Sandy Lerner – The Ousted Co-Founder Who Empowered a Complete Market

Sandy Lerner

Known all around the world as the co-founder of Cisco Systems, Inc., Sandy Lerner is an American businesswoman and philanthropist who started the company with her ex-husband Leonard Bosack. It all began in the early 1980s when both Sandy and Leonard began working from the confinements of their computer labs, offices, and living room to create the first router to connect the entire computer system present within their school.

However, just during their first decade when Cisco was starting to boom all around the world, Sandy was fired from her own company, the one for which she and her husband had toiled hard for. With time, both of them soon sold all of their founder’s stock and began to pursue their interests. In an even more saddening turn of events, it was reported that by the time that they left the company, they were separated as well.

After being fired from Cisco Systems, Inc., Sandy went on to work on various philanthropic and writing projects. Fast forward to 2011, she released a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice titled Second Impressions, under her pseudonym Ava Farmer. In August 2017 she released a book named Caticons, a book on the art imitating cats.

However, all these incidents take place a bit too deep into the future. Let us go back to where it all began.

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About Sandy Lerner 

Birth and Early Life

Sandy Lerner was born in 1955 as a native of northern California. Merely a youngling at the age of 4, she witnessed the divorce of her parents. As a result, her childhood was spent divided between the homes of her two aunts. However, this time boosted her entrepreneurial spirit. Located in California Sierras and Beverly Hills, her aunt’s homes significantly impacted her entrepreneurial attitude, albeit in a subtle manner. However, the most noteworthy transformation in her entrepreneurial being was brought forward during her time at the Clipper Gap ranch.

It is known that when Sandy was at the Clipper Gap ranch, she bought her first steer and sold it for a hefty profit after a couple of years. With her profits, she went on to buy two more heads of cattle. As time went on, she continued with these activities. And when it was time for her to leave for college, it was found that she had livestock comprising of more than 30 heads of cattle. This livestock supplemented her need for an income stream that paid her college tuition.



Higher education was a breezy affair for a young Sandy Lerner. Here is how her education timeline went.

  1. Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science in 1975 – Sandy received her Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science in 1975 from California State University. After her education in Political Science, Sandy considered her field of academia as a career. Her passion for this field was fueled by her fascination with comparative political studies. However, she soon realized that there was too little financial gain in this field.


  1. Master’s Degree in Econometrics in 1977 – When Sandy learned about the lack of financial opportunities in the field of academia, she went and received her Master’s Degree in Econometrics from the Claremont Graduate School in 1977. During this, she discovered her computer lab and found her interests in the field of computer science. Her frequent visits to the computer lab elevated her to the position of a manager. With the help of her newly found status, she began to employ the abilities of computers to perform quantitative data analysis required for her degree.


  1. Master’s Degree in Statistics and Computer Science in 1981 – Taking her newly found passion in Statistics and Computer Science in 1981, Sandy went on to Stanford University to earn her Master Degree. And it was here that she met her husband-to-be.


The Beginnings of Cisco

At Stanford University, Sandy soon got a job as the Director of Computer Facilities. While working here, she met her then-partner, Leonard Bosack, with whom she would be soon married to. Leonard and Sandy’s offices were a mere 500 yards apart. However, their computer worked independently to one another without any link to each other. In those days, if one wanted to share software and databases to other systems, they had to resort to time-consuming disk transfers.

 In their strive to share software and databases efficiently, they started to look for solutions that could connect their computer systems. They soon found one with the help of the router designed by Leonard Bosack. The couple was well aware of the fact that their computers were designed by the same corporate legend and that they ran the same operating systems. However, neither of these systems were connected to a network.

To remedy this, Lerner, Bosack, and a group of students and faculty members devised the first router which was capable of connecting the computer systems of the offices. As they gradually began to link the computer systems, they went on to link the entire computer systems that were spread across the entire school. And it was this that powered their ambition to set up Cisco Systems, Inc.

