First Black Woman To Receive A Harvard MBA Proves Failure Is Just A New Beginning

Lillian Lincoln Lambert turned a minor setback into major reward by sticking to her goals.

Lillian Lincoln Lambert

The correlation between being educated and being successful is nearly irrefutable, but it doesn’t make it any easier for an individual to fight the odds stacked against them in attempting to securely invest in their future. This was certainly the case for Lillian Lincoln Lambert. Born on a farm in the segregated South, she left home at age of 18, working odd jobs until she realized getting an education would be key to her advancement.

Her upward battle began at an institution notable author Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to as the Mecca: Howard University, where she attained her business degree. Lambert applied to Harvard Business School only to be rejected because she had allegedly not taken the application seriously enough. She took this failure as ammunition. After learning why her application had been insufficient, she dedicated herself to creating an application that would guarantee her admission. The tenacity and endurance she exhibited led to a historical achievement, in which she became the first black woman to receive an MBA from Harvard.

In an interview with, Lambert confessed that despite attending the school in a challenging time – having to walk half a mile from her graduate dormitory – she felt “the school did an excellent job of preparing me for the competitive world I would face. As a professional, having a Harvard MBA gave me more confidence and enhanced my credibility in the eyes of many people. They were less likely to question my competence.”

Lambert believes she would not have been offered many positions had she not received her MBA from Harvard, such as serving on the board of directors for the Citizens Bank of Maryland, or serving on the board of visitors for Virginia Commonwealth University. Lambert found her MBA from Harvard to be invaluably useful in allowing her to pursue her entrepreneurial goals, helping her gain the respect of prospective customers and competitors alike.

Lambert is a powerful role model for black women, not only due to her persistence in attaining the degree she desired to facilitate her entrepreneurial success, but also because of her persistence and tenacity in seeking the education she deserved. Failure does not mean the end of the game, but is rather a hurdle to be overcome – and in Lambert’s case, overcoming failure allowed her to reap massive benefit.

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