Mahvash Yazdi '74, Business Administration
Whenever Mahvash Yazdi ‘74
tackles a project, she will undoubtedly
transform it into something remarkably
different and better, not unlike the way
electricity is made.
Before she became senior vice
president and chief information
officer (CIO) for energy giant Southern
California Edison, Yazdi started out as
a Cal Poly Pomona student struggling
to finance her education. And, before
she became one of four female CIOs
in the state, the Tehran native had
to acclimate to a new language and
culture in the United States.
She now works in a spacious
office in Edison’s Rosemead
headquarters, but Yazdi’s humble
college years have not faded from
memory. In fact, Yazdi is proud that
she, like so many other immigrants in
California, chose Cal Poly Pomona to
help her realize her American Dream.
“I feel Cal Poly gave me the
foundation in education,” says Yazdi
who studied industrial management
in the College of Business
Administration. “It has always been a
special place for me.”
Yazdi’s journey to this country
began when she was 18 years old,
and her parents decided to leave
Iran, nearly a decade before the
Islamic Revolution would change
the government, culture and
society for Iranians.
“My parents were visionary people who decided they could provide a better
life for their children in the United States,” Yazdi says. “But we came with very
limited means, and I come from a large family. All of us had to work to pay our way
Yazdi, a petite woman who goes to the gym every morning, was not afraid of
hard work. She juggled several jobs, one of which required her to go to work sites
and be a drill operator. Still, her salary could not fully fund her college education,
and one time, she came dangerously close to dropping out of school. Yazdi, still
new to the country, did not know there were people who could help her.
“Growing up in a different country, I didn’t know how to ask for help, and I was
discovering everything on my own,” Yazdi says.
One day she walked into the university’s financial aid office and found that she
was eligible for some scholarships.
“When I won a $600 scholarship, it was like winning a million-dollar lottery,”
Yazdi recalls. “I remember my knees felt weak because that scholarship meant I
could continue the year and pay my room and board.”
With the scholarship money, Yazdi continued pursing a degree in business, an area of study where she naturally flourished. Over time, she realized that she had
a unique gift for envisioning how change can better an organization and how to
implement that change.
For instance, when Yazdi joined Edison in 1997, information technology (IT)
departments were being outsourced at most major corporations. It would have
been easy for Yazdi to follow the status quo, but she did not. Instead, she created a
powerhouse IT team that regularly works with other departments. Together, they
think of ways that technology can improve the business.
Since she began her tenure at Edison, her IT department has ranked as one of the “100 Best Places to Work in IT” by Computerworld. The magazine recognized Yazdi’s
initiatives that include rewarding talent and
nurturing top staff to become managers.
Outside of the office, the grandmother
is also devoted to change. She sits on
advisory boards, offers scholarships and
is passionate about making healthcare
accessible to everyone. For her commitment
to work, society and her heritage, she
was awarded the prestigious Ellis Island
Medal of Honor, sharing it with six
U.S. Presidents, various Nobel Prize
winners and notable activists such as
Muhammad Ali and Cesar Chavez.
Yazdi will be the first to admit that
her laurels did not come easily and
advises Cal Poly Pomona students to
work hard for their accomplishments.
“Don’t think that somebody will
open the door and ask you to be an
executive,” Yazdi says. “Make your
mark on an organization by working
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