The company began when the couple faced problems in accessing the software present on each other’s computers. However, it has also been rumored that the main objective behind Sandy Lerner and Leonard Bosack connecting their systems, was to send romantic letters to each other.

Sandy Lerner’s Career At Cisco

Role: As their technology boomed, contracts began to flow in rapidly. More and more clients wanted them to link their systems with the router technology. Therefore, it was natural that Lerner and Bosack quitted their jobs and pursued on serving their clients with their technology on a full-time basis. It was during this brief period at Cisco that Sandy presided as the Vice President for Customer Services.

Moulding The Tech Giant – Building Cisco up to the tech giant that it is today was not an easy task. Initially, they were burdened with the task of keeping the business afloat. They even hired friends and neighbors by providing them deferred salaries and stock options. Furthermore, they mortgaged their homes and went deep into credit card debt to keep their business going. Their efforts were rewarded with results when the company began to land a contract worth more than $200,000.

External Funding – It was after 3 years of bootstrapping that the couple finally received external funding from a venture capitalist named Donald Valentine. And it was this step that marked their final days at the company.

Fired From Her Own Company – Donald Valentine wasn’t at all convinced at the way Lerner and her husband were managing the company. To counter this, he instated John Morgridge as the CEO of the company. When Valentine came abroad to provide funding to Cisco Systems, Inc., he provided his own lawyer to perform Lerner and Bosack’s vesting agreement as well. This did provide a clause about their founder’s stock but conveniently left out their employment contract. Don took advantage of this and when his and Sandy’s clashes became highly frequent in 1990, he finally got her fired in August in the same year. Hearing this, Leonard too resigned to show his support for Sandy.  

Notable Philanthropic Work

Previously, before they were fired, Cisco System, Inc. went public in February of 1990. After their departure, the couple found themselves with $170 million in the form of stocks. They soon began to sell their stocks and completely retired from the company. With their new-found wealth, the couple established the Bosack Kruger Charitable Foundation. They funded several philanthropic projects via this. A few of such include:

  1. Restoration of the Chawton House – In 1992, Sandy bought the Chawton house and refurbished it back to its glory. The 300-acre manor house was once owned by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight. In 2003, Sandy opened the house to the public as a Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing.
  2. A Co-Sponsor of SETI – The foundation majorly funded SETI or the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence to build the 160-million channel, dual-beam receiver. This receiver was to use a mega channel spectrometer to enhance the search for extraterrestrial beings.
  3. Funding The Folsom Zoo – Sandy has always had a great love for Animal Welfare. To provide animals with the greatest of care, she set up the Folsom Zoo. Folsom Zoo is a facility set in Northern California which is also known as the Misfit Zoo. The facility was named as such owing to them being either deserted, abandoned, or injured in the wild.
  4. Development of the Lab Rat and PetWhere Program – To provide further care to animals, Sandy developed the Lab Rat and PetWhere programs. The Lab Rat program educates scientists about the humane treatment of lab animals. The PetWhere, or more specifically PetWhere 2.6 software, has been playing a vast role in reuniting lost animals with owners and providing the required help and care.

However, these are not the only philanthropic acts of Sandy Lerner. Even today, she continues to work for animal welfare and organic produce for the betterment of humankind.


Books and Publications

During her lifetime, Sandy Lerner authored two books, namely Second Impressions and Caticons: 4000 Years of Art Imitating Cats.

  1. Second Impressions Sandy authored Second Impressions under her pseudonym, Ava Farmer. Set in the times of Jane Austen, it acts as a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. The story further extends the story of the Darcy family and their relationships to 10 years after Ms. Bennet got rid of her two most undeserving daughters. The books completely polarized the readers. While some commended her writing style, others disapproved the lack of research.
  2. Caticons: 4000 Years of Art Imitating Cats Caticons was a limited edition book that Sandy launched under her real name. Encompassing her private collection of all things feline, the book celebrated the extraordinary art of relationships between cats and their human companions. Containing data researched from over 30 years, it contains data from the various corners of the art world, catalogs, foreign shores, and cyberspace.

