The Michigan Engineer News Center

Tony Lembke looks for a high return on his investment

Mark Burns has been appointed the Anthony C. Lembke Department Chair of Chemical Engineering. Tony Lembke (BSE ChE 1980) says he is directing this gift to the department to help them bring in world-class faculty. | Short Read
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Anthony “Tony” Lembke (BSE ’80) might not want to admit it now, but he was once a fervent Notre Dame football fan, having been born in South Bend and growing up mostly in Indiana. However, that allegiance disappeared the day he set foot in Ann Arbor. After his family moved to Marshall, MI in his sophomore year of high school, Tony focused on the University of Michigan, both for academic excellence and the relative affordability of an in-state school. His family’s financial assistance was limited to just the first two years of Tony’s college education. Consequently, the balance would have to be earned, borrowed, or gained through scholarships. So Tony worked in the Law School’s cafeteria for three years, and found summer jobs at Eaton Corporation and Procter & Gamble.
Despite his efforts, he needed additional funds to complete his degree and sought assistance from the University. After a surprisingly short meeting with a College of Engineering staff member at the Chrysler Center, he was approved for an engineering scholarship. This financial support made a deep impact on Tony. He decided then that he would help other engineering students in need should that opportunity ever arise. As a result, his first gift to the College was a need-based scholarship, the Anthony C. Lembke Endowed Scholarship. He later funded the Anthony C. Lembke Student Global Experience Fund, which gives students an opportunity to go abroad. Every year, he enjoys hearing from recipients of his scholarships about their personal experiences at Michigan, what they are studying, and their dreams for the future.

When he recalls his days as a student, he remembers the genuine camaraderie among the chemical engineering students. He began in LS&A as a pre-med but was turned off by the competitive environment among the pre-med students. “It seemed to be a zero-sum game mentality: Your success might prevent my success so I’m not going to help you,” he remembers. “In chemical engineering, it was certainly competitive, but we believed we could all succeed so we supported each other.”

Although he spent only the first five years of his career as a chemical engineer, he began to explore how he could best support the Department in return for its tremendous influence on his own work ethic and self confidence. As Tony puts it, the lasting outcome from his time in Michigan’s Chemical Engineering Department wasn’t what he learned about chemical engineering, but what he learned about himself. He discovered “a higher gear” that he never knew existed that he would use repeatedly during the next 35 years of his professional life.

A seminal moment came in Scott Fogler’s reaction engineering course. Tony’s academic performance during his first two years was pretty mediocre; so his confidence was low as he entered his junior year. After the first exam, Professor Fogler wrote the names of the three students who received the highest grades on the blackboard. Tony hadn’t done that well on the exam, but something in that moment inspired him and he committed to himself that his name was going to be on the board after the next exam. He studied more thoroughly and intensely than before and was rewarded after the next exam when his name did indeed appear on the blackboard. After that, he could sense himself using that “higher gear;” his GPA rose, as did his confidence.

He worked at Exxon for five years after graduation but was an average engineer at best. He lacked the patience to work on a project for many months, only to find out that the proposed facility wasn’t economic or that the company had decided to go in a different direction. He wanted faster feedback—the real-time feedback that the capital markets provide—and that led him to Wall Street. His first job was at an investment bank, Kidder, Peabody, in mortgage-backed securities, a young but burgeoning market in 1986. This market niche was especially attractive to an engineer, because valuation methods were numerically intensive and involved statistical modeling. He eventually moved on to Salomon Brothers and then joined Salomon colleagues at their hedge fund firm, MKP Capital Management, in 1998, where he eventually served as a principal and co-chief investment officer before retiring at the end of 2014.

Since graduation, Tony has almost always made it back to Ann Arbor for at least one game every season. However, his visits increased over the past decade as his oldest son attended and then graduated from Michigan, before settling in Detroit. Tony has always enjoyed Ann Arbor, with the many restaurants and bars and the attractive downtown and campus areas. More recently, he has been coming back to attend the Fall and Spring Engineering Advisory Board meetings as well as the November Engineering Scholarship Luncheon, where he gets to meet the new recipients of his scholarship.

After hearing from ChE chair Mark Burns how intensely competitive it is for the department to attract and retain world-class faculty, Tony concluded this was an area where he could give back with a “high return on investment.” He is directing his gift to Mark and future chairs so that they will have the discretion to use the money to bring in world-class faculty from anywhere around the globe.

Mark Burns describes Tony as a “classic example of a successful Michigan engineer; he’s someone who is willing to put in the time to excel in life but wants to help others succeed also, and to give back to the communities of which he is a member. He clearly values his Michigan education, and his generous gift to the department will allow us to better educate the next generation of leaders.” Mark adds that, “As we strive for excellence, it is often hard to predict new obstacles and to act promptly to make changes. Discretionary gifts like Tony’s will let us respond more quickly to find solutions for the challenges at hand.”

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Sandy Swisher
Communications & Alumni Relations Coordinator

Chemical Engineering

(734) 764-7413

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