Capital Buzz: Banker switches jobs in order to help others do good

Dawn Carpenter walked away from her high-paying job at JPMorgan a few months ago so she could go to work for a small community bank — City First Bank of DC, which uses its capital to finance development in underserved communities.

Since its founding in 1998, City First, located in an old funeral home at 14th and U streets NW, has grown to almost $226 million in assets, lent more than $388 million and helped create or retain thousands of local jobs, from Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza to Kinetik Communications Graphics to the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

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Carpenter, 42, likes making money. She is also active in the Catholic business community, and her religious values help drive her career choices. She recently gave a speech in Indianapolis to that city’s chapter of Legatus, an international organization of Catholics from the business community and professional enterprises.

Carpenter, who is in the midst of moving from Great Falls to Georgetown, chatted about her career with The Buzz. (We edited for length and content.)

How did you end up in business?

My father made tires for Goodyear, but he always had this entrepreneurial spirit. And he created a bar called the Crypt in Akron, which was an incubator for punk rock bands. He was in the bar business. The whole family was in the business. You create something from scratch. My first job was to change the records on the jukebox. As I got older, I did accounting and payroll for the business, and I got to write my father’s own paycheck. It’s very empowering. I got to see firsthand that you eat what you kill. I watched my family build a very, very successful business out of nothing.

What else have you done other than banking?

I had a wine importing and distribution company called Global Beverages here in Northern Virginia, which was basically a way to write off great trips to nice places.

When I adopted my first daughter from Russia, I made a connection through a limousine driver that yielded an opportunity to import vodka into the U.S. It was profitable, but it had too much risk.

These connections happen all the time. I was in cooking school in Italy last spring. The next thing I know a woman is telling me all about her food products. I said, “I have a friend in Chicago, why don’t I connect you with him?” They are negotiating a deal now to import pasta products and other things like lemon powder. I think it is brilliant.

Did you get a finder’s fee?

Let’s just say I am an entrepreneur.

Why are you in finance?

Money is the lubricant that keeps things going. As a banker, I am in the business of buying and selling money. My job is to find the cheapest money I can find, lend it out to mission-oriented projects that can support the servicing of that debt. The cheaper I can find it, the cheaper I can lend it out.

Why banking?

Banking touches all aspects of society. Whether it’s a major multinational company or the guy down the street whose got a landscaping business. And work is important because it creates self-esteem. And to be able to create mechanisms for people to have meaningful work is important.

Why did you make the move now?

I am a mother and a banker, but sadly, I had not done much to have much real impact beyond the real important stuff in my family.

I needed to put over two decades of experience to work for my mission.

Who are your shareholders?

Bank of America. Capital One. Georgetown University. Wells Fargo. SunTrust. PNC. Our customers include Capital Area Food Bank. D.C. Habitat for Humanity. Bread for the City . By being shareholders of ours, they obtain credit for community development from the regulators.

So how big was the pay cut when you left JPMorgan?

I’m not sure I want my ex-husband to know.

A league of their own

Monumental Sports and Entertainment this week kicks off its Business League, a new vehicle for high-rollers and influential Verizon Center patrons, advertisers and suiteholders who want to jaw on business, politics, entre­pre­neur­ship — and sports.

The Business League plans to host monthly workshops, dinners and speaking events that cut across all the region’s sectors, from business to nonprofits, from politics to academia and, well, sports.

The goal is to pool ideas from decision-makers, many of whom pass through the Verizon Center’s owner’s suite during a given year.

“We have a great avenue to bring our customers together, to network and develop business relationships with one another,” said Jim Van Stone, senior vice president for ticket sales and services at Monumental.

Monumental Vice Chairman Raul Fernandez plans to speak at the June 25 launch, to be held on the facility’s practice basketball court, where the Wizards draftees have been working out. More than 300 have signed up.

The Business League is Monumental majority owner Ted Leonsis’s latest iteration at leveraging his sports asset, which includes the Wizards, Capitals and Mystics, and which hosts 250 events a year. Leonsis launched his Monumental Network earlier this year, a Web site that covers the Verizon Center and everything in it. The network is believed to be a prelude to a sports-only cable channel.

The Buzz hears:

Former Good Counsel star athlete Jason Henry, 34, has started a residential division for Kensington-based Rock Spring Contracting, run by Henry’s childhood buddy — and St. John’s College High School alumnus — Nick DeSarno. Henry learned the home contracting ropes working for a builder in San Diego. Most of the work is in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Northwest D.C. and Silver Spring.

“I like the intimate aspect of working with homeowners as opposed to working with large general contractors,” said Henry, who said he has a dozen jobs in the pipeline. Why so busy? “You can’t find houses, so people are staying in them and making picture-book renovations. They want to post them online.”

Speaking of homes, Tim Touchette’s District-based Attache Corporate Housing has lined up another home-away-from-home: a 1904 historical Dupont Circle residence built by the son of painter and Morse Code inventor Samuel F.B. Morse. The home, featured in a new book titled, “Historical Houses of Washington, D.C.,” is owned by writer and filmmaker Richard Squires. How much to rent by the month? $6,000. If that makes you wince, the home comes fully furnished.

Another Kensington company, WallMonkeys, has snagged a new content deal to print 30,000 images for National Geographic. Founded by Jason Weisenthal, WallMonkeys prints removable wall decals that can be peeled and stuck on any wall. Weisenthal has six employees and has software with access to more than 20 million images from Getty Images, Corbis, Fotolia and others. The company expects to gross close to $2 million this year.

Factoid of the week

1750That’s the number of trees planted as part of the landscaping effort at Salamander Resort & Spa, which is scheduled to open Aug. 29. Over 100 London plane trees line the half-mile driveway from the resort’s entrance to the village of Middleburg, while other species include crepe myrtles, magnolias, dogwood, maple, birch, cherry, apple and pear.

 
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