Virginia native Lillian Lambert makes history

By Sabrina Squire - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Virginia native Lillian Lambert is a trailblazer who became the first African American woman to earn a Harvard MBA and CEO of her own multimillion dollar business. Lambert talks about her road to success in her just release memoir. We sat down with the author to talk about her accomplishments.

Author, motivational speaker, entrepreneur Lillian Lambert's work ethic is rooted in her humble beginnings in rural Powhatan County.

"No electricity, no plumbing," said Lambert. "We grew everything we ate, my father had a farm."

When young Lillian wasn't working in the fields or kitchen, she plowed her way through the pages of any book she could find.

"I read a lot mother made sure I had something to read all the time," she said.

Eager to make her own mark in the world, after graduation the country girl left for New York City. Working as a maid and selling magazines made her grateful to get back to school, this time at Howard University in D.C.

"I got a scholarship and I worked the whole time I was in college," said Lillian.

A Howard professor and mentor pushed Lillian to aim higher.

"My initial reaction was he's got to be crazy; me go to Harvard," she said. "He convinced me that I could handle the workload."

But the only black female in the B school class of '67 felt Ivy League isolation.

"A social life was nonexistent, the work was very difficult. Martin Luther King was assassinated that first year, it wasn't mentioned," said Lillian.

Quitting wasn't an option. Lillian got her degree; she didn't get recruited for jobs. Intuition inspired her to launch Centennial One, maintenance out of her Maryland garage.

"I knew no women who owned companies, but 80 to 90 percent of employees were female, so I said there's got to be a good match here," said Lillian.

Lambert grew the business to a $20 million enterprise with 1,200 employees before selling it in 2001. In 2003, Harvard presented her with its highest alumni award. Lillian helped establish the school's African American Alumni Association. Now this wife, mother, and grandmother is mentoring a new generation of aspiring business leaders.

"They're so connected and supportive, everybody is working hard to make better lives for themselves," she said.

Lillian Lambert is embarking on a tour to promote her book which is available in local stores and online. For more information about upcoming readings and signings, you can check out her website

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