In November, the Phoenix chapter of Girls in Tech hosted a fireside chat with Drena Kusari. Kusari, a Harvard Business School graduate, 2017 Young Athena award winner, and finalist for the Phoenix Business Journal 2017 Business Person of the Year award, shared her story of overcoming the devastation of a war-torn Kosovo, moving to the United States, and growing her career from a finance professional on Wall Street to General Manager of Southwest Operations at Lyft.
How did the teenager living in a country with one-third of the population of Phoenix, dreaming of becoming a tennis pro, make her way to Phoenix? By involving herself in organizations and programs that would help the country begin to rebuild. She combined her knowledge of the English language (a rarity in Kosovo at the time) with her passion for helping and worked with Save the Children as a tracing officer, helping translate for people who were missing family members after the war.
Save the Children turned out to be a gateway for Kusari by offering her a scholarship to go to boarding school in San Marino. She took the chance on the United States, left her family, and moved as a high school student to California. While the culture shock of the United States was distinct, Kusari didn’t let that stop her. She explored colleges in the area and ended up selecting Occidental College and majoring in Diplomacy in World Affairs.
This led Kusari to what she thought would be one of the most interesting careers in the world – entering into a program with the United Nations. However, she was quickly disappointed when she saw how slow the organization moved, and how little got done.
Nothing would stop Kusari from getting things done. That was and still is today, her passion. She moved to Wall Street and worked for two years at Goldman Sachs in technology and telecom.
She continued to move quickly and jumpstart her career, attending Harvard Business School at only 24. After one more stint at McKinsey, Kusari realized she didn’t want to be doing finance forever, and she did want to continue to build on the knowledge and the excitement of working with many different departments on projects.
Kusari’s background confirmed her as the ideal candidate for Lyft, and she hasn’t disappointed – doubling the market share of Lyft in the southwest in the last year and a half, increasing rides and drivers five times over, and partnering with over 60 nonprofit organizations in the area.
Q&A with Drena
What do you look for when you hire?
Someone who is willing to hustle and work hard. The mentality that no job is too small.
How have you incorporated motherhood into your career?
It’s a partnership – we respect one another’s careers and commitments. We prioritize having dinner as a family.
What advice would you give to a younger you?
Worry less. Worry knowing that it will all work out. You’ll get there. Have more fun! Enjoy the journey; it’s not a race.
What keeps you going?
Curiosity. Constantly learning and doing things. Seeing others grow – helping others see their full potential.