Women in Business — Lisa Lambert, vice-president of Intel Capital

The venture capitalist advises not to get emotionally attached to businesses you invest in

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Lisa Lambert’s role as a vice-president of Intel Capital, which manages investment for the US chipmaker, is a world away from the farming community in Northwood, Ohio, where she grew up. Determined to go to university, she earned a scholarship to go to Pennsylvania State University where she studied management information systems.

With an MBA from Harvard Business School, she lives in Saratoga, California, is an avid sports fan and also runs Upward (Uniting Professional Women Accelerating Relationships & Development), a non-profit that helps senior professional women develop their informal networks and accelerate their careers.

What is your best business decision? And worst?

VMware was my best investment decision. It was a $218.5m deal for us and after spending so much time in the process, it was very rewarding to get a great strategic and financial return for Intel.

However, no matter how many times you are warned, there are some lessons you only learn from experience. It is vital not to get emotionally attached to a business you are investing in. In the early part of my career, I came across a start-up with a bright, likeable team who just could not execute consistently. I became too close and could not see the red flags warning me to get out of the deal. The experience was difficult, but it made me a better, more disciplined venture capitalist.

Why did you choose Harvard?

The general management programme at Harvard is the best in the world. It puts you in the shoes of the chief executive and forces you to make tough decisions.

What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

Not to be afraid to lead, especially as a woman. It came from my international economics teacher at Harvard. She encouraged me to get the career I wanted.

What is your biggest lesson learnt?

How to build a great team. Being a leader is not simply about giving instructions, but getting the best out of people. That means building a diverse team, one with a wide range of backgrounds and skills. At Harvard, I worked with people from all corners of the globe, and I have always tried to create the same level of diversity in my teams at Intel Capital.

What would you do if you were dean of a business school for the day?

Harvard exposed me to incredible diversity, but I think there is a need for students to learn exactly how to leverage it. Unless you teach people the value of diversity they will quickly revert to the ways of working that they are most accustomed to and with the types of people they are used to working with. That is something business schools can have a role in solving.

What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?

Women starting out do not have to understand exactly what it is they want. Your career is something you might do for 40 or 50 years, so your goals will change over time. Do your research, understand the environment, work out how you can apply your MBA, and keep learning along the way. Once you find your specialty, throw yourself into your role with enthusiasm and always try to make a difference. It can take time to get into that dream role.

How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

Finance and technology are traditionally male-centric but they also attract a specific type of thinker, people who are analytical and mathematical. The key is to understand how your co-workers think (male or female) so you can speak their language.

What is your favourite business book?

The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. It taught me that you can always raise your game to a new level. As soon as you get complacent you stop growing.

What are your top tips for networking? Are you a member of any networks?

Networking is the lifeblood of any profession — you really should be spending up to 50 per cent of your time meeting people, building strategic relationships and being visible in your role.

I am also the founder, chief executive and chairman of Upward, a professional non-profit organisation focused on helping senior women executives to further their career through networking. One of the things I tell our members is to treat networking like you would any other business project. Have a clear objective in mind, do your research and follow-up.

What has been your best business trip?

What should have been a simple pitch meeting in China turned into a several-day tour of the company’s facilities, personnel, and partners. I was treated like a diplomat and had conversations with everyone from the most senior executives to the shop floor staff. It was invigorating to meet a business that is so proud of what it has achieved.

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