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Isabel Maxwell

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Isabel Maxwell
Born (1950-08-16) 16 August 1950 (age 73)
EducationOxford University
University of Edinburgh
Dale Djerassi
(m. 1984; div. 1989)
David Hayden
(m. 1990; div. 1996)
PartnerAl Seckel (2007–2015)
RelativesChristine Maxwell (sister)
Ghislaine Maxwell (sister)
Kevin Maxwell (brother)
Ian Maxwell (brother)

Isabel Sylvia Margaret Maxwell (born 16 August 1950) is a French-born entrepreneur and the co-founder of Magellan, an early search engine that was acquired by Excite. Maxwell has been listed as a Technology Pioneer of the World Economic Forum,[1] She served as the President of Commtouch, an Israeli internet company that became CYREN.[2] She was a Director of Israel Venture Network and built up their Social Entrepreneur program in Israel from 2004–2010.

Early life and education


Maxwell was born in Maisons Laffitte, France on 16 August 1950 along with her fraternal twin sister Christine Maxwell, to parents Elisabeth and Robert Maxwell. Her father, a Czechoslovak-born British media proprietor, was Jewish and her mother, a French-born Holocaust scholar, was of Huguenot descent. One of nine children, her siblings include brothers Kevin Maxwell and Ian Maxwell, and younger sister Ghislaine Maxwell. From 1960, her family lived at Headington Hill Hall where the offices to Robert Maxwell's Pergamon Press were located. Her mother stated that while all of her children were brought up Anglican, Isabel was "very taken by the Jewish faith and the politics in Israel."[3]

Maxwell was a pupil at Milham Ford School, Oxford, going on to study at St Hilda's College, Oxford (a constituent college of Oxford University), graduating with an MA in Law, History, and French in 1972.[4][2][5] She earned a master's degree in Education (French) from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland,[6] before beginning her career in film and television production.



Maxwell opted out of working directly for her father.[4]

Film and television


In 1973, Maxwell made her first film, an adaptation of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Her second film, a documentary on lesbian women, was made in 1980 while at Southern Television in the UK.[6]

In 1981, Maxwell relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area[4] of California[7] in the United States[5] where she continued to produce and direct documentaries. In 1982, Maxwell wrote and directed Gray's Inn - A Fountain of Justice,[8] narrated by Ludovic Kennedy.

Maxwell worked with Djerassi Films Inc.[6] on collaborative projects with Dale Djerassi whom she married in 1984. They co-produced the feature film '68 (released in 1988 by New World Pictures) and the 1982 PBS documentary, Bhutan – A Strange Survival, introduced by Senator Charles H. Percy of Illinois and narrated by Ludovic Kennedy. Michael Aris, the late husband of Aung San Suu Kyi, served as adviser and writer.

In 1990, Maxwell left the film industry,[4] moved to Berkeley, and began to work with her sister Christine at an internet data company.[2]



Maxwell was a co-founder of the company behind early search engine Magellan. Isabel joined twin sister Christine Maxwell who was leading a small company called Research on Demand that was online in 1993"[1]". The company changed names to McKinley Group (named after North America’s highest mountain)[7] and became a search engine with ratings. Maxwell served as a senior vice president, her second husband, David Hayden, was CEO and her sister Christine was publisher.[5] The Maxwell sisters launched the Magellan web search service in September 1995.[9] In early 1996, the company was poised to IPO, but investment bank Robertson Stephens decided to put Excite on the market first. A few months later, IPOs became difficult and the startup company was running out of money. Magellan wanted to go public with Lehman doing the offering but was unsuccessful. Michael Wolfe's book Burn Rate also describes a failed deal to combine with Wolff New Media, which shortly later went broke itself.[10] With intensifying financial constraints, Maxwell’s husband was pushed out of the company by investors and her sister left. Isabel assumed the responsibility to dispose of the company. After a layoff, the firm was sold for $18 million (of stock) to competitor Excite.[5]

Later technology leadership


Maxwell was the president of Commtouch, Inc., an Israeli-American e-mail messaging and security company,[2] from 1997 to 2001. The company went public on NASDAQ in 1999.[11] In 2014, the company changed its name to CYREN.[12]

