JESSICA LEON

Venture Partner, Base Ventures

Leadership Coach, Harvard

Co-founder and Board Member, LatinxMBA

Heritage: Mexican

By: Frank Morris Lopez

 

Awards & Recognitions:

  • MIT Sloan Achievement Award for Leadership and Community Contribution

As the daughter of Mexican farmworkers living in Idaho, Jessica Leon found it difficult to imagine herself in any kind of leadership position. “Only later did I realize that our potential should not be hindered by our personal circumstances or where we grew up,” she said.

“I was poor. I was like, ‘I need money.’ If I hadn’t gotten into business - finance -  where would I be?”

Her father owned a manure trucking business and farmed corn and beans. “And of course, growing up, you’re the translator, the accountant, the person doing the bookkeeping. I was doing all that and I was in high school,” Leon recalled.

That got her interested in finance early on.

She’d go on to get her bachelor’s in finance and operations management from University of Idaho, where she founded the first ALPFA chapter in the state. After college, she got a job at Goldman Sachs in New York City, where “I thought I was going to be a teller,” she said. Instead, she ended up being an analyst — and from there, an assistant vice president at Citigroup.

While in New York, she was also a mentor and chair with Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), a nonprofit focused on supporting underserved public high school students and increasing diversity within finance and law. Her efforts raised more than $100,000 for the organization’s scholars program.

In 2019, she began graduate studies at MIT, pursuing a master’s in business administration. 

“When I got to MIT, I was like where’s the Latinos? There was no one here from the low income communities and people I can relate to,” she said. “That’s a problem.”

While there, she got involved in venture capital and also started doing what she could to make sure more Latinos could have the same opportunities as her. She co-founded the More Than Ready Scholarship to support Latinx students applying to MBA programs, raising $12,000 to support the initiative.

She also co-founded Latinx MBA, a nonprofit dedicated to developing, empowering and advancing U.S. Latinx business leaders. The program has grown to more than 1,000 members across 120+ business schools and dozens of industries. Leon says that 65% of the group’s members are first-generation American; 45% are Latina. 

She simultaneously started work on a second master’s degree — a master of public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.

But of all the work she’s done, what is she most proud of?

“Me,” she said, tearing up.

“I think I’ve done a lot of work on myself. I could always choose not to do these things, I could always choose to live a simple life free of stress. But given where I’ve come from, I still have this desire, this hunger to give back,” she said.

“Once you figure out who you are, and are truly comfortable with it, you’re unstoppable.”