Women 3.0: Sandy Lerner

Name: Sandy Lerner

Short biography: Sandra “Sandy” Lerner was born in 1955. After attending school—in 1975, she received a bachelor’s degree in political science from California State University (CSU), Chico; in 1977, she received a master's degree in econometrics from Claremont Graduate School; and in 1981, she received another master's degree in statistics and computer science from Stanford University—she went on to co-found Cisco Systems, Inc., one of the world’s foremost networking technology companies, in 1984. And in 1995, she founded makeup company Urban Decay.1

What they do: Currently, Lerner isn’t involved in technology (or makeup) on a day-to-day basis—instead, she’s busy running Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Va.; the organic farm specializes raising rare and endangered breeds of livestock and growing heirloom fruits and vegetables. The farm provides food to farm stores and restaurants in the community and you can also order products online.2

In addition, Lerner is on the boards of a variety of organizations3, including:

  • The Chawton House Library and the Centre for the Study of Early English Women’s Writing. (Thanks to her love of British writers, particularly Jane Austen.)

  • & Capital Investments, Inc. (The holding company she started after leaving Cisco.)

  • Sono Luminus (A music recording company “dedicated to the realization of true Performance Fidelity”5.)

Why they matter: Cisco is the “maker of the first commercially viable router, a device that allows computer networks to expand and create networks of networks, which we now know as The Internet.”4 Without Lerner, we wouldn’t have Cisco, and without Cisco … well, I shudder at the thought. (And you wouldn’t be reading this!)

(Without Lerner, we also wouldn’t have Urban Decay’s Midnight Cowboy Rides Again, which is the prettiest eyeshadow I’ve ever owned.)

Lerner’s other achievements include honorary doctorates from the Washington & Jefferson University and the University of Southhampton, England, and many animal-related awards.3

How they got where they are: Lerner’s long career of working in the technology field began while she was attending Claremont Graduate School. From 1975–85, she held various research, consulting and instructing positions at Claremont, Stanford and CSU. Even after founding Cisco, she held the position of director of computing services at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (from 1983–85) and in 1986 became the director of network and computer services at the Schlumberger Computer Aided Systems Laboratory.3 Throughout it all, however, she’s seemed to hold on to her loves of other things—makeup, literature and humane animal treatment, to name a few.

I, for one, appreciate (and admire!) a woman who can mix the Internet, food, good books and funky nail polish into a complete package.

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


  1. Um, tiny typo. "...was born in 1995. After attending schoolin 1975..."She's amazing. What a diverse career!

  2. Thanks for catching that, Tani! And right? So neat.