Cisco co-founder imparts advice [Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.]
(Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 22--In 1984, Sandy Lerner co-founded Cisco Systems, a maker of computer networking equipment that is now a multinational corporation with $46 billion in annual revenue.
So what does Lerner list as her proudest accomplishments
Developing an organic method to worm livestock, for one. Also, opening the first certified U.S. restaurant that serves only humanely raised food, and buying a newspaper advertisement that led to the banning of foie gras in California.
"It was the best $30,000 I ever spent," Lerner said. "Foie gras is the only food that you can't raise humanely." Foie gras, a delicacy in French cuisine, is the fattened liver of a duck or goose, produced through forced overfeeding.
"Those are things where I have made a difference," said Lerner, who now operates an organic farm in Upperville in Northern Virginia.
Lerner shared some lessons from her career Thursday as the keynote speaker at the Enterprising Women of Excellence awards dinner, sponsored by the Richmond chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
Lerner has started three successful enterprises during her career, including co-founding Cisco Systems with Leonard Bosack.
That wasn't Lerner's first career goal. She studied political science in college, but she could not find a job in that field, Lerner said in an interview before the awards dinner.
So she got into computer programming instead, eventually earning a master's degree in computer science.
"1975 was a good year to go into computer programming," she said. One piece of advice she offers is: "If they won't pay you to do what you want to do, do what they will pay you to do, and then do what you want to do."
Lerner and Bosack founded Cisco Systems in 1984 while working at Stanford University. She spent six years building the company, only to be fired by the Cisco board of directors in 1990. Bosack, now Lerner's ex-husband, also resigned.
Another piece of advice Lerner offers for entrepreneurs, especially women: "You are not the company, and the company is not you."
"It is a huge emotional investment," to start and build a business, she said. "And it can be the entirety of your net worth, like it was for me."
Lerner said her experience at Cisco "broke up my marriage and broke up my health. I was an emotional basket case, but the company was in great shape."
"A lot of women just knee-jerk don't think of their own needs," she said. "You need to keep that emotional distinction in front, and with a start-up it can be hard to do."
After leaving Cisco, Lerner went on to found Urban Decay, a cosmetics company.
Lerner grew up on a family farm, and paid for college by raising cattle. In 1996, she returned to her roots when she bought the 800-acre Ayrshire Farm in Upperville. The certified organic and humane farm raises about 1,200 head of cattle and 500 hogs.
"I felt like I could make a difference," in organic farming, Lerner said. The goal of the enterprise is to "farm successfully and profitably in what I call traditional farming."
NAWBO presented four awards to local women business owners:
--Entrepreneur of the Year -- Ryann Lofchie Wayne of The Frontier Project;
--Rising Star of the Year -- Laurie Blakey and Laura Condrey of Pearl's Cupcake Shoppe;
--Community Leader of the Year -- Jo Eloise White of Richmond Guardian Angels;
--Student Entrepreneur of the Year -- Annie Ward Love of LoveLines Art LLC.
(c)2013 the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.)
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