From 2003 to 2004, Maxwell was invited by Blumberg capital to become CEO of iCognito,[13] renamed Puresight, an Israeli web content filtering software company. She turned the company around, and it was sold in 2005 to Boston Communications.[14][6]

Other interests


Maxwell was a member of Israel Venture Network (IVN), an organization founded in 2001 by Éric Benhamou.[15] She was the chairperson of the IVN Social Entrepreneur Fellowship Program,[6] from 2004-2010. She spoke on several occasions for and on behalf of IVN at conferences such as WEBBIT in Istanbul in Turkey.[6]

Maxwell has been a director of the Peres center for peace and has also been involved in fundraising for Soroka Medical Center.[2] She has served on the board of the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center.[6]

She has worked as a consultant for startup companies and venture capitalists.[16]

She is president of Blue World Alliance (Globalsolver Foundation).[17]

Personal life

Chateau de la Malartrie in La Roque-Gageac

In 1984, Maxwell married filmmaker Dale Djerassi, affiliate of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program and son of birth control pill inventor Carl Djerassi.[4][18] Maxwell and Djerassi had one son, Alexander, born that same year.[18] The couple later divorced, in 1989.[18]

Maxwell married dot-com entrepreneur David Hayden in 1990. The marriage deteriorated in 1996 and later ended in divorce.[5][19]

In 2007, Maxwell married Al Seckel.[20] Maxwell and Seckel moved to France[21] from Malibu, California, around 2010, to care for Maxwell's ailing mother.[20] They lived in Chateau de la Malartrie in La Roque-Gageac.[citation needed] In November 2015, after Seckel's death, Maxwell was declared bankrupt by a British court.[22]


  1. ^ "Isabel S. Maxwell". World Economic Forum. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e Sagi, Yehoshua; Sagi-Maydan, Mary (2 December 2002). "Comfortable in her skin". Haaretz. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  3. ^ McFerran, Ann (11 April 2004). "Relative Values: Elisabeth Maxwell, the widow of Robert Maxwell, and their daughter Isabel". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Magnates daughter forges own path in Silicon Valley". J. Weekly. 24 December 1999. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e Bronson, Po; "On The Net, No One Knows You're a Maxwell"; Wired; July 2002
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Wrobel, Sharon (24 August 2006). "Serial Entrepreneur". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  7. ^ a b Willis, Tim (April 2000). "Tatler Archive: The return of the Maxwells, as Ghislaine is finally found". Tatler. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  8. ^ Gray's Inn - A Fountain of Justice, BFI
  9. ^ Rafter, Michelle V. (26 June 1996). "McKinley Group Ousts Its Chairman and CEO". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  10. ^ Burn Rate, Michael Wolfe
  11. ^ "CommTouch Boosts Number of Shares for IPO". Los Angeles Times. 1 July 1999.
  12. ^ Commtouch 2012 Annual Report (SEC form 20F)
  13. ^ "Start-up iCognito raises $3.1m, recruits Isabel Maxwell as CEO". Globes. 10 September 2003. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  14. ^ Maxwell Communications bio (cached copy as of June 2013)
  15. ^ Rooney, Ben (12 October 2012). "Israel's Rather Different Social Network". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  16. ^ "Speakers of WEBIT". www.webit.org.
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b c APOTHÉLOZ, Christian. "Isabel Maxwell: Family Tree". Geneanet. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  19. ^ Hafner, Katie (21 April 2007). "The Perils of Being Suddenly Rich". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  20. ^ a b Oppenheimer, Mark (20 July 2015). "The Illusionist". Tablet (magazine). Retrieved 11 March 2019. Sometime about five years ago, Maxwell and Seckel moved to the south of France to care for her ailing mother, who died in 2013. They have stayed in France, and Seckel told me he doesn't miss California..
  21. ^ https://www.thecut.com/2019/08/ghislaine-maxwell-family-twin-sisters.html
  22. ^ "Isabel Sylvia Margaret Maxwell--Bankruptcy Orders", The London Gazette, Nov. 13, 2015


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