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  • Claire Kalikman

Mona Elsayed, Head of Innovation Strategy at CHANEL

On Graduating During a Recession, Taking an Uncharted Path, and Experimentation

On Wednesday, February 10th, the Women Entrepreneurs at Yale had the honor of hosting Mona Elsayed YC ‘08, Head of Innovation Strategy at CHANEL. Mona’s career path offered plenty of learning moments and she shared some honest advice to today’s graduating classes.


Mona graduated from Yale during the last economic recession in 2008. Drawing parallels to today’s challenging job market, she relayed the advice to recent graduates to “get creative or get humble” in the pursuit of their first step. While many of her peers took the creative route around the economic downturn by pursuing fellowships, time abroad or enrolling in programs like Teach for America, Mona opted to “get humble” and took an entry-level position in fashion PR. While it may not have been her dream job at the time, she’s proud of having put in the work and learned industry mechanics from the ground up.


She pivoted from her intended path in the fashion industry and ventured into strategy consulting at agencies Johannes Leonardo and Redscout. Led by instinct and curiosity, her advice to recent graduates is that “it’s okay not to have a 3- or 5-year plan. I put myself under a lot of pressure to know where I was going, but in truth the job I have now didn’t even exist when I graduated. It’s not something I could have planned for.”


Mona stayed in strategy consulting for nearly a decade. She found that she thrived in solving problems for a diverse range of industries, from hospitality to technology, and enjoyed being a generalist with the “freedom to answer the problem, no matter what the problem was”. She advised young professionals to focus on what excites them, even if it takes them away from the industry they may have their hearts set on.


She joined Chanel’s innovation practice to help the company anticipate “where culture and technology are going.” She took her skills from consulting one step further to work on not just strategic planning and ideating, but also “operationalizing complex ideas.” She said her “job itself is an experiment” and her guiding principle is to “follow what I find intellectually interesting until I don’t.”


To advocate for innovation within a heritage company, she has found it necessary to rely not on “a top-down mandate, but to invest in building the bridges and human relationships that create influence. Think about how you can bring people along for the journey of learning and experimentation. You can’t just get the ideas ready for the people, you have to get the people ready for the ideas.”

Interview with Claire Kalikman ‘21

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