’s self-made wealth,” Normann says, “but people have not lost the sense of their values or where they came from.”
At 92 years old, his grandfather still goes to work every day and makes sure that their retirement homes are providing the best available care to their patients, most of which are local people who have been family friends for years. Normann tries to provide that same care and service to his clients today, only for their financial needs rather than their health care.
He held onto those roots as he followed in the family footsteps to ECU. The College of Business felt like a perfect fit for him. Studying marketing strategy, finance and other business topics, Normann began to see his future career taking shape. He also formed meaningful relationships that would tie him to the university forever. He befriended Westmoreland, who he had known as a Residence Life staff member in Scott Hall.
The two are close friends still, allowing Westmoreland to have a first-hand view of Normann’s impact on ECU over the years. “He has had so many families come to ECU,” Westmoreland says, “to learn about what makes us uniquely special in the way we want to treat those who desire an educational opportunity.”
Normann hopes every ECU student receives the mentoring from professors that challenges them to be good communicators and well-prepared business professionals. “I like what Stan Eakins is doing with the College of Business,” he says. “They are teaching students how to take what they’re learning in the classroom and use that in the real world.”
His contributions to the college and to ECU come partly to give promising students and those who need a financial boost the chance to get excited about education and where it can lead them. He also hopes he can help encourage efforts to focus on communication skills for undergraduates. “After college,” he says, “knowledge is power. But if you can’t communicate it, it’s lost.” He says the professors he had, like Louis Eckstein, helped him prepare for a career that involves communication and partnership on a higher level.
Building a business with a heart
Normann Financial Group is tucked under a canopy of stately trees on the corner of a Sanford neighborhood and near a thoroughfare. Across the street is a church whose lawn extends down a bank to a canopy of branches, where it meets the road.
Inside Normann Financial Group, Normann settles back in his corner office and with a soft smile recalls the days when he returned to town for good. After graduation from ECU and several years of work, an unexpected opportunity came his way, and he moved back to Sanford and the community that he calls close knit.
“It’s a very caring community,” he says. Over the years, family and friends provided steadfast support through good times and bad to Normann and his wife and daughter, Jordan ’12, It’s still the same today.
Normann, who counsels clients on decisions related to investment and estate planning, finds his business so fulfilling because it’s relationship driven. “It’s very rewarding because my clients depend on me much like they do their CPA, attorney or doctor. We’re their financial doctor.” That trust in his expertise is backed up. Normann has been named one of the top 1,000 financial advisors in the country for the last three years by Barron’s magazine, and he has consistently ranked in the top percentile of Wells Fargo advisors and its predecessor firms for the last 25 years.
What also makes the business special is the way Normann and his colleagues take care of their own. They also back community causes and events that make life better for countless people. Nearly 20 years ago, Normann helped found the Lee County Boys and Girls Club, an organization that has grown into a “tremendous club,” he says. Different activities throughout the year like golf tournaments ensure the group’s future.
“That’s the core of our success,” Normann says. “Our responsibility is to give back to the community and support those in need.” Normann also helped create the Lee County Educational Fund and played a pivotal role in the inception of the Head of Class Project, which awards $50,000 annually to the faculty and staff of the best performing elementary school in Lee County. The initiative is the first of its kind in North Carolina.
Normann currently serves on the board of trustees for Meredith College and has served on the boards of the Sanford Rotary Club, Central Carolina Community College Foundation, and the O’Neal School, a Southern Pines day school that emphasizes a well rounded, community-service driven education.
An ‘advocate for ECU’
His support of education in his own community hasn’t hampered his involvement at ECU. “I’m a complete addict of ECU football,” Normann says. His future son-in-law was on the Pirate roster as a punter and kicker from 2008 to 2010. “After this past season with Richmond and the new success and excitement coach Jeff Lebo has brought to the program, I have also become a Pirate basketball fanatic,” he said.
Another hometown connection to ECU is men’s golf coach Press McPhaul, who grew up about a mile from Normann in Sanford and is today a close friend. Also, Normann and women’s golf coach Kevin Williams lived in Scott Dorm and played intramural sports together. The two remain close as well. “These two guys are wonderful assets to ECU and the golf programs,” Normann says, “and I really enjoy supporting them and their golf teams.”
But he is not content just to sit back and watch sports.
“He is a strong advocate for ECU,” says Bill Clark, president and CEO of the East Carolina University Foundation, “often convincing other alumni to get involved or make significant gifts to the university. Kel has learned how to convert his passion for ECU into action for ECU.”
Other alumni—particularly Sam Wornom ’65, who encouraged him to once again become involved at ECU— took him under their wings when he was a young professional, introducing Normann to ECU from a professional standpoint. And he hasn’t looked back since. For him, East Carolina is a personal and family experience.
“It’s where I got some of the best memories,” Normann said in an article in last year’s College of Business annual report. “It taught me how to apply myself. It taught me to be me. Everyone is different, learns differently, and brings something different to the table.”
Those differences that highlight the range of students’ merit and need strengthen Normann’s hope for the futures of all ECU students. They are his reasons for giving back.
“What makes Kel so successful as an alumnus of ECU and as a businessman and as a family man,” says Clark, “is his ability to see the big picture and set the right priorities. He is the kind of person that we all hope we can be.”
Normann helped create the Head of Class Project, which awards $50,000 annually to the faculty and staff of the best performing elementary school in Lee County. The initiative is the first of its kind in North Carolina.