The Road to Someplace Better

I’ve been derelict in that I’ve failed to blog for an entire month. The main reasons: I’ve been attending board meetings, writing — and reading (o.k., I admit to the fact that I’ve played a little golf, too). Interestingly, most of the books I’ve read recently have been written by friends. I’ve reported on a couple of these in recent blogs, and I hope that some of you have had the opportunity to read and enjoy them.

The book I just completed was written by a good friend whom I met while running the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. I found her such an impressive, intelligent, knowledgeable — and charming — lady that I asked her to join the Center’s board of directors immediately after meeting her. To my delight, and great benefit to the entrepreneurs whom we served, she accepted. I knew a little about her background, and a lot more about her business successes, back then. Now, I’ve read her memoir, and — as the man said — I know “the rest of the story.” I think you’ll want to know it, too.

Lillian Lincoln Lambert grew up very poor on a small family farm in southern Virginia. In her early years, she studied by the light of a kerosene lamp because there was no electricity. But, there was something in her genes, perhaps coming from her pioneering mother — an African-American woman who earned a college degree in the 1920s — that drove Lillian toward great accomplishments. She left home after high school to make her fortune, but she ended up in menial jobs in New York and Washington. In order to improve her lot, she began attending Howard University on a part-time basis. Eventually, she became a full-time student and received her degree. Her Howard mentor, H. Naylor Fitzhugh, convinced Lillian to apply for admission to Harvard Business School.

HBS was something of a shock. She discovered that she was an anomaly in a world of white men from ritzy private schools. She was the odd person out — female, black, and poorly prepared for the competitive world of HBS. But, she not only managed to persevere, but to thrive. Now, she has taken her place in the history of Harvard as its first African-American woman to have received an MBA. Eventually, Lillian went into a business she knew best: maintenance of office buildings. Before cashing out, she built Centennial One into a $20-million, 1,200-employee company with top-tier clients.

With the assistance of Rosemary Brutico, Lillian has given us her life story in The Road to Someplace Better: From the Segregated South to Harvard Business School and Beyond, published by Wiley. It’s an inspirational story of a remarkable lady. Read it — you won’t regret it!

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