Helping Businesspeople Stay in Business

Self-starting Columbia alum Elena Bajic identified a problemthe inflexibility of corporate lifeand founded a company to help solve it

While at Columbia Business School, I was faced with the challenge that all professionals, men and women alike, face throughout their working lives: how to maintain a genuine work-life balance as we travel though different stages of life. Most newly minted MBAs throw themselves into their postgraduate careers, determined to advance up the corporate ladder as quickly as possible. However, when faced with personal and family issues, many of these professionals are forced to change their priorities. This readjustment may manifest itself by taking time off or cutting back time spent in the office.

As natural as this sounds, the current business world is not prepared for— or accepting of —these changes. Professionals pay a high price when they take time off. A professional who spends three years out of the workforce will experience an average 37% reduction in salary upon return. This is not a small problem: 37% of women and 24% of men with MBAs fall out of the full-time workforce at some point in their career. The most common reason for this departure is the inflexibility of their current positions. After spending months researching this human resources challenge during my second year in business school, I decided to create a company that would help professionals find flexible job opportunities or reenter the workforce.

I received my MBA from Columbia in May, 2006, and have been working on my company, Ivy Exec, full-time since then. Until recently, I was the only employee, so my responsibilities included everything from setting up the phone lines to pitching my business to HR representatives at Fortune 1000 companies. Recently my friend from business school, Lisa Yom, joined. We work together on big projects while splitting up the smaller ones.

Here is a typical day at my home-based office:

7:30 a.m.—I am out the door for a walk with my dog Isabella. The morning walk is my opportunity to gather my thoughts for the day while grabbing my morning coffee.

8:00 a.m.—I respond to e-mails, usually from professionals or employers who would like more information about Ivy Exec. Once I have cleared my inbox, I set my priorities for the day. An early stage startup involves constant multitasking. It is important always to keep in mind the next step that will get you closer to your goal. In the case of Ivy Exec, the goal is the launch of the Web site.

8:30 a.m.—Today I am focused on finalizing the site. The programming is almost complete, but we still need to test the site, find a designer, and clear all content with our attorney. This morning I talk to several designers and negotiate the terms and conditions of the project. Having a limited budget means that I have to be creative in my negotiations.

10:30 a.m.—I prepare for a phone call with one of the leading business schools. We are discussing the design and organization of an event that would attract professionals who are seeking to achieve greater flexibility in their work lives. Because of our involvement in this space, we will be assisting the Alumni Office with this event...

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