Sandy Lerner


SOURCE of WEALTHCisco Systems 

FUNDING AREAS: Animal Welfare, Environment, Art & Culture

OVERVIEW: When Bosack and his now ex-wife walked away from Cisco, they were compensated with $170 million in stock, which they used to create the Bosack/Kruger Foundation, endowing it with $34 million. Overall, they have donated more than 70% of the wealth they made from Cisco to charitable causes, and focus mainly on animal welfare, and scientific research.

BACKGROUND: Sandy Lerner’s parents divorced when she was young, and her father left Northern California for New York to pursue life as an artist, leaving Sandy to be raised by her aunt and uncle on a Northern California pear farm. She raised animals and drove a truck that was part of their supplemental heating business, coming home every weekend to help out while attending college at Chico State, where she studied political science. She then went on to get a master’s in econometrics from Claremont Graduate School, and a master’s in statistics and computer science from Stanford. 

It was at Stanford that Lerner met Bosack, her future husband and business partner. Together, they co-founded Cisco Systems, which eventually became a giant in network services. After the company went public however, Lerner was eventually fired, and Bosack resigned in protest. Though they made a reasonable profit for the company, the $170 million in stock they received seems small for a company that soon grew to be worth more than $6 billion. Perhaps Lerner and Bosack would be worth more if they’d held on to their stock a while longer, but upset with what had happened, they decided to sell, and put most of the money toward charitable endeavors.

Eventually, Lerner and Bosack separated, then divorced, though they still remain close friends, and Lerner bought an 800 acre farm in Virginia. In contrast to many tech entrepreneurs, she changed paths rather drastically after Cisco, founding and eventually selling the cosmetics company Urban Decay, and more recently turning to organic farming. She now owns a tavern, grocery store, and butcher shop near her home, and seems less interested in technology or big business than she is in living her life in a way that makes her feel at peace with herself. She doesn’t even live in the mansion on her estate, which she is now looking to sell, preferring to live in one of the much smaller residences on the property, and using the mansion for fundraisers, business meetings, and larger social events several times a month.

PHILOSOPHY: When it comes to philanthropy, Sandy Lerner may be well ahead of her time. Nearly 20 years before Bill Gates and Warren Buffett began encouraging billionaires to give away at least half their wealth to charity, Sandy was earmarking 70% of the money she and her husband got from the sale of their Cisco stock for charitable causes. "It's an embarrassment that people in Silicon Valley are giving so little," she’s been known to tell her tech colleagues. In her business, she often puts sustainability above profitability, and that philosophy seems to extend to her philanthropy as well. It seems likely that her agrarian upbringing and worldview shaped how she chooses to give back.


ANIMAL WELFARE: Lerner is a major proponent of animal welfare. Though she is no longer a vegetarian, she believes in the humane treatment of animals, and is the owner of the first farm in Virginia that was certified as both an organic grower, and for its humane livestock practices. She is a regular donor of Born Free USA, a wildlife protection organization, and has funded other groups such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Austin Zoo, the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, the African Elephant Conservation Trust, and SPAY/USA. She has funded several groups in her home of Virginia, but does not seem to give preference to groups based on geographic focus. She also funds academic research sites, such as The Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington.

EDUCATION: Lerner and Bosack have made contributions to numerous educational institutions. In addition to contributions to their alma maters, they’ve made grants to Harvard, Tufts, University of Washington, University of California, and others, mostly in support of conservation research.

FAMILY FARMS: Lerner has become a vocal proponent of the preservation of family farms, working at the state and national levels to push for changes in agricultural subsidy policies to benefit small farmers. Lerner herself is an organic farmer, growing pesticide-free vegetables and raising endangered breeds of cattle. She is the founder of the Virginia Organic Producers’ and Consumers’ Association, Ltd. has recently opened a butcher shop, and a grocery that sells locally grown organic produce from her farm, and others. She also supports local economies more broadly, having opened a small tavern. She notes that the average family farm in Virginia is $40,000 in debt, and says, “I'd guess we only have about 10 years of family farms left.

ARTS & CULTURE: Lerner, who is known as a compulsive Jane Austen reader, was definitely the driving force behind the Leonard X Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Charitable Foundation’s decision to purchase an English manor that once belonged to Jane Austen’s brother, and turn it into a research center for 18th and 19th century women writers. Known as the Chawton House Library, Lerner and Bosack have contributed at least $7 million to the project.

SPACE EXPLORATION: Lerner has supported SETI, a project that searches for extraterrestrial intelligence.

LOOKING FORWARD: Though Lerner has largely spent down the wealth she acquired from Cisco, the foundation still held just under $7 million in assets as of last filed returns. Lerner is planning to sell her Virginia estate though, and asking roughly $30 million—and given her worldview and the fact that she seems increasingly to shun material possessions, claiming all she really needs is her cats, there’s a good chance much of this money could eventually find its way to charities. She will, however, have to find another venue if she plans to keep hosting fundraisers. 

Lerner is fond of dance, saying she “can dance in five centuries and two sexes." She is interested in the history of costumes and dressmaking, and collects books on 18th-century typography, all of which may offer insight into the type of funding she might consider in addition to the areas she already supports.


Leonard X. Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Charitable Foundation, Inc.

8458 W. Main St. Marshall, VA 20115