Getting to the Top in Venture Capital
Today we have the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lisa Lambert, the most accomplished and experienced African-American woman in venture capital in the United States. Lisa shares the importance of her educational and professional background in technology, her prescription for increasing the number of women in senior investment positions in venture capital, and her passion for her not-for-profit, UPWARD.
Name: Lisa Marie Lambert
Grew up in: Toledo, OH
Role: Vice-President, Intel Capital and Managing Director, Software & Services
Favorite Book(s): The Fifth Discipline
Degree: Management Information Systems; MBA
How did you get into the world of technology and finance?
I started my career in technology after obtaining my Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems. I was trained in business information systems, compiled programming languages such as Cobol, Pascal, Fortran, PL1, and in a number of application server development tools for Windows, MPE, and Unix operating system environments.
My first professional job was working as a software developer in the Information Technology department at Owens-Corning. I supported IT operational functions and designed and de-bugged software in our manufacturing facilities and for our product groups. I had an aptitude for coding and decided to pursue a career in high tech after obtaining an MBA from Harvard.
I joined Intel Corporation in 1997 and have spent the last 17 years at Intel in engineering and in venture capital investing roles. I currently run our software and services investment practice at Intel Capital and have a 10-year cumulative IRR of 27% and notable exits in companies such as VMware (IPO), JBoss (Acquired by Redhat), MySQL (Acquired by Sun Microsystems), Datallegro (Acquired by Microsoft), Endeca (Acquired by Oracle), X+1 (Acquired by Rocket Fuel), to name a few.
As leaders, we should assure that we build and support organizations that recognize and reward achievement and that inspire trust, honesty, and the highest levels of performance.
Who has been your most important professional mentor and why?
I can’t name a single individual because I’ve learned lessons from many people. For example, my first manager taught me to be focused and detail-oriented. “Computer programming is a precise and exacting job” he said. Mistakes weren’t tolerated since the company’s business ran on the systems that I managed. One of my Harvard Business School professors taught me to dream big and think outside the box for solutions to my problems. “Don’t settle”, she said. “Be a bulldog until you get the answer you want or until you learn something that changes the question.” I’ve even learned from people who are naysayers in my life. They have taught me to persevere and never quit until I accomplish my goals.
What has been the most meaningful professional experience you’ve had and why?
In my 26 year career in technology, I’ve had a number of meaningful professional experiences – my promotion to Managing Director of Intel Capital’s Software and Services investment practice in 2006 was a milestone achievement, being appointed an Intel Capital Vice-President in 2010 was another. My first 8x return liquidity event with JBoss (acquired by Red Hat), and my largest career investment of $218.5 million in VMware, were extraordinary experiences. I enjoyed each of those moments and learned from all of them.
However, the most meaningful experience that I’ve had to-date, is the recent founding of my not-for-profit company called UPWARD whose mission is to accelerate career advancement for senior professional women (director level and above). The organization began in my home on May 9, 2013 when 90 women gathered for dinner and networking. It has grown to over 1100 members in 15 months with affiliates to be launched in Israel, China, Miami, and Chicago in the coming months. McKinsey and Company completed a study citing structural reasons why women don’t advance professionally including a lack of access to informal networks and a lack of mentors and sponsors. I created UPWARD to address those problems in an attempt to change the demographics and culture in corporations globally, helping more women get a seat in the board room and at the executive table. It’s difficult for me to imagine in the 21st century that women still only earn $0.77 for every $1.00 men earn for the same job; that women only represent 12% of the Fortune 500 boards; 4% of the Fortune 500 CEO positions, and only 13% of the Fortune 500 executive office positions. Yet women make up half of the world’s population and in America, women compose 51.5% of the professional workforce, earn the majority of college and advanced degrees, and head two-thirds of households. In the venture capital industry, the data is even more bleak, where only 4% of General Partners are women and there are practically no minorities in any positions in the industry. My goal is to help change this with UPWARD, and in so doing, to help create wealth and prosperity that benefits society as a whole.
What is the most difficult professional or personal challenge you’ve had to overcome?
My most difficult challenge is overcoming the recent propensity in our culture to rely on political maneuvering rather than meritocracy and results for advancement. I believe this practice is a threat to the prosperity of our companies and to the betterment of our society. As leaders, we should assure that we build and support organizations that recognize and reward achievement and that inspire trust, honesty, and the highest levels of performance. I think Americans still fundamentally believe in this concept, but it’s becoming less clear to me how far we will go to defend it.
Every decision we make today will determine where we’ll be tomorrow so my advice is to make bold and wise choices and create a future that you will be proud of!
What advice do you have for young people of color who are looking to get into technology?
If they are high school or college age, they should get educated in STEM curriculum, start writing code with easy to use scripting programming languages, and gather a team to found an online technology company. In my opinion, the only thing that can prevent anyone from succeeding is not dreaming big enough and not pursuing their dreams. Every decision we make today will determine where we’ll be tomorrow so my advice is to make bold and wise choices and create a future that you will be proud of!
What do you think it will take to increase the number of women in leadership positions in venture capital?
I think there are four things that need to happen:
- More women need to start technology companies. Women are the largest consumers of technology in America, so if more women found technology companies they can more effectively service female consumers. And more women need to start angel and seed investing to support the increasing number of women technology company founders. This is beginning to happen today and is a very positive trend.
- Corporations and institutions who are planning to establish investment funds should hire women General Partners to more accurately reflect the diverse population of technology founders who are emerging to form new companies.
- Limited Partners should make the business case to their General Partners to hire women for senior investing roles and require it for their funds.
- State and local governments should invest in venture capital to build a software ecosystem in their regions and to help fuel the innovation economy. They should mandate hiring women General Partners for senior investment positions in these funds to reflect the diverse population in their region.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your investing career?
Good judgment is the key to investment success and that judgment is only obtained through professional investing experiences. You have to be patient and persistent enough to learn from the failures, build upon your successes; and always work on improving your investment approach.