Shellye Archambeau, Tech CEO and Board Member, On Being Unapologetically Ambitious
Tech CEO. CMO. Board member for Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper Technologies and Okta. Most people would be proud to own any of those titles. Shellye Archambeau has owned them all – and isn’t done making her mark on the business world.
One of her secret powers? Spotting allies who could help her grow.
During her childhood, Shellye’s family moved seven times for her father’s career. Being the new kid in new environments – often the only African-American girl – put Shellye in some challenging situations. Her parents and notable grade-school teachers provided the support and spark she needed to move ahead undaunted.
Advice drops from the sky and for most people, it falls on the floor. You have to be a good listener.
Tapping into that grit and her innate savvy put Shellye on a path to leadership. In fact, she decided early to be a leader. “My high school guidance counselor told me running a business wasn’t much different from leading the clubs I was involved in during high school. So I made a plan to go to Wharton, and then become CEO of IBM.”
When it came time to go to business school, she only applied to The Wharton School. “I wrote on my application ‘‘Please take me. I don’t want to go anywhere else.” They did and Shellye never looked back.
Another of Shellye’s superpowers is listening carefully. “Advice drops from the sky and for most people, it falls on the floor. You have to be a good listener.” That listening actually launched her storied career. “Even picking IBM as a career option came because I heard that you have better opportunities going into growing industries.”
Shellye was also recruited to turn around a struggling startup and serve as Silicon Valley’s first female African American CEO. Under her guidance, the company – now known as MetricStream – became a category-defining market leader in governance, risk, and compliance software.
As a female African-American CEO, Shellye stands out in Silicon Valley. And she feels a responsibility to harness that visibility. “I want people to see that if I can be CEO of a tech company, anybody can.”
Shellye is passionate about Diversity and Inclusion and thinks every company leader is smart to answer the call. “Studies have shown over and over that diversity helps companies create better returns and better results.”
In line with her servant-leader philosophy, she always looks for ways to help others. Wanting her advice and insights to serve as many people as possible, Shellye wrote Unapologetically Ambitious, named one of the best business books of 2020 by Fortune. “I wrote it so others can improve the odds of achieving their aspirations.”
Some of Shellye’s other keys to success:
- Focusing on must-solve problems. To turn a company around, Shellye looks for a costly must-solve problem and then figures out how her company’s offerings can address it.
- Looking for “athletes” when building a company. Shellye seeks people who want to be part of a winning team and have the skills, ambition, and motivation to figure out any role quickly.
- Landing cowbell customers. When establishing a name for a new – or struggling – company, Shellye underscores the need to find marquee customers who pave the way for others to come on board.