Sandy Lerner

NET WORTH: Unknown

SOURCE of WEALTH: Cisco Systems

FUNDING AREAS: Animal Welfare, Environment, Art & Culture

OVERVIEW: When Lerner  and her now ex-husband 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 percent of the wealth they made from Cisco to charitable causes, and focus mainly on animal welfare and scientific research.

BACKGROUND: Sandy Lerner was raised by her aunt and uncle on a Northern California pear farm. She tended livestock and drove a truck that was part of the family's supplemental heating business, coming home every weekend to help out while attending college at Chico State, where she studied political science. She then earned a master’s degree 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 fired, and Bosack resigned in protest. Eventually, Lerner and Bosack separated, then divorced, though they still remain close friends. Both were still listed as directors of the foundation as of the 2015 tax filing.

In 1996, Lerner bought Ayrshire Farm, an 800-acre farm in Virginia that includes a 42-room Edwardian mansion that she restored and uses for a variety of social functions. She changed paths rather drastically after Cisco, founding and eventually selling the cosmetics company Urban Decay, and more recently turning to organic farming. She owns a tavern, grocery store and butcher shop near her home. It was reported in 2013 that Lerner was planning on selling Ayrshire Farm. "I think everyone who makes money goes through a 'house phase,' and I loved restoring the manor house, but it’s a lot of upkeep," she said. It's unclear if she remains the farm's owner, but she continued to reside there as of 2017.

PHILOSOPHY: 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 percent 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. Additionally, it seems likely that her agrarian upbringing and worldview shaped how she chooses to give back.

ISSUES

ANIMAL WELFARE: Lerner is a major proponent of animal welfare. She has been 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 has been 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 opened a butcher shop and a grocery that sells locally grown organic produce, and others. She also supports local economies more broadly, having opened a small tavern.

ARTS & CULTURE: Lerner, who is known as a compulsive Jane Austen reader, was likely 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 devoted to 18th and 19th century women writers. Known as the Chawton House Library, Lerner and Bosack have contributed at least $7 million to the project since 1992. In 2015, the largest grant made by the foundation was to Chawton House, in the amount of $674,404. Another $146,000 that went to the British Schools and University Foundation was earmarked for the Chawton Lecturer Fund.

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 $2 million in assets as of 2015 filed returns. 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.

CONTACT:

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

8458 W. Main St.
Marshall, VA 20115
(540) 364-8062