[*Links to the books are affiliate links. Your support is highly appreciated]

The Ayrshire Farm

When Sandy was ousted from her own company, it was natural that Sandy felt highly dejected and broken. By taking part in multiple philanthropic projects, she gradually recovered and began to look for a need in the marketplace which she could fulfill. This need brought her to Virginia, more specifically the Ayrshire Farm in 1996. When she first saw the 793-acre farm, she instantly understood that it was a highly neglected asset. And it was here that she chalked out her plan to provide people with an environmentally conscious, sustainable future.

Initially, the farm was merely a piece of overgrown land. However, this was enough to convince Sandy that the land was apposite for her organic farming needs. For her, organic farming meant farming in a way that was wholly unalike to the industrial production of agricultural produce, the procedure in which most food produced was cultivated in the USA at the time. In Upperville, near her farm, Sandy also erected a restaurant named Hunter’s Head Tavern. The restaurant serves numerous highly-acclaimed dishes, all of which are farmed freshly from the Ayrshire farm.

Additionally, Ayrshire Farm has also become a hub for several agricultural meetings. The magnificent manor house of the Ayrshire Farm has become a site for an annual event known as the Beastie Bazaar. The event conducts meetings and talks for improving the situation of abandoned and neglected animals. It also showcases events about organic farmings. Moreover, within the confinements of this farm, Sandy also hosts several cattle-farming association meetings.


The Ampersand Foundation

It was during the early 1990s when Sandy and her husband Leonard announced about their separation. As heart-breaking it was for both of them, they both considered it to be the right thing, for they seldom performed any activities as a couple. In spite of this, their work paths and schedules still ensure that their paths kept crossing. One such work paths that duo shared was the formation of Ampersand foundation by the name of Ampersand Capital. Ampersand Capital Partners was a venture capital limited partnership that they had set up by vesting a major portion of their individual Cisco founder’s stocks.

Sandy and Leonard are known as two of the most philanthropic people in Silicon Valley. And it is by the means of the Ampersand Foundation that they accomplish such projects. With the help of the venture capital firm, the duo founded a majority of projects occurring around them. Two such projects that were managed by a charitable division of the firm are the aforementioned Lab Rat and Pet Net Projects which are in charge of overseeing animal welfare. Lab Rat is a project that was set up to oversee the humane treatment of animals in labs. On the other hand, Pet Net was a conglomeration that was set u to bring together innumerous local humane societies for taking care of their pets.

Ampersand Capital Partners also takes care of an irreversible trust, within which lies a majority of their fortune that is to be sent to various charities when they depart from this earthly plane. Finally, the venture capital firm also funded Urban Decay, a cosmetics brand that was co-founded by Sandy. Urban Decay is now a subsidiary of the French cosmetics company known as L’Oréal.


Urban Decay

Urban Decay was brought to life in 1996. After being ousted from her own company, she looked for projects where she could brainstorm and deliver results to completely revolutionize the industry. And the opportunity presented itself in the form of another Urban Decay co-founder Wende Zomnir, a fellow in the field of marketing. As both women got to talking, they shared detailed conversations about the situation of cosmetics in which they attained common ground on the fact that the entire cosmetic industry was flooded with pink and red lipsticks.

As it turned out, companies were experimenting only with these two colors. And it was here that both women sought to do something about the situation. When Sandy started to work with Zomnir, she genuinely felt that the cosmetic industry was not undergoing any revolution and that it was the only market that neither being addressed. To remedy this, both women went ahead and started to experiment with a myriad range of colors and materials. Nonetheless, they soon require help from their neighbors and friends for neither of them housed any prior knowledge nor experience regarding the field of cosmetic chemistry.

In spite of this, both of them were fully committed to the idea of starting a cosmetic company that could provide high-quality cosmetic products, unlike the ones being sold in the market. And it did, as was visible in the company’s $130 million turnovers in 2011. However, by that time Sandy had long severed all ties with the company. The company was first sold to LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton SE. It was sold twice again before L’Oreal finally acquired it.

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