CFO Lecture Series will feature MBA alumna who transitioned to non-profit world after a career in corporate finance

Friday, April 17, 2015

When Olena Paslawsky was working on her MBA in the late 1970s, female students were given special instructions on what styles of suits to wear, the proper shades they should choose for their blouses and the appropriate height of their heels.  

It was part of the preparation they received for careers in the male-dominated business world.

"This is ancient history to women in business school today,” said Paslawsky, who became chief financial officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art eight years ago after a long career in corporate finance.  "Today, there are so much more sophisticated discussions going on about the glass ceiling and other topics."

Olena Paslawsky

Paslawsky, Rutgers MBA ’78, will return to Rutgers Business School on April 23 to share her insights as the featured speaker at the CFO Lecture Series. She plans to speak about her career, including her transition to the non-profit world and her views on what it takes to be successful – regardless of the color blouse an executive wears. Paslawsky's talk is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in Bove Auditorium.

The lecture series is one of Rutgers Business School’s most distinguished events, highlighting the success of its alumni as well as the strength of its connections to corporations in Newark and the region. Other MBA alums who have participated in the series include Sheri McCoy, chief executive of Avon and Michael O’Neill, chief executive of Broadcast Music Inc.

After spending nearly three decades in finance for such companies as Prudential and Chase, Paslawsky said she had been thinking about taking her career in a more philanthropic direction.

Then one day, she received a call from a headhunter about the opening at the Met.

"I was a member of the museum so I certainly had an affinity for it, and it still felt like a big job," she said. "It really was the ideal job.”

After eight years, Paslawsky still finds it exciting be working in the "amazing space" of the museum and helping to carry out its mission. But there are some distinct differences between her current job and the ones she previously held.

"In a corporate job, success is much more easily measured and everyone understands it. The thing about a not-for-profit," she said, "is it’s really more of a blend of things, accessibility, a good visitor experience, things that are harder to measure."

Her responsibilities are also more varied. "In any non-profit, large or small, if you’re in a senior administrative role, especially finance," she said, "you’re expected to wear a lot of hats."

At the museum, she oversees IT as well as the annual budget preparation. She meets with donors and participates in discussions about the Met’s plans for taking over the old Whitney Museum.

Paslawsky grew up in Newark’s Ukrainian community with no female professionals to look up to as role models so the ability to earn an MBA and gain a broad array of business knowledge was "an amazing experience” that launched her career.

"Before I went for my MBA," she said, "I really had never had a business course."

-Susan Todd

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