In 1991, an 18-year-old Alexandra Shapiro fled Ukraine with her parents and 5-year-old brother during a period of political turmoil. Twenty-six years later, Shapiro is the CMO of BigCommerce, an e-commerce startup. “We were coming as refugees, looking for freedom,” Shapiro told CNBC about her experience. “We were full of hope for starting something new, going after our dreams and going into a country of opportunity.” Her parents initially struggled to find work in the U.S., because of language and cultural difficulties. Shapiro helped contribute to the household by working minimum-wage jobs during the day, while also taking classes at night. She eventually completed her undergraduate degree at San Francisco State University and thanks to her family’s frugal living style, was able to graduate without any debt. She then went on to the business school of the University of California, Berkeley.
But Shapiro learned some valuable real-life business lessons as well when she helped her father open and run his computer shop in 1993. “You have to think carefully about your customers and put yourself in their shoes so you can proactively offer solutions for their needs,” she said of the lessons she learned there. “This philosophy of working hard is still very important to me; generations of immigrants tend to do that.” When the family computer shop was sold, she continued her career as an associate at the consulting firm McKinsey and Company. She credits her immigrant experience for her impressive career. “That’s an experience where you really have to fight to win and you have to fight to put bread on the table.” Watch more on Shapiro’s remarkable rise in the video below.
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