But to Natalya Kashirina, M.B.A.’17, these events and many others were just small obstacles she needed to overcome in order to thrive—the fact that no one spoke Russian just made her learn English faster, seeing her family’s struggle just made her work harder. “I’m the kind of person who accepts challenges,” she says, “I welcome them and thrive in challenging environments.”
Now, at just 33, she has been a part of building two multimillion-dollar companies from the ground up. Through hard work, perseverance, and a willingness to take risks and embrace adversity, she has completed both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and become a successful businesswoman in an industry with very few women leaders.
A graduate of the Miami Herbert Business School Executive M.B.A. program, Kashirina took a job as a junior analyst after college, making her way up the corporate ladder swiftly before starting her own company, Phoenix Tower International (PTI), with former colleagues. As vice president of mergers and acquisitions, Kashirina drove the company’s growth from a small start-up to a Blackstone-backed portfolio company generating millions of dollars in revenue.
There were twelve-hour workdays, seven days a week and constant travel. There was the struggle to be taken seriously as a young woman, the frustration of working with people who would often, in the midst of negotiations she was leading, turn to her male colleagues for answers.
But people quickly came to understand that she wouldn’t be pushed around easily (a trait she says she inherited from her mother) and that she was passionate about the work she was doing. “I truly enjoyed pretty much every single aspect of it,” she says. “I was learning so many things.” She met different people and traveled across Latin America (PTI operates cell towers there), even living in Sao Paulo for six months when her team acquired a new company.
Still, the most rewarding aspect of her success, Kashirina believes, has been the ability to serve as a role model for many women she encountered along the way, and to help others financially as she was helped by her late stepfather. It was he who encouraged her to study finance, who believed in her abilities, and who enabled her to complete her undergraduate degree.
And it was he who taught her to give back, inspiring her to set up a scholarship fund in her name at the University of Miami. She hopes to help other first-generation college students who may not have the financial means to attend college.
“I worked really hard to get to where I am,” she says, “but if it wasn’t for my stepfather’s help and generosity, I don’t know where I would be today. He passed away before he could find out just how life-altering his support had been so it was really important for me to do something similar to what he’s done.”
Kashirina recently moved to Atlanta to start a job in a new industry. She has, in less than eight months, been promoted and now acts as director of finance and strategy for Cumulus Media.
“I am never content,” she says. “I always want to do more things. That’s how I learn and get better. If you’re not being challenged, to me that would be not living.”