Serial entrepreneur

Hi-tech pioneer Isabel Maxwell gets to work on the rest of the world.

By SHARON WROBEL
August 24, 2006 06:59
isabelle maxwell 88 298

isabelle maxwell 88 298. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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A woman with her own style of business, a serial entrepreneur, a survivor on the roller coaster of life - a realist who takes initiative to bring about positive change to the world. French-born and Oxford-educated Isabel Maxwell has made her own way in life - her many accomplishments, whether as a broadcast journalist in the TV and film industry or as an innovator in the hi-tech world, speak for themselves. What she is most proud of, is that she can call them her own. "You don't get anything served on a plate," says Maxwell, founder and president of Maxwell-Communications Network, which was established in 2006 after five years during which she operated as a consultant under her own name. The firm provides cross-border communications, funding and market research to leading venture capitalists and hi-tech companies in the US and Israel. "Networking is the key. You have go out there - sitting at home you will only see the milkman come round." Daughter of the late British media baron Robert Maxwell, Isabel was, from early age, exposed to the company of high-ranking politicians, world scientists and influential business people. But, at all times, the twice-married and now single executive is very conscientious about attributing her choices and successes in life to her own efforts - just as her father, a World War II refugee from Czechoslovakia, morphed from impoverished Jan Hoch into Robert Maxwell, an internationally known media kingpin worth hundreds of millions of dollars. "I had a very normal upbringing, I was not sent to a posh school. Instead, I went to the local grammar school like anyone else," says Maxwell, who was raised in Oxford, about 80 kilometers from London. "For what I consider myself lucky, is the good education I received and the lessons I learned from my father." One of the mantras she inherited from him is what she recalls as the "three Cs:" concentration, consideration and conciseness. "Just go for what you want and never be afraid to aim high," her father taught her. "You can take little steps, but be persistent and remember to learn as much as you can and listen." In 1972, after graduating from Oxford, reading law, history and French, she attended the University of Edinburgh for a teaching diploma. "When I left college, I had no idea what I wanted to do so my mother suggested teaching," she says. In the end, though, Maxwell became a television producer. "There were remarkably few women directors and at most places I was offered a secretarial or personal assistant job to start with," she says. "But, I said 'no' and insisted that I wanted to direct until I was given a chance as research production assistant for Yorkshire Television." "Making it as a woman in this male-dominated world, I had to 'de-sex' myself. I spent eight years in jeans," Maxwell says, referring to the problems she encountered specifically in the UK. Young Maxwell made her first film in 1973, a student film adaptation of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (set in Edinburgh) and, later in 1980 while at Southern Television in the UK, a seminal documentary on lesbian women. In 1981, she came to the US for love and continued to produce and direct documentaries for the independent film company, Djerassi Films Inc., which were aired nationally on PBS. Becoming a single mother, Maxwell left the world of broadcasting to break into another boy's club: Silicon Valley. She made a name for herself in the mostly male field of Internet businesses mainly on her own. Together with her twin sister Christine and her then husband, she saw the Internet's potential in the beginning of the 1990s and helped build Magellan on-line guide - a kind of Michelin guide to the Net. "I didn't know how to manage a tech company but, as previously in my career, the motto was simply learning by doing," Maxwell explains. After failing to go public, in what would have been the first search directory to do so, and caught in a fallout between Christine and her husband, Isabel succeeded in selling Magellan to Excite Inc. for $18 million in 1996. "It was the hardest joint personal and professional experience of my life," Maxwell admits. "Going through the fire of that, I knew that I could handle almost anything and was ready to take on senior executive roles." Commtouch Software, an American-Israeli, global messaging and anti-spam company, was attracted to her expertise and insight in Silicon Valley, when it sought her out for the position of president in 1997. In that role, she experienced the embodiment of the Israeli business culture. "Israelis are highly innovative, they have an abrasive, in your face culture, they are good in teams and, most importantly, they get things done," she says with a big smile. From the time of the death of her father, who is buried on the Mount of Olives, in 1991, Maxwell has divided her time between California and Israel. "I have no family in Israel, but I have always felt a sense of coming home when coming here," she says. After leaving her position at Commtouch in 2001, though she retains the title president emeritus, Maxwell consulted for Apax Partners and several independent Israeli companies before being asked to join Puresight, the Israeli content filtering company, as chief executive officer. She helped in the turnaround of the company in 2003 and it subsequently was sold in 2005. Throughout her career, Isabel has grown immensely from searing experiences that turned her into a master in separating difficult personal issues from present business issues. Her younger sister died of leukemia, her oldest brother died after six years in a coma resulting from a car crash and her father died under still unclarified circumstances, which has resulted in ongoing, often negative, media attention. "I have learned not to run away from bad times. Personal tragedies and loss connect you to what is happening in this world," Maxwell says. "I am a survivor with an innate fire that doesn't allow me to be destroyed." Although familiar with fabulous wealth, Isabel chooses to live a more simple lifestyle. Even in the heat and almost unbearable humidity of the Tel Aviv summer, she takes every opportunity to ride her bike across the city while still dressed in light, European-style summer clothes that match color and simple sophistication. Her short hair naturally curly, but gelled, Maxwell wears light green stretch pants with a white shirt and matching shoes and bag for her interview. Even outside her professional life, Maxwell is keen to promote communication in the widest sense. "My driver has always been communication - not money or sex," says Maxwell in her natural manner. She is on the boards of the Peres Center for Peace, the American Friends of the Rabin Center and Israel21c. She is also a very active voting member and chairperson of the Israel Venture Network's Social Entrepreneur Fellowship Program. Mastering so many goals in life, while continuously facing business and private challenges, Maxwell's measure of success is how she can improve the world. "In our world, it is not enough to make a pile of money, you also have to do some good. I get up every day thinking about how I can make this place a better place and I choose to do it in Israel." Profile of a powerhouse Isabel Maxwell Born: France Age: 56 Status: Divorced. One child Education: BA and MA in law, history and French from Oxford University Graduate Diploma in education, Edinburgh University Professional milestones: Producer and director of documentaries for Djerassi Films Inc. Co-founder of McKinley Group, creator of Magellan on-line search engine President, Commtouch Software Ltd. Consultant, Apax Partners CEO of Puresight. President and founder, Maxwell-Communications Network

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