Google LaShonda Anderson-Williams and you’ll find no shortage of articles on her business prowess. One of 2021’s Top 25 Women Leaders in Healthcare Software according to The Healthcare Technology Report, Anderson-Williams has been featured in the business press, interviewed on podcasts and won her share of industry awards. But if you scroll down, to the next page of those search results, you’ll also find that the Senior Vice President of Pharma, Healthcare and Life Sciences at Salesforce.com is a fitness buff in impeccable physical form — a bodybuilder with jaw-dropping muscles.
“I love things that challenge me, personally and mentally,” says Anderson-Williams. “I’m an achiever, so I thrive in situations where I can achieve regardless of what it is. I’m always looking to learn.”
This attitude has propelled Anderson-Williams throughout her career — as she cut her teeth at IBM, logged 15 years at Microsoft, and now, leading the pharma vertical at Salesforce, as she works with healthcare and life science organizations to drive innovation and increase access to medicine.
In a way, it’s no surprise that she’s landed where she is.
Growing up in Houston, Texas with an army sergeant father, Anderson-Williams was an excellent student and debated whether to become a lawyer or 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,” she says. Ultimately, she bypassed better-known Rice University and University of Houston to go to Texas Women’s University – a school known for their nursing program. “Then,” she says with a laugh, “I discovered at TWU that I had to give injections! That was a game changer.”
She credits a savvy guidance counselor for redirecting her to study business. That, in combination with some business programs she’d been exposed to high school and the fact she’d been President of the Student Council at TWU, landed her an internship doing technical support at IBM. “My parents didn’t go to college. They couldn’t advise me on how to enter corporate America. But thankfully they instilled values, work ethic, and reaching for the stars so I was always an ambitious and curious person.”
Though Anderson-Williams became a mom herself her junior year, her inner drive pushed her forward and after graduation, she was offered a full-time sales position at IBM. Over time, she took on increasingly visible positions — working her way from an account executive to a sales manager, then a territory leader. “My mentors — especially Sharon Coleman who’s still at IBM — taught me to speak up and grow up,” she says.
In addition to Coleman, Anderson-Williams says that several other important people supported her over the years. “I had the privilege and honor of having so many great mentors, I will call sponsors, because they saw my potential. Plus, they saw I wasn’t going to just walk away quietly because I wanted to challenge the status quo.”
Van Symons, then the CEO of Clear Technologies and an IBM business partner, was one of those people. “Van connected me with Eddie (Marshall) at Microsoft. He saw something in me that I hadn’t seen myself.” At the time, Anderson-Williams was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with her son, but Microsoft hired her anyway. “They gave me a laptop, set up my benefits and I worked for three weeks and then went on maternity leave.” But Anderson-Williams says Marshall 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.”
In the spirit of constant growth, Anderson-Williams adds the move to Microsoft was pivotal in that she moved along her personal continuum from learning how to sell to learning about the organization as a whole. By the time she was recruited to Salesforce.com earlier this year, she had transformed into a seasoned executive with knowledge on a range of topics who was ready to dive deeper into health, life science and all things pharma.
In her current position at one of America’s fastest-growing, most exciting companies, Anderson-Williams prides herself on being herself at all times. And that includes being a bodybuilder who brings a gallon of water to meetings – a habit she picked up while training.
“The point is that what you see is the whole LaShonda,” she says. “I’m a businessperson, but I’m also a mom, I’m a wife, I’m a bodybuilder, I try to showcase myself as a human. I’m not an ivory tower executive out of touch with day-to-day life.”
So how did Anderson-Williams get involved with body building in the first place?
Six years ago, she and her husband, also a healthcare executive, reaffirmed their vows and committed to doing more fun 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.”
Go figure: the two of them embraced the sport, entered a competition, and after their first year, they both won first place in their respective categories.
Just because she is now regarded as a powerhouse female icon in the industry (with pages of Google search results to prove it), Anderson-Williams recalls feeling as though she had to pinch herself in her first managerial role. “Let’s just get real, there’s obstacles with not just gender but race, and often times being not only the only female in a room, especially in a male dominated tech industry, but the only person of color.”
A fan of a good old fashioned personality test (she loves StrengthFinders), Anderson-Williams has put in the time to get clear on herself. The funny thing is that each time she took the test, the 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.”
“I still remind myself it’s not about perfection, it’s about progress,” Anderson-Williams adds. “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.
Anderson-Williams has displayed the grit that many others who have shouldered being the “only” have said. “So, a lot of what I experienced was learning to accept that I may be the only one, but also learning to understand the obligation I had, that if I was the only one I have the opportunity to change, create the path for those to come. So, yes it’s been hard, but it’s also for me an opportunity to step up for those who are to come behind me.”
There’s nowhere that’s more the case than her role as mom to daughters Sydney—now 26, and studying medicine and Lauren 24, studying Forensic Science, and 15-year-old son Myles. “Having two daughters, is really, really good for me to demonstrate the art of the possible when it comes to career, there’s nothing that I ever believed that would limit my potential and whatever I set my mind to… I wanted to blaze a trail for them.”
To those others 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.”
Jamie Fischer was an intern at womensbiz.US this past summer. Now she’s back at Lehigh University as a Junior pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Psychology. At womensbiz, she created content for this, our inaugural issue, truly using her course learning, extracurricular work on the Lehigh student newspaper and impressive internships in journalism in the New York area.