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Meet Lillian Lincoln Lambert, the First Black Woman to Receive a Harvard MBA

·3 min read

Lillian Lincoln Lambert, the first Black woman to receive a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) from Harvard in 1969, used it to carve a path for other Black women to excel.

Forbes reports the author, public speaker, and entrepreneur in the building maintenance industry grew her business to more than 1,200 employees in six states and $20 million in revenue before selling it. Today, Lambert does public speaking events about her experience.

Lambert told Forbes she was nervous when she first stepped on Harvard’s campus and even considered leaving.

“I had no idea what to expect when I got there [Harvard],” Lambert shared.

“That first day, I was the first person to get to the dorm. I got there early and was greeted by this older lady who told me, ‘The dorm isn’t ready. Won’t be ready for a couple of hours. You can put your bags here and go sit in the park.’ So that’s what I did. While sitting there, I was thinking, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ I just wanted to go back, get my suitcase and go back home. I didn’t want to be there.”

The Virginia native added what made her stay was all the people who helped her get there and were excited about her being at the predominately white institution (PWI). Another reason she stayed at Harvard was her mentor, Professor H. Naylor Fitzhugh, who she met while getting her undergraduate degree at Howard University.

Fitzhugh was one of the first Black men to graduate from Harvard’s Business School and was the guiding force behind Lambert applying and attending Harvard, which, at the time, had just begun allowing women to attend.

Attending Harvard wasn’t easy for Lambert. For starters, there were only eight other Black students on campus. Lambert and three of her fellow Black classmates formed the African-American Student Union. The Union addressed and spoke on their challenges in the classroom and in American society. For more than 50 years, the union Lambert and others created has raised financial support for Black students at Harvard and increased enrollment in the M.B.A. program.

After Lambert left Harvard, she worked six jobs before finding a place in the building maintenance industry. When a friend asked if Lambert ever thought about starting her own company, something no other woman in the industry had done, Lambert jumped in feet first.

Today, Lambert is a public speaker focusing on the power of persistence, resilience, courage, and morality and the hurdles that prevent people from reaching their full potential. Using the power of storytelling, Lambert inspires her audiences to dream big, act bold and pave their paths.

One of the things Lambert tells her audiences is that she focuses on three important steps:

– Learn as much as you can. The better prepared you are, the more leverage you’ll have in negotiations.

– Create a blueprint of your goal. This will help you focus and create a manageable strategy.

– Don’t let fear paralyze you from going after what you want.

“Women need to not be afraid to step out and allow themselves to make mistakes,” Lambert said.

“Don’t be intimidated by men or people that think they’re smarter than you. Most of the time, they’re not as smart as they think they are.”