James Metzger on turning losses into wins

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James Metzger, chairman and CEO of the Whitmore Group. (Photo courtesy of the Whitmore Group)

“If I was put on this Earth to do two things, that would be run with a football and sell something,” James Metzger said in a phone interview.

The chairman and CEO of insurance brokerage firm the Whitmore Group has done both, and seen incredible success in the process. His name has adorned numerous awards and funds, a high school stadium, a National Football Foundation chapter, and innumerable spaces at his alma mater, and he’s one of Long Island’s most prominent faces in business and philanthropy.

But, he said, those wins came from the results of a loss.

“There’s a great irony in my life that the press clippings look good, but the reality is I fell far short of the mark, and that I struggled in certain places,” Metzger said.

The loss in question occurred when Metzger was a junior at Half Hollow Hills East High School and a running back on their varsity football team. Following an undefeated season, his team was in the championships, but one fumble by Metzger cost the team the win.

“I fumbled the ball and lost a championship in an undefeated season,” Metzger recalls. “That fumble cost us the championship. And that changed my life.”

Determined, Metzger lost 20 pounds between the football and lacrosse season, and as a lacrosse player would earn high school All-American accolades, was the League I and Suffolk County scoring leader and received the Ray Enners Award as outstanding lacrosse player in Suffolk County in 1977.

“And one of my friends said to me, ‘Jim, you just got in shape and look what you accomplished,'” Metzger remembers.

He would continue with the sport once he attended Hofstra University, but said that he still wishes he could have done more in football and basketball. Nevertheless, the drive that pushed him to excel on the field made him pursue a similar “adrenaline rush” in business.

“I don’t think I would have been as successful in sales and ultimately business if I weren’t driven to try and fulfill my potential off the field,” he said. “Having said that, I also think that I wanted to recreate that exhilaration and excitement and success that I experienced on the athletic fields, in the basketball courts. I would say that most of whatever I’ve achieved professionally and in business is, I can thank my natural athleticism and my experience as a team sports athlete.”

The Brooklyn native, who grew up in Melville, continues to be active in sports as a philanthropist toward Hofstra and other institutions, a fundraiser for organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and a spectator for his nephews in their own athletic pursuits.

“As Bobby Jones, the famous golfer, said about Jack Nicklaus, ‘he’s playing a game with which I’m not familiar,'” Metzger said. “And when I watched my nephews play football and lacrosse, they were playing a game with which I was not familiar. That’s how great they are.”

His combined successes in athletics and business have led to Metzger’s induction into the Hofstra Athletics Hall of Fame and the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, and additional awards from the Adelphi University Athletic Hall of Fame and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Even with his busy schedule, he also posts frequently on his blog, fittingly titled “Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Business I Learned On the Sports Field.”

From a life where determination paved a way, Metzger has a certain takeaway.

“I think you learn more from losing than winning,” Metzger said.

James Metzger was one of 25 honorees at Blank Slate Media’s Top Business Leaders of 2020 event, held last month. To view the event, please visit youtube.com/watch?v=6DQgIB2v_es&t=57s.

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