Leading the Way

By Bridget McCrea
As the first African American woman to graduate from Ohio State University’s marketing and logistics department, the second woman in her discipline to become a full professor, and the first woman to hold a multimillion-dollar-endowed chair — the highest honor bestowed upon faculty members in her field — Lisa Williams, knows what it’s like to be a trailblazer.

And she knows all about hurdling roadblocks to get to the next level. In fact, this 40-year-old president of Williams Research in San Diego likens herself to the mule in the story about the mule that fell into a deep hole and was being buried one shovelful of dirt at a time. With every shovelful that fell on its back, the mule would just shake off the dirt and step up — and get one step closer to the top. “That’s basically what I did,” says Williams, whose 10-employee firm provides services to increase leadership performance and organizational effectiveness to clients such as Ralph Lauren Polo, FedEx Freight, and the American Dental Association. “When people would question what I was doing and ask how I could be ‘first’, I relied on my academic record, published articles, books, and experience [to help me] shake off the dirt and step up.”

Williams is one of the few African American women in the high-tech logistics and supply chain management field. Her company conducts original research and offers technology services that help clients efficiently move information, goods, and capital within and between organizations. “My earlier research centered on information technology adoption within supply chain management,” recalls Williams. “Companies would adopt technology and invest millions in its implementation without knowing which firms were the best candidates for a successful partnership. My research solved that problem by determining which factors would lead to successful adoption.”

Williams eventually discovered that her research provided invaluable information when it came to making partnership selection decisions. “As I spoke around the country on technology adoption success factors, I began to realize that another key factor was leadership. From this awareness, I started conducting research on the science of successful leadership and corporate success,” she says.

Williams’ endeavors include publishing books through her company’s new business publishing arm, EPI Books. Its second book was released in December. It was authored by Williams and is titled Leading Beyond Excellence (Executive Publishers International; $24.95). A third book is already in the works. Williams also expects to increase the number of keynote speeches and executive training programs she conducts this year.

Since starting her company in 1993, Williams has grown its annual revenues from $1,500 to $750,000. After earning her doctorate from Ohio State University, she started her career conducting research in the area of electronic, business-to-business transactions via EDI (Electronic Data Interchange).

Williams’ knowledge in different technology disciplines drew the attention of President Bill Clinton’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure, which called on her for advice. “They were concerned that terrorists would attack the U.S. through our information infrastructure, and I was called in to discuss how to beef that up and