From appearing in off-Broadway shows in New York City to challenging herself with banking and development jobs in Chattanooga, Caroline Walker seems to always find her stride.
Walker, 37, is the daughter of former McCallie School headmaster Kirk Walker and Patsi Walker. She grew up on the campuses of McCallie and Girls Preparatory School (GPS) after moving from Nashville in eighth grade, and spent some of her young adulthood in New York working in the entertainment and hospitality industries.
A trained dancer -- she majored in dance and musical theater in college -- Walker worked in off-Broadway shows and touring productions before pivoting to business-focused careers in the 2010s.
Today, she is executive director of commercial banking in the JPMorgan Chase Bank office in Chattanooga, a job she says gives her vast opportunities for professional growth, which she says is her guiding light.
"I started getting curious about other things that weren't the arts (in New York)," she recalled in a recent interview at her office in Liberty Tower on Chestnut Street. She noted that a stint in the New York Junior League sparked her interest in fundraising.
"In New York we were doing these big galas and fundraisers and I thought, 'Oh, I like doing this. I like raising money," she recalls.
So, when an opportunity arose to work in development at GPS, it seemed natural to return home and practice her emerging skills. "They (GPS) gave me a credit card and I traveled the country recultivating relationships with alums," she says.
After that, she held a another development position at McCallie School.
"It felt like home," she says. "My brothers went to McCallie, my dad went to McCallie. There was a built-in language (there) that I understood."
While at McCallie, Walker worked with school alum and Chattanooga entrepreneur, Barry Large, who eventually recruited her to work at his venture incubator, Lamp Post Group. She ended up working in marketing for a startup company called Torch, which was launched to help parents regulate their children's online access.
"It was great to be in a room with great talent while trying to start something from scratch," she says. "... I got a crash course, within 11 months, of all the trials and tribulations and hustle it takes to start a business, especially a tech company."
Next, came the jump to banking. Although she was not trained in finance, Walker had the combination of charisma (born of stage work), native intelligence and connections that were attractive to banking mangers.
Her first banking job was with FSG in 2016 just before its merger with Atlantic Capital. Next came a series of banking jobs with BB&T, Truist and Pinnacle before landing at JPMorgan Chase earlier this year.
Walker says assisting Chattanooga-area businesses through COVID was a grueling but rewarding experience.
"We knew that for the first time people felt sorry for the banker, we were working so hard," she says. "That's where the philanthropic part of my development side came in, realizing, 'We are the good guys. We are helping save these businesses.'"
She says working for JPMorgan Chase, one of the world's biggest financial institutions, gives her a sense of accomplishment.
"I think there's so much pride in the work that we do," she says. "You wake up every day knowing we have a purpose and a responsibility. Not only locally and regionally, but globally."
Meanwhile, Walker continues on her quest for personal growth by serving on various local philanthropic boards.
Every year, she says, "I look at where I need to grow to be a better friend, a better community leader, better family member, a better co-worker."
* Age: 37
* Title: Executive Director of Commercial Banking, JPMorgan Chase, Chattanooga
* Hometown: Chattanooga
* Education: Girls Preparatory School, Florida State University, The New School (New York)