eBay executive inspires women students

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John Carberry
Sarah Brubacher McDonald
Sarah Brubacher McDonald, MBA ’99, chief of staff to the president of eBay.

An undergraduate chemistry major. An executive enrolled in a Cornell MBA program. A prospective computer science student at the university’s tech campus in New York City. The inaugural Johnson Women in Technology Conference March 21 in Manhattan was designed to inform these and other students about tech careers.

In her keynote, Sarah Brubacher McDonald, MBA ’99, chief of staff to the president of eBay, mixed humor with reality checks before more than 300 Cornellians and other New York-area students pursuing advanced degrees.

“There was no life prior to business school. That’s when my life started,” McDonald said, sparking applause from dozens of Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management students and alumni.

Power Up Your Future was the theme of the conference, a student-led collaboration between Johnson’s High Tech Club and Women’s Management Council and hosted by Citigroup.

Titled “High Tech Leadership for Women,” McDonald’s talk was a tip-filled guide for college students to map out a career path, graduates trying to advance within a company or others seeking to change companies or professions.

McDonald, an English literature major, was a financial statement analyst before enrolling at Johnson. In 2004 she started working at eBay, where she has worked in five business-side roles.

The average American worker, McDonald noted, has had at least 11 different jobs by age 46.

“What is keeping you up at night?” asked McDonald, suggesting some middle-of-the-night worries might include: “I need a job, I’m not an engineer ... and I’m a woman. Will there even be any jobs left when I finish the degree?”

McDonald assured the mostly female audience: “eBay is only 17 years old. Technology companies haven’t been around that long. … There are jobs out there. … This Internet thing is going to be big.”

Regarding being a woman employed by a technology company, McDonald said: “There are fewer of us. How lucky is that?”

“Even senior people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up,” she said. Personal branding is important, McDonald explained. “What is the first thing you want people to think of when they think of [you]? Reach out to people whose brand or path you want to emulate. … People want to be asked, and they do want to mentor.

“I believe in storytelling,’’ McDonald told the audience. “Make sure your [career] path is directionally correct. … Be purposeful about your networking. It is something you need to work on.”

McDonald also visited Ithaca’s campus March 24 to speak to associate professor Kathleen M. O’Connor’s class at Johnson about “the influence of power in organizations.”

A happy footnote for Cornell students who want to work at eBay: McDonald is now eBay’s Global Head of University Recruiting.

“I am not objective when it comes to Cornell,” she said, smiling.

Jon Craig ’80 is a journalist based in Westchester County, N.Y.


Conference origins and highlights

Johnson’s first Women in Technology Conference was the brainchild of Sarah Maynard, MBA ’14, and Melissa Carr Adeyanju, MBA ’14.

“Women are no less talented. Women are no less passionate. Women are no less able,” added Maynard, noting women should “imagine a career path without any barriers.”

Soumitra Dutta, dean of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, joined Daniel Huttenlocher, vice provost and dean of Cornell Tech, to discuss the “New York state of technology” and give an update on the Roosevelt Island campus, the $2 billion construction project that began earlier this year.

“We’re really just at the beginning of information transforming everyone’s lives,” Huttenlocher said. “This information era calls for a really new approach in technology education,” interconnecting the business school with legal issues, design and social sciences.

Huttenlocher said about 40 MBA candidates will enroll in Cornell Tech next fall. It’s a one-year MBA focused on technology. He called the new program “a general purpose MBA tailored to the information economy. … Technology companies can still be a little leery of MBAs.”

Cornell Tech now uses space in Google’s building in Manhattan for about 30 students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science or related fields. In addition to the MBA launching next fall, students will arrive for a new master’s program in information systems with a concentration in connective media. Hosted by the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute at Cornell Tech, the inaugural class for the program will have a high percentage of women for a technical degree program. The Roosevelt Island campus is slated to open in summer 2017.

In January, the campus received a $5 million grant from the Dyson Foundation for its new MBA program. When it reaches full capacity in 2043, Cornell Tech is expected to house 2,000 full-time graduate students and nearly 300 faculty and researchers. Phase one will include a 150,000-square-foot academic building, an apartment building for students, staff and faculty and a co-location building with corporate office space. There are also plans for an executive education center and hotel. 

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