Jim Connell ’91, Managing Director, JP Morgan Chase & Co.
When Jim Connell was just 10 years old, he knew he was going to attend Merrimack College. As the youngest of 10 kids, who all attended Merrimack before him, it was destiny. His parents wanted a reputable Catholic college that was nearby, and Merrimack fit the bill.
“My mom and dad committed to putting all of us through private Catholic school and college, which was kind of unheard of for one kid, let alone ten,” Jim said. “But as a prerequisite, we all had to get jobs and contribute to the household.” Jim and his siblings worked at gas stations, supermarkets and on their 40-acre pig farm in Westford, Massachusetts. “I was put to work on the farm at the age of five,” Jim said.
As a college freshman, Jim commuted and got a job at Merrimack’s TV station (MCTV10) with Kevin Salemme, the College’s director of Media Instructional Services, where Jim worked all four years. Jim’s experience there helped fuel his interest in filmmaking. When he was a sophomore, Jim joined a fraternity—Nu Phi Kappa, now Phi Kappa Theta. “That had a huge influence on me,” he said. “I was always very quiet and reserved, but it forced me to get to know 55 guys immediately. It pulled me out of my shell and provided me with a social life I wouldn’t have had otherwise.” Jim also interned at the Urban[JC1] Institute [pb2] for a year, working[JC3] for the local Lawrence TV station and MCTV. “Merrimack has a great culture,” Jim said. “It’s a close-knit community with down-to-earth and pragmatic students. I made lasting friendships there.”
When Jim graduated in 1991 into a recession, he went to film school for a semester and a half with dreams of making a horror film, until his financial aid fell through. He ended up taking a job in sales at Circuit City to make ends meet. Not having weekends free eventually pushed Jim toward corporate sales at Comp USA where he worked hard for five years and honed his communication skills. But one day he realized, “I hated sales,” Jim admitted. “I noticed that my customers had a much easier life than I did. They got paid regardless of quota, and they didn’t have to be positive all the time.” When the buyer quit at one of his biggest clients, Comverse Technology, they offered Jim the job. “I took a pay cut to become a buyer, and I wasn’t really qualified, but I figured it out. I ended up negotiating contracts around the world and became pretty good at it.” And he saved the company millions of dollars.
By 2007 Jim realized he was really underpaid for the value he was providing, so he took a job at Citizens Bank doing travel negotiation. “When the crash happened in 2008, people suddenly started caring about cost cutting,” Jim said. “Because I’d had so much experience with that in my previous job, I was promoted four times in six years and eventually became the chief procurement officer for Citizens in charge of $1.7 billion of supplier spend.” In 2014 he met the CPO at JP Morgan Chase, responsible for a supply chain ten times the size of Citizens’, and was offered the role of Head of Sourcing Strategy. “They relocated me to New York, and it was the first time I had ever lived outside of Massachusetts,” he said.
Today, Jim oversees supply chain risk management there and supervises 250 employees. It’s a long way from the pig farm.
“If I had set out in 1991 to be the head of supply chain risk management, I never would have believed it. Merrimack gave me the education I needed, film school gave me the ability to visualize concepts, sales taught me how to persuade people, and my experience negotiating contracts taught me to speak the language of risk and commercial enterprise.”
Last March, Jim graciously hosted 14 Girard School of Business students, along with Dean Catherine Usoff, at his JP Morgan office in Manhattan. Jim spent the morning with the group, talked about his current role and his time at Merrimack. “You can’t plan your life out to the tee—life never works out that way. You just have to work hard and say yes to opportunities.”