Shellye Archambeau is an experienced CEO and Board Director with a track record of accomplishments building brands, high-performance teams, and organizations. Ms. Archambeau currently serves on the boards of Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper Technologies and Okta. She is also a strategic advisor to the Royal Bank of Canada, Capital Markets Group and Forbes Ignite.
She is the former CEO of MetricStream, a Silicon Valley-based, governance, risk and compliance software company that enables corporations to improve their business operations through better risk management across the enterprise. Ms. Archambeau built the company into a global market leader with over 1,200 employees serving customers around the world. Under her leadership, MetricStream was recognized for growth and innovation over the years, and was named in the top 10 of the “Deloitte Technology Fast 50” and a global leader in GRC by leading independent analyst firms for nine consecutive years.
Ms. Archambeau has over 30 years of experience in technology, leading organizations focused on business to business as well as business to consumer. She is a recognized expert in marketing and co-authored Marketing That Works: How Entrepreneurial Marketing Can Add Sustainable Profits to Any Sized Company. She has held EVP of Sales and Chief Marketing Officer roles for two public companies and as President of Blockbuster.com, launched the entertainment retailer’s first online presence.
Ms. Archambeau is the author of Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers and Create Success on Your Own Terms. She is also a sought-after speaker on governance, risk and compliance as well as entrepreneurship and leadership. She has guest lectured at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and The Wharton School of Business. She is a Forbes contributor and has been featured or referenced in major publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Financial Times.
The nation is in the midst of a period filled with uncertainty and constant challenge. While the world has been stricken with the many difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States is home to a movement focused on ending social and racial inequalities across all aspects of life, including at the corporate level. More than ever, diversity is becoming a critical topic of discussion in corporate boardrooms.
C-Suite had the opportunity to discuss this topic with Shellye Archambeau, Fortune 500 board member, former CEO of MetricStream, advisor and author. Ms. Archambeau shared her journey as a woman of color climbing the corporate ladder, as well as insight into how companies and corporate boards can effectively address the topic of diversity to advance progress. She also shared her motivation behind her newly published book, Unapologetically Ambitious, and what key lessons she hopes readers will take away.
Shellye Archambeau: I realized early in life that as a Black girl in the U.S., the odds were not in my favor to achieve. I learned that by setting goals, building plans to achieve those goals and then making decisions consistent with those plans, I could improve my odds. I set my goal to become CEO. The education I chose, Wharton; the industry I entered, tech; even my first job I took, sales; were all aligned with my plan. I sought out operational P&L jobs, challenging situations and international experience as I built my portfolio of experience to position me for a CEO role.
I spent my first 15 years at IBM, rising from a sales rep to a VP and GM of Public Sector Industries across Asia Pacific as I aimed for the IBM CEO role. When it became questionable whether or not I would truly be considered for that role, I left, accepting a position as President of Blockbuster.com with a mission to build their internet channel. From there I worked my way to Silicon Valley as EVP of Sales and CMO of two public companies and then accepted the role as CEO of Zaplet, a very broken company that represented the biggest challenge I ever faced. We ultimately turned it around and grew it into the market leader, MetricStream.
Along the way, I began serving on public boards, bringing my technology expertise, transformation experience, marketing and leadership skills to the table. Today I serve on the boards of Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper Technologies and Okta.
Archambeau: Too many people don’t get the opportunity to contribute to their full capability in business. I wrote the book to share strategies, approaches, tactics and techniques people can use to increase their own odds to get the opportunities they want and achieve their aspirations. I’ve been ambitious throughout my career, and it irritates me that women and people of color are penalized for being ambitious. Everyone deserves to be ambitious. Studies show that ambitious people not only earn more and achieve higher professional levels, but they are also happier with their life whether they actually achieve their goals or not. So the title, Unapologetically Ambitious, has real meaning for me.
