The warm breeze from the open car window tousled Alexandra's shoulder length
dark hair. Her bright blue eyes sparkled with anticipation. She was on her way to a
Harvard Commencement Ceremony, where she was to give the keynote speech.
Her husband took his large hand off the steering wheel to turn the radio up.
She recognized it as a piece from one of the first operas they had ever seen together.
Some of her greatest passions were in the appreciation of art.
It didn't matter whether it be opera, classical music, contemporary art or theatre- it really
spanned the gamut. She was so happy that she had found someone like her husband
to appreciate art as she did. They both loved discovering new pieces by going to
museums and galleries. Together they would collect contemporary art of up and
From the back seat of the car, Alexandra could hear the soft melodic voice of her
eight year old daughter, singing. She looked over to see that she had just woken up,
her face lined with red imprints from the fabric of the pillow and sleep in her eyes. All
the same, she was singing as she often did in the mornings. A warm feeling filled
Alexandra's whole body, she was so lucky to have such a happy child! On the opposite
side of the car her ten year old son was fast asleep, his head nestled softly to the side
on his Spiderman pillow.
"Here we are," her husband interrupted her thoughts as he pulled up to the front
Alexandra turned to see that they had finally arrived on campus. She gathered her
things on the car floor in front of her.
"So I'll see you in a bit," Alexandra said as she pushed opened the car door and
stepped out. She straightened her navy dress suit, softening the wrinkles in her skirt
from the car ride.
"Yes, I'll get the kids settled in," he said, flashing a smile that still made her knees
"You'll be great," he added.
"Thanks," Alexandra said as she closed the car door behind her and watched as her
beautiful family drove to the edge of the building, turned the bend and disappeared.
Alexandra was led to the stage. As she walked, she saw row upon row of students
dressed in their graduation gowns. Her heart jumped in her chest as memories
unfolded from when she first graduated from UT Austin. She thought back to what a
wonderful education it was, with her degree in Finance. She certainly had a very well
rounded education which she would advise for anyone of these graduates. She also
remembered when she herself had sat in these very chairs, to receive her Master’s
Degree in Business from Harvard. She smiled to herself.
When Alexandra reached the stage, she slowly and carefully climbed the stairs in her
navy heels, making sure not to stumble.
The President of the school walked up to the podium and introduced Alexandra to the
students and families. She walked over and thanked the president for his introduction.
Then she turned to face the crowd, looking much larger than it did when she was on the
ground. In the audience, her family smiled up at her in admiration, wide-eyed, and at
that moment, Alexandra felt very lucky and very proud of all that she had accomplished
in life, happy to be able to share her experiences.
Alexandra took a single deep breath and gave her speech.
"I grew up in what was Leningrad, which is now Saint Petersburg, Russia, a very
different country. I started out as an only child, am an only child, and I was extremely
studious, extremely academic, but also loved to play. I don’t think that has changed. I was
then as I am now, a very ambitious child, very focused on work now, very focused on
school then." She smiled brightly. "Work hard and play hard, just as you all must feel now."
Alexandra motioned a hand out into the audience.
"My MBA was certainly extremely significant, and it wasn’t just that it was from here,
at Harvard. It gave me the opportunity at that point of my life to meet people who had
worked for many different companies and exposed me not only to education, but also
to people who came from different industries. Just having the opportunity to come
together with a group of such wonderful and brilliant people from all
walks of life was invaluable. There were people represented from not-for-profit
industries, from investment banking, to manufacturing, to consulting, to consumer
packaged goods companies. The kaleidoscope, the tapestry, the makeup of all of these
individuals was incredible! That is how you learn, that was the best part of the
education. It was the collection of these experiences, and hearing how they handled
various business problems, various organizational development problems, and their
approaches. How did the not for profit in Africa deal with a particular problem, versus
an investment banker in New York? Different perspectives and a different way of
managing situations really gave each and every one of us a wonderful kind of
Alexandra looked up and could see that almost all of the heads in the audience were
nodding, as if to say, "I agree."
"My journey has been to travel, half of my career has been in the offline world and half
of my career has been in the online world. My other distinction has been that I have
worked in those big, corporate settings as well as start-up companies. Some of the
learning that I had was learning to adapt. It is the flexibility factor to different types of
environments and different kinds of companies, because they are very different, not
only from a cultural standpoint. A corporate environment is very different from a start-up
entrepreneurial environment, so there is a different level of resources, to the ability to
get something done at one type of company.
