THE BLOG

Women in Business: Michelle Javian, Co-Founder and CEO, Harboring Hearts

03/31/2015 07:20 am ET | Updated May 31, 2015

Michelle Javian is the Co-founder & CEO of Harboring Hearts. She started the organization in honor of her father, who lost his battle to heart disease after a heart transplant in 2008. During the time she spent by her father's side in the hospital, Michelle witnessed firsthand the need that existed for refuge and community support for heart patients and their families. It was from this realization, and devotion to her father's memory, that Michelle and Yuki Kotani co-founded Harboring Hearts in April 2009.

Founded in 2009, Harboring Hearts is the only nonprofit organization specifically dedicated to providing affordable, short-term housing for the heart patients and their families that travel to New York City for lifesaving medical treatment. Harboring Hearts' aim is to help families create a home-like haven as well as access the informative and nurturing resources necessary to enhance their well-being as they attend to the needs associated with serious cardiac disease and care.

Michelle is active in several other charities, including her roles as a Board member of New York Presbyterian Hospital New Leaders, American Heart Association heart advocate and volunteer and as a Founding Member of Friends of Best Buddies, Manhattan chapter. She was awarded the 2009 Maurice Gurin Memorial Scholarship by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, was a semi-finalist in SELF Magazine's 2009 "Women Doing Good" contest, and chosen as a Rosewood Hotel and Resorts "30 Under 30" winner in 2010.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
The two most formative experiences in my life are of two different types: one enduring, and one in what feels almost instant. First, my family -- grandparents from Armenia who raised my parents who then raised us with an incredible sense of loyalty to those we love and care about, and also a deep work-ethic. Everyone in my family possesses that sense. When my father passed away, he left us far too soon in the second most formidable experience of my life. I knew at that moment I had to do something in my life that would stand as a legacy and testament to the compassion, commitment and sense of community my father instilled in me and in our family.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as Co-Founder & CEO of Harboring Hearts?
Though I was only with Bank of America for a short time after graduation, I left to be with my family after my father passed away. During that time of healing, I found comfort and purpose in helping volunteer with other charities, including as a founding member of Best Buddies New York (I had also been involved in DC). Seeing the power of happiness in the healing process, and the smiles on faces of those we helped, inspired me to channel all of what had come before and at that time into something -- that became Harboring Hearts. From that exposure, I learned what it meant to work as a team, where a leader can best effect change and how to see things from the eyes of the people we are serving.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your time as Co-Founder & CEO of Harboring Hearts?
I have a very big vision, and want to help a lot of people. The most challenging part of my role is that this vision has to navigate against the tangible realities of time and how long it takes to get projects to a healthy and productive stage where they can carry themselves forward. The highlights make any of the stress worthwhile: meeting the families we help and knowing we make a difference are the greatest moments of any day.

Tell us about any new projects that you are working on.
The most exciting and new project we have taken on involves our extending Harboring Hearts' services to California. We will be doing so with a pilot program that is in development and will hopefully launch at Stanford Children's Medical in the late spring or summer.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Make sure you are passionate about whatever it is you doing. Honestly, it sounds simple and clear -- but this quality is essential. Passion -- and the pure senses of enthusiasm and commitment that come with it -- is what will get you through the hard times.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Meditation is really key for me, as is yoga. Seeing friends and family, especially my little niece and nephew they make me so happy.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I have come to see this questions as relative, because many of my friends who are women in the workplace are in so many different professions and fields -- some having pressures that I do not experience at Harboring Hearts, and then some I experience but others do not. I would say that some common issues are how we (as a society) are learning to balance the traditional roles of women against the realities of today -- family life, having children and working for equal pay are concepts that are radically different in meaning (and continue to evolve) than was the case when many of our employers (and, parents) came into their own achievements. It is likely though that cultural generations of leadership and innovation will always overlap, but today those are some tensions between the two that come to mind.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I wouldn't be where I am today without mentors. Some of our Board Members, my mother and other close friends who have been by my side sharing their perspectives: these people have been incredible sources of energy and confidence to stay on course, with lessons and guidance along the way.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many it is almost impossible to pick without leaving someone of great influence out. What I see as a shared-quality in my admirations is the ability for a person to be poised, confident and stand up for what she believes in while inspiring others to care. A female leader who is willing to fight with integrity for others in need of help -- she embodies what I hope to become in my own life, and the type of female leader I admire.

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
We want to continue to grow the organization by attracting a leadership of movers and shakers who can bring skills and experience to the forefront of our momentum...and to help steer us forward as we build on our past paths, and work towards our future.