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Episode 20 | Career Nation Show with Shellye Archambeau

Shellye Archambeau is a Silicon Valley leader, who is one of High Tech’s first female African American CEOs.

She has been featured frequently in Forbes and New York Times and Business Insider and has been an executive at IBM, CEO of, and then the turnaround CEO for a Silicon Valley startup, which is now MetricStream, a global leader, and governance risk and compliance software.

She currently serves as Fortune 500 board member and holds board seats at Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper Technologies, and Okta.

Her new book, ‘Unapologetically Ambitious’ comes out in October.

In Career Nation Show, Shellye talks about her book, leadership, and career management.


Shellya: As long as you stay focused on the objective, you know, a lot of times it’s easy to get lost. In the actual act, you know, the work itself, the creation itself and forget what the intention really is and what the objective of what you’re trying to accomplish is. So it’s really important to keep that objective in mind.

Career Nation Show: Hello, and welcome back to the career nation show today. We are so lucky to have Shelly arc and ball and on the career nation show, Shelley’s a phenomenal Silicon Valley leader.
She’s one of high Tech’s first female African-American CEOs. She has been featured frequently in Forbes and New York times and business insider. She has been an executive at IBM, CEO of, and then the turnaround CEO for a Silicon Valley startup, which is now MetricStream, which is a global leader in governance, risk, and compliance software.
She currently serves as fortune 500 board member. She holds board seats at Verizon Nordstrom Roper technologies and Okta, her new book unapologetically. Ambitious comes out in October. We will talk with Shelly about her book leadership, managing your career. We’ll also talk about tech and many other teams.
Shellya, welcome to the show.

Shellya: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.
Career Nation Show: Shellya, your book unapologetically ambitious. So riveting full of personal stories. Tell us a little bit about the backstory of the book. What made you write this book?
Well, it’s interesting.

Shellya: I’ve actually tried to be accessible my career, so I actually respond.
I respond to all the emails, LinkedIn tweets, whatever. And as I was getting more and more responsibility, what was happening was I could respond, but I couldn’t meet with people. I couldn’t sit down one-on-one and I thought, you know, one day when I get to phase two, I’m going to write it down. I’m going to write down kind of what made Shelley, Shelley, what were the key lessons approaches, you know, tactics that I did so that I could actually share with others, because one of the things that is always irritated me, frankly, Is that there are so many people, especially people of color and especially women who frankly don’t even get the opportunity to contribute to half their capability because they just don’t get the opportunities.
So I want to give them some tools and approaches and techniques for actually creating an environment in which they can have more opportunity and take advantage of all their capabilities to achieve their aspirations.

