Mojgan Lefebvre grew up in an international setting, as the daughter of a diplomat from Iran. When she was a teenager, the family returned to Iran for what they thought would be a brief stay, prior to moving to the United States. But the 1979 revolution interrupted their plans, forcing them to remain. Mojgan attended high school in Iran, then made plans to come to the US to study at Georgia Tech. For awhile, she thought she might be a doctor, perhaps a psychiatrist. “But I realized I wouldn’t be able to afford to put myself through school as a doctor,” she recalls. She looked around and noticed that technology was a fast-growing area where one could quickly build a career.
She was often one of a distinct minority of women in her computer science classes. “It was all guys and geeks,” she recalls. She caught on quickly due to her strong background in math, picking up programming and development skills. In her first job out of college at Bell South, she worked as a programmer, but also found herself drawn to the business side of the equation. “I always wanted to know why I was programming, what business problem I was solving. So I decided to pursue my MBA.”
She chose Harvard, drawn by its excellent reputation and case method approach. While pursuing her MBA, she was careful not to jump too quickly back into the technology side of things, focusing instead on management consulting. She did a summer internship at Bain, joining a technology team, but with a business focus. Bain supported her through her second year of her MBA program, and she joined the firm full time after receiving her degree. She stayed for three years, including an extended project in the Paris office, which suited her penchant for international travel and business.
When the advent of the internet accelerated the tech sector, Mojgan joined a collaborative software startup, and then started her own IT firm specializing in outsourcing software development to other countries. “That was a great time for me,” she recalls. “My kids were young and I could work from home.” She segued that experience into a job working for one of her clients, starting up their offshore operation in Buenos Aires. She grew that team from the ground up, building a group of 150 engineers, before being promoted to CIO.
The opportunity to work from home during those years allowed Mojgan to build her career and her family at the same time. Today, she advises thinking carefully about corporate culture if work/life balance is a consideration. “There are companies known for facilitating parenting, and there are companies that don’t facilitate that kind of balance. When I was thinking about whether to stay in consulting, that was a consideration for me.” She and her family also found ways to make it work by having an au pair to help with childcare. “And pull your partner into being part of the solution,” she advises. “Don’t take everything on yourself. Women who have big careers usually have a partner who takes on part of the responsibility. It really makes a difference to know what you’re looking for and make sure you get it. Once you’re satisfied with your personal life you can do your job better.”
After establishing herself as a CIO with international business acumen, Mojgan found that she began to receive bigger and better offers. That momentum led to a position as CIO for a biomedical company in France. “I was the only woman on the executive team of that company,” she recalls. “It was a great experience.” She loved the job and the travel, though eventually it became too much, and she began looking for something closer to home. She learned that Liberty Mutual Insurance was the top employer in the Boston area, and took note that everyone she spoke with had great things to say about the corporate culture. “It was a job that would allow me to remain a CIO,” she says. “Not a global CIO, but CIO for an $8 billion division. And everyone who worked here loved it. It’s a very humane company, and also very successful.”
Having often been one of the only women in the room in her previous positions, Mojgan says she’s learned “to have a tough skin.” “You can’t be too sensitive. I try not to focus on being the only woman. I find guys I can bond with, people with whom I can establish a point of commonality.” She’s also a big believer in showing your worth through the results you bring to the business.
Today, she enjoys staying abreast of new developments in technology and how those can be leveraged to meet business needs in her division at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Technology changes fast, and Mojgan admits that keeping up takes focus. “I read as many publications as I can, and attend one or two conferences a year to be up on developments in the field.” She also makes sure that her team stays informed with monthly four-hour “technology deep-dive sessions” where they focus on an innovation that might make a difference in their business. “Technology is like the medical field,” she says. “If you don’t keep up to speed, you can’t do the job.”
In reflecting on her career success, Mojgan advises cultivating a unique professional identity—what some might call “building a personal brand.” “I had a great mentor, the first CIO I worked for,” she recalls. “The advice he gave me was: be yourself so that when people think of you, they think of someone with specific unique characteristics. I chose to pursue opportunities to work internationally. When I think back on what I became known for, it was diversity, having lived in many places and worked with teams all over the world. That led to a lot of opportunities for me to do work I really enjoy.”