Interview with Cisco Founder Sandy Lerner: The Difference between Weird and Eccentric? Wealth

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing a screening of Something Ventured, a documentary that traces the genesis of some of the world’s most revolutionary companies, from Atari to Apple to Genentech, and the impact of venture capital on entrepreneurship.¬†The film premiered at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival and features some legendary VCs who helped¬†foster America’s start-up culture, encouraging an environment of risk that yields unprecedented rewards.

The documentary is well worth the watch (it comes out on Netflix next year), giving insight into and a history of venture capitalism, but the highlight for me was the entrepreneurs, who had the vision and passion to create entirely new industries. A hidden gem of the movie is an exclusive interview with Cisco Co-Founder, Sandy Lerner, who is touted as the first female philanthropist to emerge from the Silicon Valley boom era.

Lerner was ousted from Cisco (in very much the same style of Steve Jobs from Apple) at the age of 35, worth $170 million in stock options that she immediately sold. The most compelling component of the one-on-one is the utter acerbity she still harbors about the ousting. Cisco was not a company she built and co-founded; it was a child she conceived, that was brutally ripped from her arms. The interview is a telling confessional of how little money factored into her passion and ambition, which is an overriding theme for the entrepreneurs featured in the film.

After the screening during the Q&A, the film’s producer acknowledged how much effort it took to persuade Lerner to do the interview and speak about her firing, then directed the audience to a recent and rare interview she did with FoxNews about sustainable farming. Two highlights of the interview come in this admission from Lerner, “I got fired by the same guy who fired Steve Jobs” and her response when asked if she thinks she’s a bit eccentric:

I am now that I’m rich. I used to just be weird.

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