Lender of a helping hand

Alma DeMetropolis, globe-trotting exec for JPMorgan, is now rooted in Jersey-based philanthropy.


NJPAC Board Member Alma DeMetropolis has always wanted to help people.


As a very young woman, she wanted to help by becoming a doctor. In pursuit of medicine, she went to Cornell and majored in human development. But then there was a hitch in her plan.


“You see, in college, I was a little bit of a math geek,” she says. “I really enjoyed accounting, I was a TA for financial classes. And so my medical career got derailed … by JPMorgan Chase.”


DeMetropolis smiles as she says this; today, she is the President of the New Jersey Market Leadership Team and Market Manager for J.P. Morgan Private Bank. She’s been with the financial firm almost 27 years, and it’s clearly been no detour but a perfect match for her skills and passions.


And she still gets to help people.


After starting out as an analyst who “did a lot of coding,” DeMetropolis went all around the globe in her work for the bank, spending years in Europe and Latin America, among other assignments.


“I worked and lived in at least a dozen countries,” she says. “It was really a tremendous experience, an education in understanding the world and how it operates.”


But then the Brooklyn native came back home to New York City. And the bank sent her on one more assignment, with one more new territory to conquer: suburban New Jersey.


“Our firm has continued to grow in a number of markets, and we always had a robust growth plan for New Jersey. When we focused on our New Jersey clients, we decided we wanted to be located where we could meet with them, easily, and that was a project I undertook,” she explains.


Today, DeMetropolis runs the bank’s light-filled Summit offices, which overlook the city’s picturesque downtown and tree-covered hills. Enormous windows brighten the space, and its walls serve as a gallery for a large number of pieces from JPMorgan’s famous, ever-growing fine art collection.


Here, she helps clients – individuals, families and foundations – manage their funds. And, at the same time, she’s helping the people who work for her: The relocation to Jersey turned out to be good not just for the bank and its clients, but also for DeMetropolis, who lives in New Providence, and her staff of Jerseyans.


“It feels great to be here,” she says. “I think the team really loves it here, and what I like the best about it, is all my employees get to be with their families instead of commuting.


“We’re here where our clients are, and we’re working in the community where we live and have fun. It makes a tremendous amount of sense.”


The Summit office opened in 2016 with 65 employees; it’s now grown to a team of 95, she notes with satisfaction.


The relocation of her office to New Jersey also allowed DeMetropolis to dive deep into philanthropic work – where she focuses her efforts on organizations that help children who come from disadvantaged circumstances.


That focus is a deeply felt choice; DeMetropolis knows how hard growing up poor can be, because she did herself.


“I can remember when I was much younger -- 5, 6, 7 years old – my family was food-insecure. We went hungry; I spent a couple years in an orphanage. It’s something I personally experienced, so I know that things don’t always come easy, and sometimes, families need help,” she says.


So she joined the board of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, which, she says, “is about making sure people in need have the very basic elements of life. If people are hungry, there’s not much that can be done until you fix that.”


She also followed her love of science and joined the board of the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, which she credits with inspiring children to explore the sciences – the long-term key, she believes, to getting them good jobs.


“They’re trying to get more children excited about science and math and technology, because that’s fundamental to the growth story of New Jersey! So the Center tries to make sure that kids are having a fun and positive experience with science, and hopefully they’ll come back and have careers in those fields, because those are the fields of the future.”


And, in the summer of 2017, she joined the Board of NJPAC – where she had been a long-time patron with her two children.


“Both my kids have a creative gene that I don’t!” she says with a laugh, noting that her teenage son, in particular, is a talented keyboardist who loves to compose scores for video games. With her children, she’s seen performances by Jerry Seinfeld, and many screenings of the Harry Potter film series with the NJSO playing the score live. (Her own musical tastes, she says, range from ‘80s hits to the jazz she likes to listen to when she’s cooking.)


“So I knew NJPAC, and I was honored to be asked to join the Board,” she says.


But what truly motivates her work on the Arts Center’s behalf, she says, is her enthusiasm for its programs that reach underprivileged children.


“I’ve really been touched by some of the programs they have for children, and especially children who are deemed at risk. These classes – they’re a great opportunity for them to express themselves, and they give them more options in life, offer them a way to develop a skill set. It gives these kids a better launching pad. That’s the way I think about it, that bringing the arts to them is giving them new opportunities,” she says.


In different ways, she notes, NJPAC is also an organization that meets her company’s current philanthropic goals, as well as her own.


“For many years, the arts and education were primary focuses of JPMorgan’s philanthropy. But, given the 2008 crisis, and growing out of that, we’re adjusting our philanthropic support to help cities and neighborhoods and communities grow again.


“I would say our corporate philanthropy is all about economic empowerment and inclusiveness, and some of the work we do in communities is around neighborhood revitalization. And NJPAC does that,” she explains, pointing to the Arts Center’s ongoing mission to reinvigorate Newark’s downtown neighborhood, both through drawing patrons to performances, and through building new residential and retail properties on its campus.


She particularly likes that the Arts Center is exploring the idea of building an arts-centered education facility on its campus, alongside new residential buildings like the just-opened One Theater Square high-rise apartment building.


“I’m optimistic those plans will come to fruition, and that downtown Newark will be a neighborhood people will live, work and play in,” DeMetropolis says.


In the meantime, DeMetropolis will continue to boost the Arts Center’s plans by keeping an eye on its finances through the Board’s Investment Committee, serving as the Board’s Assistant Secretary, and urging NJPAC to take on more projects that help children.


“When I try to sum up what drives me, it’s trying to help people. To help even one person, every day – that’s what drives both my day job and my ‘night’ job of philanthropic work,” she says.


Dec. 19, 2018