I remember being at Club Mom, which is now Café Mom. We were building a brand,
building a business and had to, at one point in time, operate with just a few million
dollars when the dot com bubble burst and we were literally in survival mode. Think of
that versus working in companies where I would have hundreds of millions of dollars to
One major lesson I have learned is not to be set in your ways, and being comfortable
with the fact that if you've managed hundreds of millions of dollars, that’s not what you're
going to do for the rest of your career. It’s really about adapting and having fun, that’s the
other big lesson, having fun in different kinds of environments, and different
kinds of companies. It is about unleashing your creativity. Sometimes smaller budgets
and challenges in business force you and your team to be more creative and more
I think that if I look at the City Groups, the Merrill Lynches, all the way to the present,
the other big lesson that I learned was making sure that I hired the best team possible.
What I do is, hire people that are better than I am. That means knowing where my
gaps are and that I might not know as much in a particular area. Bringing in people
who are superstars at what they do, is the best thing and not being afraid to let people
shine, and shine over you. You are only as good as your team."
Alexandra took a sip of the bottled water on the podium, the sun beating down on
her. It was getting very warm.
"What I love and have found most gratifying is to work for mission based businesses. If
I look back on my career I have worked for a number of mission based businesses
including Club mom, which recognizes moms for what they do everyday. That was a
mom focused mission. I then worked for Weight Watchers, which was also very much a
mission based company about helping people lose weight. When you help people lose
weight it can transform their lives. It wasn’t just about the external weight loss, but also
about their internal transformation. And lastly, where I am now at Scholastic, we are
promoting literacy around the world. So we are inspiring children to read around the
world. That is an incredibly empowering mission and goal.
When I think of what gets me up in the morning and what gets me excited to come to
work, that mission is really at the heart of it. I’ve worked for different companies both
large and small, both offline and online, and Scholastic really is that combination. It is at
the junction of all of my experiences, which is really interesting. It is a global two billion
dollar company, and I run the eScholastic division, which is very much an
entrepreneurial division, dealing with the digital initiatives for the company. I am
working at a big company but in a way I am a company start up. So it’s a really nice
combination of utilizing my skill set from the different experiences that I've had. I have a
very good team, a combination of people whom I’ve hired since I've joined the company
and some people who were already here. We are focused on teachers, parents and
kids as our audience. There are some overlapping objectives and overlapping
initiatives but there are also some very distinct needs each one of those audience
segments requires. It makes the initiatives that we focus on and the job very
challenging, very interesting, very exciting, so it’s been a great opportunity for me.”
Alexandra looked down at her daughter sitting in the front row, gazing up lovingly at
her. She pointed down to her.
"I have a daughter and I always say to her, you have to work hard- there is no
substitute for it. I am a big believer in setting goals; there are multiple ways to get to
your goals. I do not believe in a straight line nor do I think that the best way to attain a
goal is through a straight line. I believe in a jagged path, if you will, and I think that
you learn a lot more and your experience set becomes more varied and more rich if you
have many of those experiences. That’s why I changed companies and that’s why I
changed industries. Try new things, try on different hats to see what fits, set the goal
and get there in a jagged path type of way. Take many different roads to get there.
When I speak to young women who I mentor, one of the things I always tell them is that
it is absolutely ok to make mistakes along the way, and it’s ok to lose a job. It’s ok to
quit a job, it’s ok to not like a job, as long as you do a time out. Too many women run
from one thing to the next and they don’t take a breather. I think it’s really important to
pause, and evaluate, why you do what you do. That includes really thinking through
what you liked about the experience and what you did not like about it. It is pretty basic
but it is absolutely critical. What did you learn about it? With which people did you
enjoy working? Which people didn’t you like being with at work? Did you like your boss?
Did you like working on a team? And so on and so on. But I really believe, reflecting on
negative experiences is critical, and really sets someone up for success.
I have one last piece of advice to you, the graduates, and that is to be authentic in
everything you do. Authenticity sometimes can be an overused word but it is extremely
important, especially for people starting out, like you. People tend to want to please and
want to be someone whom they are not. They walk into a business environment and
they are not as authentic as they should be, and I think in the world that we live in today,
the more real someone is, outside of work and in the office, the more successful they
will be. I don’t mean they should come in with a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.”
Giggles sounded from the audience.
" But in terms of your personality, let your personality shine! Let the people in the office
see who you really are. And I have to tell you that goes a long way. It’s not just
about business. It is also about letting the human side come through. Thank you.”
Everyone started to applaud, and to Alexandra's surprise, she received a standing
ovation from the crowd and from her very proud family. She had never felt so good!
xoxo Entrepreneur Girl