Olena Paslawsky


As the chief financial officer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Olena Paslawsky has been instrumental in implementing a new financial system at the museum. She is pictured in one of the Met’s galleries that is dedicated to its collection of Oceanic art.

Deborah Feingold

There is a John Singer Sargent painting hanging over Olena Paslawsky’s desk. But the real work of art in her office, secreted in the lower level of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, occurs at the oval table that fills most of the room. It’s where Paslawsky NCAS’76, RBS’78, chief financial officer for one of New York City’s most popular tourist destinations, makes the big-figure decisions that heavily influence the nonprofit’s $250 million operating budget and $3 billion in assets.

When Paslawsky ac­cepted the position seven years ago, she added the second-hand table, salvaged from the Met’s collection of old office furniture. Sitting at it, she is uniquely positioned to see art and commerce intersect at the iconic institution, which draws 6.2 million art lovers each year through its imposing doors overlooking Fifth Avenue. “Finance, like any discipline, possesses a beauty in its logic, in the science behind it, and the rules that drive it,” says Paslawsky, a tall woman with serious grey-blue eyes. During her time, she’s proud to report, the Met has begun implementing a new financial system that is based on cloud computing. “It will take us out of the mid-1990s and leap­frog us to the 21st century.”

She credits Rutgers for influencing her career, having earned her undergraduate degree in zoology from Rutgers–Newark and an M.B.A. from Rutgers Business School–Newark and New Brunswick. “I had an excellent accounting teacher in my first business school class—which is why I decided to specialize in accounting,” she says. “I never went into public accounting, but the subject has given me a great foundation for many business topics.”

Paslawsky’s work isn’t all painting by numbers. She oversees 125 employees and advises staff members working in a host of departments, ranging from the controller’s office to information technology. She also sits in on acquisition meetings at which curators present prospective purchases; she played a part when the Met, along with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, bought The Refusal of Time, a multi­media installation by South Africa artist William Kentridge. And Paslawsky often confers with curators and conservators to advise them on financial issues. She recently dropped in on the head of painting conservation, Michael Gallagher, where work was in progress on the 1647 painting by Charles Le Brun The Sacrifice of Polyxena, as well as a monumental abstract artwork created by Franz Kline in 1961.

Paslawsky likes to walk the Met to stay acquainted with its treasures, falling in love with works that speak to her personally. She chose the Sargent painting hanging in her office, Interior of Hagia Sophia, because she has visited the Istanbul institution. In playing her part to assure that the public enjoys the museum, Paslawsky typically logs 10- to 12-hour days at her job, which she still finds exhilarating. (On weekends, she’s an avid bicyclist.) Paslawsky, who has held top posts with a variety of companies, says she has never remained at one job for so long. But it’s been a thrill helping to lead the Met into the 21st century, and she is looking forward to celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2020. “Each day is different,” she says. “I can’t see myself working anywhere else.”