Marcela Zuchovicki speaks five different languages: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and German.
She has lived and worked in five countries and in four different states within the U.S.
Today, at age 54, she runs a multimillion-dollar, global management and strategic advisory firm specializing in financial services with offices in Bangalore, India — from her home office in Phillipsburg.
The secret to her worldly success lies in Zuchovicki following her father’s advice:
“Never go to bed without learning something new,” she said.
For Zuchovicki, CEO and president of Jalima & Associates, her global experience in industries from the arts to nonprofits made it possible for her to make the world of financial services much more compact and accessible for small businesses today.
Continuing in her mother’s tradition of giving back, Marcela Zuchovicki is a recognized instructor and volunteer around the state.
“There are pockets of entrepreneurs and people that want to be successful in this state that need help,” Zuchovicki said.
Here are just a few of her credentials:
Zuchovicki has been recognized as a Top 25 honoree of the group Leading Women Entrepreneurs and was awarded the 2014 George Perrott Macculloch Award for Leadership by AJC, a Jewish advocacy group, for her history and contributions as an immigrant entrepreneur.
Born in Argentina, Zuchovicki was raised in Mexico by her father, an Argentinian engineer, and her mother, a Holocaust survivor.
“Growing up, I was expected to become a person of accomplishment,” Zuchovicki said. “I took many lessons with experts in music, painting — anything to ground me as a human being.”
Inspired by her mother’s commitment to helping others, Zuchovicki worked as a tutor for the underprivileged and with UNICEF while studying to be a mathematician and an actuary at the Universidad Anahuac Mexico Norte in the early 1980s.
“I taught children and adults in marginal areas of Mexico reading, writing and arithmetic,” Zuchovicki said. “And I worked with UNICEF to install water filtration units for the Mayan people.”
Even when she married a professional musician — a decision that would lead her to Cleveland in 1985 in support of her then-husband’s musical education — she continued to work, volunteer and travel with UNICEF and AFS Intercultural Programs for student exchange.
After she completed her bachelor’s degree in actuarial science in 1987 — the youngest actuary at the time to do so at age 24 — her husband got a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School in New York City, where Zuchovicki continued her work with both organizations.
“From 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. I would work with AFS and then from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. I would work at UNICEF,” Zuchovicki said. “It was during this time that I learned how to work within corporate structures.”
Only to discover a year later that she worked well as an entrepreneur.
When Zuchovicki’s then-husband got his first job out of school in Portugal, she realized it would be easier to keep relocating if she started her own company.
“That’s when I decided to start an arts management business on my own while helping my husband with his career,” Zuchovicki said.
From 1989 to 1992, Zuchovicki represented nearly 250 clients, including members of the Cleveland Orchestra, performers in New York City and artists who, after the former Soviet Union opened its borders, did not know how to represent themselves.
“With just a fax machine, a phone number, a printer and a computer with no Internet, I managed all kinds of activities, events, programs and public relations for the artists,” she said.
When her husband got a job in Spain, relocation wasn’t an issue.
“All I needed to do was change my number to continue doing what I was doing,” Zuchovicki said.
Mobility was key — as was the ability to adapt.
The mountains of Oaxaca
UNICEF approached Marcela Zuchovicki in the mid-1980s with a special project.
“Sixteenth-century missionaries had gone up to the mountains of Oaxaca and introduced musical instruments to the indigenous people living there,” she said. “They’ve since developed their own traditional music.
“On a very narrow piece of land in Mexico — where you can see both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans — you can hear in the distance the sound of drums and cymbals.”
The National Indigenist Institute was therefore seeking donated musical instruments to help the indigenous people continue that tradition.
“When you’re young and motivated, nothing is impossible,” Zuchovicki said.
She worked closely with the Cleveland Institute of Music and contacted anyone willing to listen in order to receive more than 250 instruments. Then, she had to create an entire distribution channel in order to ship them by truck onto an airline that would take them to UNICEF and The National Indigenist Institute to bring them up in the mountains.
“UNICEF then flew me to Mexico to visit with the indigenous people — in which I suggested they thank the American donors by touring in the U.S.,” Zuchovicki said.
That responsibility fell on her, too — she organized a youth concert tour in 1987 for the indigenous performers of Oaxaca in New York, Cleveland, Buffalo and Rochester.
“Those people had never left their homes,” Zuchovicki said. “It was an amazing project and I have so many great memories and testimonials.”
Moving back to the U.S. in 1992 meant selling her business — and rejoining the corporate world.
“I would not have been successful running an arts management company here in America,” Zuchovicki said. “In Europe, it was a novelty.”
Zuchovicki moved with her husband to Sarasota, Florida, in 1992, when he got a job with what is now the Sarasota Orchestra.
“I thought I might actually start working as an actuary,” she said.
However, after Zuchovicki started volunteering with the orchestra, she was hired as its development director.
“The orchestra at the time was operating with less than $1 million and did not have an endowment,” she said. “In a little over three years, I helped them to actively work within a budget of $4.5 million, gain an endowment of $25 million and successfully complete two capital campaigns of $10 million each.”
After divorcing her husband in 1996, Zuchovicki would leverage that professional experience into a new job as the New York-based national development director for AFS Intercultural Programs in 2000.
“I did as much as I could and had a wonderful time, but the culture had changed since I had worked with them last,” she said. “It was time for me to move and again do something on my own.”
Zuchovicki always had been passionate about coffee.
“(I had learned that) illegal immigrants were abandoning their coffee farms in Mexico in order to go harvest grapes in California,” she said.
Naturally, Zuchovicki created a fair-trade company — Jalima Coffee — that would encourage the import of gourmet, organic Mexican coffee to the U.S. in 2004.
The coffee was sold in 250 stores — including Whole Foods — within six months.
That boom was short-lived.
“I was successful at everything else I had ever touched, but this company just started not to have the same tracking,” Zuchovicki said.
In an effort to keep Jalima Coffee afloat, she attended the Entrepreneurship Pioneers Initiative program at The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers-Newark in 2009.
“That is when the university helped me realize that I already had a successful business,” Zuchovicki said.
To supplement her income while managing Jalima Coffee, Zuchovicki had been providing bookkeeping and financial services on a freelance basis since 2007.
“I ended up going by myself to India in 2011 to create the infrastructure for what would become (Jalima & Associates),” Zuchovicki said.
“I used all of my experiences and everything that I learned through my different careers and volunteer opportunities to create my own strategic management tools that would help companies grow.”
Zuchovicki’s virtual bookkeeping and financial services firm currently serves nearly 200 clients around the world by employing 250 employees in both the U.S. and Bangalore, India.
“We are virtual in bookkeeping and financial services, but we also provide strategic management solutions,” she said. “We create resilience programs that provide personality and behavioral assessment tools in which to create effective change and build efficiencies.”
Her business has been particularly helpful for entrepreneurs like herself.
“We help small businesses here in the U.S. because they have the ability to hire our services that they would not otherwise be able to afford had we not been virtual,” Zuchovicki said. “The world has become more global and the cloud has become the place to be.”
The ability to run her business from her home office, however, never changed Zuchovicki’s mind about moving the company elsewhere.
“When I started my own company and graduated from the Rutgers (program), I was so grateful that I decided to keep my business here in New Jersey,” she said. “Yes, it’s expensive to be in business in New Jersey, but the quality of support that you get from the state is of incredible value.”
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