The #GirlBoss of #SiliconValley

Sandra Lerner: The women behind CISCO and Urban Decay


Sandra Lerner is the co-founder of the first commercial viable router and the giant computer networking system Cisco. Cisco earned more than $200,000 worth contract in their first month in business and later became one of the major companies coming out of the golden age of Silicon Valley. Today Cisco’s current market cap is $112.3 billion. Lerner always possessed an impressive entrepreneurial attitude and made the best use of her surroundings. She launched her first project at the age of nine. While living with her aunt’s cattle ranch in California, Lerner bought her first steer, selling it for a profit two years later; with those proceeds she acquired two more head of cattle. By the time she entered college, she owned a registered livestock herd of 30 head of cattle, and it provided an income stream that paid for her college tuition. Not only she is extremely aware of her surroundings but she also has a keen eye to identify the missing void in the market. Lerner launched another unlikely brand of cosmetics named Urban Decay in 1995 with the unusual tagline –”Does Pink Make You Puke?” UD’s color pallet explored in blue, green, purple and black which was poles apart from the conventional color pallet of red and pink.

Lerner studied political science at California State University. For a while, like many other undecided grad student she considered academia as a career, and began graduate school at Claremont College outside of Los Angeles. But soon she came to realize the little financial gain in political science and shifted her focus to computers. The computer lab in her school came as a revelation to her. She was such a regular in the lab that eventually she was made the manager of it in 1975. Eventually she applied to Stanford University’s graduate program for statistics and computer science. This program was a new addition in Stanford at the time, and a female student was an absolute rarity. Later in an interview to Business Journal, Lerner admitted, “Stanford was dying to get graduate students back then who could bail out the faculty who didn’t know anything about computers. If you had all these hacker-type graduate students, you’d moved into the computer age. So they let me in.”

Lerner and her former husband and business partner Leonard Bosack started Cisco in their living room back in the 1984 and soon became one of the major companies during Silicon Valley’s ‘Golden Era’. Ironically, she was pushed out when the company went public in 1990 due to a bad deal with one of the investors. This unforeseen stumble in the early stage of her career taught some invaluable lesson to Lerner. She learned why it is necessary to have complete control with one’s legal aid. Despite having the founder’s lion share, Lerner did not have an employment contract and soon got fired from her own company. Lerner also confessed why it is best to keep personal life from professional. She advised to young professionals to separate themselves from the company. She also said, “What is good for you is not necessarily good for the company, and vice versa. At Cisco, I made every decision based on what was good for the company, and that pretty much ruined my marriage and my health. Len and I believed a company and its founder are the same. They absolutely are not.”

 Business Journal (San Jose, CA), July 31, 1989, p. 12; April 28, 1997, p. 1.

Forbes, March 16, 1992, p. 136; August 25, 1997, p. 58.

Independent Sunday (London, England), April 26, 1998, p. 7; July 20, 2003.

More, February 2002, p. 76.

New York Times, November 12, 1995, p. F8.

San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 1996, p. P1.

Success, October 1997, p. 68.

Times (London, England), November 23, 1996, p. 42.

— Carol Brennan

Quittner, Jeremy. “Sandy Lerner: The Investor Is Not Your Friend.” N.p., 27 Feb. 2013. Web. 09 Jan. 2017.

Navarro, Andrea, and Mathew Herper. “30 Under 30 — Science & Healthcare.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 11 Jan. 2017

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