Speaker Series relaunches in interview with entrepreneur Magdalena Yesil


Srinath Somasundaram

Magdalena Yesil speaks in the Patil theater for the first Speaker Series event in two years, on Nov. 28. The event was hosted by the Office of Communication in conjunction with the Business and Entrepreneurship department.

by Srinath Somasundaram, Opinion Editor

Magdalena Yesil, founding board member of Salesforce and founder of Broadway Angels, an all-women venture capitalist firm, spoke about her experiences as a female immigrant in Silicon Valley and about her newest book, Power Up: How Smart Women Win in the New Economy, in the first installment of the Harker Speaker Series on Nov. 28.

The event consisted of a 30-minute interview between Yesil and Mahi Kolla (11), a Business & Entrepreneurship student and Incubator participant, followed by a Q&A session with audience members.

During her interview with Mahi, Yesil touched upon her new book, which she made in an effort to assist young women to navigate the business and tech world.

“I felt it was my responsibility to tell my story as well as other women’s stories so that young readers would be able to see that these women are not statistically significant, but they have had good careers,” she said. “The bottom line was to showcase the women that I knew so that young women would have a pragmatic how-to book.”

Yesil also talked about risk-taking, opportunity, her immigrant story, the feminist movement and success.

“You can’t be a winner unless you are willing to put up with and accept failure. If you think you are only going to win and only do the things that guarantee you victory, you won’t take any risks,” she said. “To be a great entrepreneur, you have to come to peace with the fact that the probability of failure is actually very high and that you are comfortable with failing.”

We wanted speakers that could bring in some ideas and perspectives on topics that they were passionate about to paint a picture of some of the bigger questions in the world.”

— Helena Jerney, Harker Speaker Series co-starter

The Harker Speaker Series was launched in 2007 when Helena Jerney and her husband John Jerney, at the time parents of two Harker students, approached the school with the idea.

“We thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we had people coming in talking about interesting topics that enrich the community, bringing different perspectives into the community?’” Helena Jerney said. “We wanted speakers that could bring in some ideas and perspectives on topics that they were passionate about to paint a picture of some of the bigger questions in the world.”

In the past two years, the series was put on hiatus due to the construction of the new performing arts building and theater. The interview with Yesil, organized by the Office of Communication in coordination with the Jerney family, took place in the Patil Theater in the Rothschild Performing Arts Center.

“When Magdalena told us she would like it to be in an interview format, my first thought was that we had to find a business and entrepreneurship student,” Communications Manager Catherine Snider said. “The book is about female entrepreneurship, and Mahi was extraordinarily qualified and willing.”

Mahi, herself a female entrepreneur with her company The Minty Boutique, leapt at the opportunity.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak to someone who has accomplished the seemingly impossible while powering up other women along the way,” Mahi said. “It was such an incredible experience to speak with someone that has quickly become one of my role models.”

The speaker series will likely continue into the future, though the frequency of the events is still being decided upon.

“We hope to continue the speaker series, but we don’t have the next event yet planned.” Head of School Brian Yager said. “The plan was to see how it went in the new facility. It seemed to go fine, so we’ll probably try to identify another speaker, maybe for this next spring.”

Correction: December 8, 2018

A previous version of this article referred to the speaker series as the Office of Communications Speaker Series. This article has been corrected to reflect this error.