In the book, I discuss the importance of owning your own career and being intentional with your decisions. You would never spend $2,000 on an airline ticket, pack your bags, board the flight, buckle the seatbelt and then ask the pilot, “Where are you taking me?” Yet that is exactly what many people do with their careers despite investing significantly in education and training.
I talk about planning and the importance of being strategic. I also address challenges we face such as imposter syndrome, making personal tradeoffs, taking risks and overcoming obstacles such as bad bosses or dire situations. I touch on self-care and the importance of surrounding yourself with people to build you up versus tear you down.
Archambeau: Ask for what you want. I believe that if you don’t tell the universe what you need, the universe can’t help you. Is it risky? Does it make you feel vulnerable? Absolutely. But risk and reward are two sides of the same coin. You have to take risks to get opportunities and rewards.
I always let people know what I wanted. When I was ready to compete for a board seat after becoming CEO, I told everyone in the board “world” that I wanted to serve on a board and why I would make a good board member. As a minority, odds are not in your favor, so you can’t just wait and hope that something will happen. You have to pursue it.
“Whenever there is a crisis, emerging trends tend to accelerate, and business models become ripe for disruption.”
Archambeau: D&I programs vary dramatically. In my opinion, it isn’t enough just to train about bias or unconscious bias. People need to be trained how to intervene professionally and effectively when they see bias unfolding. They need to be coached on how to talk about diversity and inclusion. It’s very confusing for everyone, and people can withdraw or feel frustrated that they don’t know how to communicate without saying “the wrong thing.” The focus, communications and training need to be ongoing. Don’t expect a once-and-done training effort to have lasting effect.
Archambeau: Diversity is a strategic issue. Companies are supposed to create and then execute on a strategy that will provide good returns for all stakeholders: shareholders, employees, customers and the community. Studies have shown over and over and over and over again that diverse organizations produce better results. Therefore, diversity should be discussed as part of the overall strategy. Board directors need to show more courage to raise the topic if it is not discussed.
Archambeau: No matter who wins the election, companies will have to operate in an increasingly divisive environment. Safety of frontline employees, mental health support for larger populations and policy development that meet the needs of workers with very different views will become more challenging.
Archambeau: Increasing uncertainty stemming from the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, increased racial equity and justice awareness, evolving global trade dynamics, and environmental and political issues are making it very difficult for companies to plan and forecast for the future.
Archambeau: Whenever there is a crisis, emerging trends tend to accelerate, and business models become ripe for disruption. Boards need to be focused on strategy. The company’s strategy needs to be validated or modified given the changes. Everything is changing. Buyer behavior and expectations are shifting, and new risks and opportunities are arising. The world post-COVID-19 will be different.
As an African American woman in my fifties, I don’t exactly fit the prototype for a tech industry business leader. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me, “How did you get where you are?”
You may be wondering the same thing.
Before I answer, let me tell you a bit about where I started.
During the first five years of my life, the Civil Rights Act passed, peaceful demonstrators met brutality on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, the Voting Rights Act banned practices that limited voter rights, and racial tensions soared. In this environment, my determined parents set out to make a life for our family, following opportunity wherever it took us.
I started as a shy, gangly Black girl in an all-white elementary school, and I grew into a successful high school student and a graduate of the Wharton School. I met a wonderful man to share my life with, and together we raised a family.
After a fast-paced rise through the ranks at IBM, I became one of very (very) few female African American CEOs in the technology sector when I was forty years old. As CEO of Zaplet, I orchestrated a merger with MetricStream, guided our combined company through the choppy waters of the dot-com bust and the financial crisis of 2008, and MetricStream came out the other end an industry leader, employing over a thousand people. Along the way, I have mentored countless young professionals, and I have been involved in organizations that do a lot of good—especially for minorities and women.
How did I get here? That’s what Unapologetically Ambitious is all about—the values, experiences, lessons, ideas, strategies, and actions that got me where I am today. If I had to sum it up, though, I would say ambition got me here—ambition supported by the conscious choices I made every step of the way.
Copyright © 2020 by Shellye Archambeau. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.