Growing up in Houston,TX, daughter of an Army Sergeant who taught her the meaning of Accountability, LaShonda Anderson-Williams has always challenged the status quo—a Trailblazer with purpose, both passionate and authentic, her personal charisma and powerful presence led her to stimulate positive change during her early years and first job at IBM while still an undergrad at Texas Womens University. An excellent student, she bypassed better-known Rice University and U of Houston for TWU because of their outstanding nursing program but where a savvy guidance counselor redirected her to study business. Her background in Student Business Programs in HighSchool and the president of the Student Council was a great foundation to build on into the Business School. This set of experiences and her active involvement on the TWU campus positioned her to compete for and ultimately be selected for a paid internship at IBM. Upon graduation she was offered a full-time position in Sales and this positioned her as a rockstar for over 10 years in increasingly important and visible positions, until recruited to sales at Microsoft where she excelled, advanced and flourished for 15 years more. IBM was an epiphany for me…15 weeks training from the start, role playing; an introvert by nature “my mentors( Sharon Coleman- Still at IBM) taught me to speak up and grow up.”
“It was my Dad who taught me that failure was not an option,” but she says that her folks had no concept of what her life is now. “Going to college and graduating? That was achievement in a family where no one had gone there before. Getting a paid job and taking care of myself? That was success.”
Speaking with LaShonda it is easy to see why. She met Eddie Marshall (who has since retired from Microsoft) thru Van Symons at the time was the CEO of Clear Technologies an IBM Business Partner. Van connected me with Eddie at Microsoft…he saw something in me that I hadn’t seen myself–he thought I had more to give and could make a difference in the fast growing environment at Microsoft. I was 8.5 months pregnant with my son when Microsoft hired me. ’ They gave me a laptop, set up my benefits and I worked for 3 week and then went on maternity leave! But Eddie knew what he was doing—I had hoped to retire at IBM which was a wonderful company and great experience yet somehow I was captivated that Microsoft was willing to take a chance on me.” She decided—as a young mother—to be a role model for her daughters Sydney—now 26 years old and studying medicine and Lauren 24, studying Forensic Science, and son Myles 15 who she was pregnant with. “I wanted to blaze a trail for them and in the process my work turned me into an extrovert!” She has tried not only to teach her three children,accountability but also concentration. In describing herself, LaShonda uses three words: Focus, Relator, Achiever.
In her current position as SVP, Healthcare & LifeSciences, at Salesforce.com–one of the most exciting and fast-growing companies around as well as a Wall Street favorite investment—a powerful entity both mentally and physically, Anderson-Williams prides herself on being unapologetically herself at all times. And she continues to flourish career-wise, all while pursuing another passion: body-building!
Six years ago, LaShonda and her husband Troy, a healthcare and Life Sciences executive with another Houston company, reaffirmed their vows and decided to do more downtime things together. “Troy always worked out and he wanted to focus on bodybuilding, and I thought, ‘why not? Why can’t I? Those questions have always been my mantra…what I used to allay my fears since adolescence. Bodybuilding and family deserved my full attention, so Troy and I embraced the sport and entered competition after our first year. Troy won first Place in the Men’s Physique category at the 2015 Phil Heath Show in Houston and LaShonda won first place at the 2015 NPC Formulation One Show in the Women’s Physique Division. Whether at home with my family, in the office, or at bodybuilding workouts or competitions, the values instilled by my parents and honed by my work family remain constant.
Although her parents, who hadn’t attended college themselves, couldn’t advise her on how to survive and thrive in corporate America, they instilled strong values and an inflexible work ethic. They encouraged her to reach for the stars and to dream big, a lesson she has taken to heart in all of her endeavors. Though bodybuilding is typically thought of as a purely physical undertaking, Anderson-Williams says the sport has an overwhelming mental component as well. “It’s about discipline, commitment, and really nurtures my passion for health and fitness,” she said. Though uncommon in her world, her love for bodybuilding is not locked away in the closet; Anderson-Williams is eager to integrate it with her work. She recalls the shocked looks she would get as she chugged a gallon of water at work meetings, a habit she developed through her sport.
“I bring [a gallon of water] because it’s something that’s important to me, but the point is that what you see is the whole LaShonda,” she explained. “I’m a mom, I’m a wife, I’m a bodybuilder. I love to learn. I love things that challenge me, you know, personally and mentally, so I try to showcase myself as also human. I’m not an ivory tower executive out of touch with day-to-day life.” From all accounts she is an inspiration to her co-workers, direct reports and clients.
Today as a powerhouse female icon in the industry, Anderson-Williams has of course endured her fair share of imposter syndrome. When she took on her first managerial role, she recalls feeling as though she had to pinch herself. As a black woman in the male-dominated health and technology industry especially, LaShonda got used to not only being the only female in a room, but the only person of color as well.
But she doesn’t let self-doubt paralyze her. “I still remind myself it’s not about perfection, it’s about progress,” Anderson-Williams said. “We all have this mindset of ‘Am I really ready? Am I ready now? And I tell myself ‘of course you are.’ I’m not going to be perfect, I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m going to learn from that.”
An inflection point in her career was taking a StrengthFinders personality test, a survey that helped her learn more about her innate traits. Each time she took the test, results were consistent, classifying her as an achiever who thrives in most situations, and a relator looking to connect with others. Above all, she is a constant learner. “I know that I’ll never know it all, and I don’t expect to, but I’m always going to seek to improve,” Anderson-Williams said.
Starting as an intern at IBM, Anderson-Williams’ initial focus was on being a sales leader. She built on that at Microsoft for 15 years, and has spent the last three years growing the business of a vertical, healthcare and life science business. As a balanced individual who knew a little about a wide range of topics, at the time she was recruited to Salesforce.com she was ready to dive deeper in the realm of health and life sciences; there, she has gained more in-depth knowledge specifically in health and pharma. This plays into her commitment to marketing and increasing the accessibility of modern medicines, to help people. “In my early years, I had two dreams—to be an attorney and study at UCLA (I was always debating) and then to be a nurse. Of course that was about helping people, but it was also because I read some articles about RNs and their sign-on bonuses of $5000. Then I discovered at TWU that I couldn’t give injections! That was a game changer.”
To those eager to climb the executive ladder, Anderson-Williams says be bold! “I talk about being true to yourself–that is your unique differentiated value proposition, no one else has it. But if you find yourself in a place where you’re not valued, you’re not inspired, you’re not empowered– yeah, you need to find a place to do that.”