Lillian Lincoln Lambert was the only Black woman in her graduating class at Harvard Business School in the year 1969.
Harvard Business School, famous for how selective it is, admitted its first class of women in the year 1963. At the time, African American women had never attended. However, one woman changed the course of history. Lillian Lincoln Lambert, now aged 82, joined the top business school in September 1967. She went on to become the first Black woman to earn a Master's in Business Administration at the Ivy League college, opening the door for hundreds of other Black women to excel. Lambert has since enjoyed a highly successful career and has dedicated much of her time to uplifting fellow Black women in business, Black Enterprise reports.
Prior to enrolling at Harvard Business School, Lambert had just graduated from Howard University, where she earned a degree in business. When she began her graduate course, she first arrived at Radcliffe College graduate dormitory as women were not allowed to live in the accommodations at the business school. Her first thought, she recalled, was: "Why am I here!" Of the 800 students in her class, only six were Black. In addition to this, she only had 18 peers who were women. It quickly dawned on her that she was the only Black woman in her class.
"I had no idea what to expect when I got there," she said in an interview with Black Enterprise. "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."
Nonetheless, she persevered, with particular thanks to her mentor Professor H. Naylor Fitzhugh. Fitzhugh was one of the first Black men to graduate from Harvard’s Business School and was the guiding force behind Lambert's application to the Ivy League college. During her time there, Lambert established the African-American Student Union, where Black students could address their challenges within the classroom as well as in American society at large. In addition to this, she has raised financial support for Black students at Harvard and even helped increase Black enrollment in the MBA program.
Since graduating in 1969, Lambert established her own building services company, Centennial One, headquartered in Landover, Maryland. She began with 20 part-time employees, $4,000 in savings, a $12,000 line of credit and an office in her garage. Soon enough, she built Centennial One into a company that made more than $20 million in revenue with 1200 employees. The company currently has operations in four states, serving clients such as ABC News, Dulles Airport and Hewlett-Packard. In addition to this, Lambert was awarded Harvard's Alumni Achievement Award, the highest award bestowed on its alumni. She also began a successful speaking career and wrote a book about her experiences titled, "The Road to Someplace Better: From the Segregated South to Harvard Business School and Beyond."