Ironic, maybe, since Chris, who is from Denver, felt certain he wouldn’t attend Concordia Irvine before his initial visit in 1999.
“I came there convinced I’d go to another Lutheran school, but the first time I walked on campus I could feel the Holy Spirit moving in that place,” Chris says. “I get the same feeling every time I drive up Concordia West. The two guys I stayed with the night of my visit were outstanding. We had great conversations about how they lived out their faith and felt they had made a good decision coming to Concordia. I left there saying, ’Mom, this is where I want to go.’”
Chris enrolled as a pre-seminary student but felt the Lord calling him in a different direction. He switched his major to business.
“At Concordia I figured out who I was, my identity and my strengths,” he says.
He met Katherine from Kansas City who came to Concordia on a full academic scholarship. They were married in 2005. A Concordia maintenance worker helped Chris get his first job, at a private real estate company. Then came the transition to Johnson & Johnson and the health care arena which became his career.
At Concordia I figured out who I was, my identity and my strengths
“I found my sweet spot in the field of analytics and planning, territory deployments and how to build a sales force to be the most productive they can be,” says Chris.
Katherine, meanwhile, had every intention of going into the classroom, but “there was an over-abundance of teachers, and we needed income,” she says. So she got a job through a temp agency while waiting for a call from a Lutheran school.
I found my sweet spot in the field of analytics and planning, territory deployments and how to build a sales force to be the most productive they can be
When a call arrived to teach fifth grade, she was praying over it when a conversation at work changed her career trajectory. Out of the blue, a coworker asked her about the concept of sin. “Clearly you know because you’re a Christian,” he told Katherine. After an hour of explaining the Christian perspective, Katherine went home and told Chris, “God is calling me to use all the knowledge I got in those theology classes at Concordia in the working world. He’s telling me I can be a light.” She declined the teaching call and accepted a full-time position with a tech company.
From there, a series of jobs trained her to balance books, oversee production, negotiate contracts and much more. But for the first eight years of marriage, finances were tough for the Ponds. Then came a life-defining crisis.
“Katie and I were both working and struggling just to pay rent when her small company ran into capital issues and needed to move her to part time,” Chris says. “We dug deep into savings but knew something had to happen.”
During those difficult days, Chris had an innovative idea for his company’s tax structure which ended up netting the company $8 million and earning him Johnson & Johnson’s prestigious Standards of Leadership award. The award came with a cash bonus. The amount equaled the missing amount of Katherine’s former full-time Salary, to the dollar.
“That was the moment we looked at each other and said, ’This is just scary. I don’t know how people can not have faith in something bigger and think that something like this just happens,’” Chris remembers.
God began to bless, and in 2012, Katherine was hired by Vizio, the #2 maker of smart televisions. She climbed the ranks to become senior director of business development and advertising. She now negotiates all contracts with Hulu, Amazon, Fandango and other app partners, and oversees the team that sells ads and promotes various content they think users will be interested in.
“I still find it all surreal,” she says of her career path. “Sometimes I look at where God has brought us and I keep waiting to blink and see it all disappear.”
Chris became director of sales, planning and analytics at Allergan, a pharmaceutical company which creates everything from Botox to products that aid breast cancer reconstruction surgeries. Chris develops the commercial strategy and oversees sales teams for Allergan’s products.
The Ponds also became good friends with CUI supporters Craig and Jane Olson, and Walt and Leann Luchinger, MA ’11 at Salem Lutheran Church in Orange. Those couples encouraged the Ponds to get involved with CUI again.
Chris was invited to serve on the alumni board and “started to get passionate about finding ways to engage alumni with students,” he says. Specifically, he wanted alums to help current students understand and prepare for the working world, and, when appropriate, even help them find jobs.
To practice what he preached, Chris began bringing interns on board at his companies, and coaching students with resume help and mock interviews.
“I let them know what to expect and what’s coming at them,” he says. “I became an advocate for it on the board. Steve Hantula ’87 has taken that to the next level with meet-and-greets where alums and current Concordia juniors and seniors can talk about what it’s like to work in various fields. I want parents to say, ’I want my son or daughter to go to Concordia Irvine because not only will they get a great education, but they will have a great network and opportunities after they graduate.’ What drives Katherine and me is how can we give this same experiences to students.”
At Vizio, Katherine is also “incredibly passionate” about helping women succeed in the workplace. She mentors a number of women within her company, and often pays their way to CUI’s Faith and Business Forum.
She and Chris work actively to prepare and connect students with job opportunities by asking CUI professors for recommendations of graduating students and paving the way for interviews at their companies.
The result is that CUI students are in demand.
“Everyone at work was like, ’Can you get us one of those Concordia students again?’ That’s part of the reason we give back,” Chris says. “Concordia turns out phenomenal workers. They are people I’m proud to say went to my school. You can trust that they are going to do a good job for you.”
The Ponds first became donors after a Homecoming basketball game when they sat among the students and were impressed by the positive behavior and conversations they heard around them.
“I looked at Chris with tears in my eyes and said, ’Honey, our kids are so good,’” Katherine recalls. “He said, ’I’m so proud to be part of this.’ We went home and that’s when we started donating.”
Two years ago, the Ponds were invited to chair the Gala of Stars, and this year they shared their story in a way that moved many. Katherine asked those in attendance to stand if they had given money to Concordia in the past fifteen years or more.
“My breath caught in my throat and I said, ’Your faces are the faces I wanted to see. You’re the ones who made it possible for Chris and me to go to this university,’” she says. “I went on to talk about what Concordia had meant to us.”
Many attendees were in tears as a result.
Chris recently termed out on the Alumni Board and now serves on the Board of Trustees.
“I’ve been really grateful for where Katie and I both have ended up,” he says. “We get to do things we enjoy, to empower people to be successful. We both lead teams at work and the greatest motivation is helping other people achieve their dreams. The opportunity to build people up is the most rewarding thing.”