Career Nation Show: I love it. And thank you for doing that, because that gives us an opportunity for all of us to take a peek behind the curtain and really understand your leadership style.
And not only that but understand your journey and evolution as a leader, which has got lessons for so many of us. And so many of us, not only tech, but also outside of tech, um, and the book, Shelly, I got a chance to read it. So thank you for a copy. And it’s so riveting, it’s full of personal stories, you know, right from the childhood stories with your mom and dad, uh, to the high-tech days.
I want to start with some specific chapters that relate to sort of the formation and evolution as a leader, uh, in your life. And so something, this is something we can all learn from. So I want to start with your formative years. And this is the story about the imposter syndrome. When your mom said to you, don’t let the win.
And so you’re in high school, you’re a minority kid. You were probably taller than kids in your grade. You’re wearing leg braces. You’re enrolling, enrolling in all of us, every single club. Give us the backstory, what it felt like and what it, what do you mean in that chapter about fighting the, you know, the imposter syndrome and, about your mom?
Shellya: I think everybody feels imposter syndrome at some point. But I think it’s even more acute for those of us who have been told and many specific, uh, and general ways that we just don’t belong or we’re just not capable or just not, you know, whatever it might be so that when we finally do show up and we actually get the opportunities, um, we feel that, well, maybe, maybe we don’t belong.
All right. Maybe we’re not actually smarter as capable as people think that we are. And that’s what imposter syndrome really is. So to combat that a couple things, one, I was fortunate to be raised in a great supportive family, so that definitely helps. But the other thing I learned to do was to fake it until I made it.
And basically what that meant was even when I didn’t feel confident or comfortable or sure of myself. I basically give myself a little pep talk, throw my shoulders back, you know, kind of, and just plow right in to whatever, whatever it was. Uh, and I did that until I ultimately felt comfortable and I ultimately knew my way around.
So that was my trick because what happens is in all honesty, most people, whenever you get something new, a new opportunity, a new assignment. Whatever my B we’re all starting fresh. So everybody feels that way, but you don’t realize it when it’s you. So if you can realize that this is something that happens in general to most people, then it’s a little bit easier to handle and then fake it till you make it.
And eventually you keep doing it. You become comfortable,
so true. And, you know, Just to follow on, on that as we sort of battle our own impostor syndrome and we start to get some traction, whatever it is, we are launching a product, starting a new company, whatever your goal is. Right. You know, a lot of times we feel we get challenged.
And is there a point where one should sort of stay in the game, continue to stay in the game, grind it out. Um, versus at some point, should I quit? And is there, is there a way for me to know that and I can totally understand staying in the game is important, but it’s also important to know the other side.
So what is your take on that?
Mm. Yes, no, I’m a big believer in resiliency and staying in the game. And now does that mean forever, right? No, it doesn’t mean forever, but it does mean that the first couple of hurdles or issues or challenges, no, you don’t quit part of building resiliency and part of building, frankly.
Courage is the practice. Of just getting through uncomfortable situations, getting through hard situations and realizing that, okay, it was scary and it was hard, but it didn’t kill me. Right. I actually survived. Um, and if you do that and you realize that that’s the case, then the next time you’re going to be more comfortable in terms of doing it.
Now, when you hit a brick wall, you’ve tried to go over it, around it, through it, under it, and it’s not going anywhere. Then yes. It’s time to make a change and figure out a different path. But what I tell people is set your goals. It’s okay to alter your plans, but keep your goals. Don’t throw the goal away with the challenge.
Keep the goal, just figure out a different way to go after the goal.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So it sounds like there’s that it should be some flexibility in that plan. So it’s not just a hard plan, but it’s a, it’s an important plan. But you got to, got to go after the plan and be flexible. you know, the career planning aspect is one of the juiciest parts of the book.
And, one of the things you mentioned was when you were researching leaders and CEOs, you didn’t see a lot of people who look like you, right. Or came from the same background. So it must have been hard to sort of. think about a career plan without having sort of those role models. And so how, how did you go about creating a career plan for yourself with information, which you’re sort of less than perfect.
You didn’t have all the information with you.
Absolutely. And by the way, this is before internet. So even doing research was cool, was quite hard. you know, I’m going to go back to planning for a minute as I answer this, this question and that is. You know, I believe that you set goals, which a lot of people do.
t not a lot of people put plans in place. Some people do, but very few people actually make decisions consistent with those plans every day. So the way I always approached it was what’s my goal. Now what needs to be true? To achieve that goal. And then how do I make it true? So then backing up to this whole CEO piece.
You’re right. I didn’t see a lot of people who look like me. Matter of fact, I had a hard time finding any and that were leading big companies. And what that told me is the odds were not in my favor right now. It didn’t tell me that I couldn’t do it. It just told me that the odds were not in my favor. So what could I do to improve my odds?
And that’s where. Setting goals with timelines. The difference between a dream and a goal is a timeline and a plan. Um, so set a goal with timelines and a plan and executing on the plan actually helps you improve your odds because you’re intentional with everything that you’re doing. And a lot of people aren’t.
So if you can be intentional about how you make true what needs to be true, you know, so for example, I decided that I wanted to be a CEO. I decided I wanted to be in tech and I looked around and so IBM was at the time, the Apple of its day. Right. It was the leader in tech leader, in tech at the time. And I said, great, that’s a good company.
I’ll go be CEO of IBM. Okay. So as are not in my favor. So I did the research, right. And it turns out that every CEO at IBM started out in sales. So sales is where I went. Now you have to understand, I was graduating from Wharton people from Morton, didn’t go to into sales, right? You went to become an investment bankers or international finance people, or Proctor and gamble, product managers.
I mean, all these sexy titles and right. And I’m going to go sell computers. What’s with that. Right. But I had a plan and what it, and what my research told me is this is where the current is. This is where all the CEO started. So there must be something here being intentional about going after it. I made sure when I was in school, even though Wharton didn’t have a computer science degree, right.
As a business school, but I took courses that required programming, just so I would have an understanding of what was going on. All of these things I was doing to improve my odds. That I would be more successful right. At what I was going to have to do. So that’s what I mean by facing situations, just because you don’t see yourself just because it looks hard or daunting doesn’t mean you can’t, it just means the odds aren’t in your favor.
So figure out how to improve the odds.
Yeah, it’s almost like manufacturing your own luck by choosing wisely and researching your, your areas and putting together a plan and executing on that.
Absolutely. I talk about that in the book. I talk about creating your own luck, um, and not to say that luck isn’t serendipity, of course, there’s serendipity involved in luck, but I do think that the actions you take, the knowledge that you gain the experiences.
That you have can all actually improve your odds of being lucky, because all luck is, is having the right skills, experience, background and attitude. When an opportunity comes along, because opportunities come along all the time, it’s just whether or not we’re able to capitalize on it.
You’re so right, Shelly and I totally agree with that and subscribe to the same viewpoint as well, you know?
We have to execute on the plan. There is no perfect plan, right? And I want to shift gears a little bit on talk, um, and center on this topic, which is swerve. Uh, and in many ways I also am. You can correct me if I’m wrong, but also took upon it as a sort of innovation when things are too ma too dynamic around us.
Like for example, the current economy, and we’ve got COVID 19 going on. There’s economic changes. Um, you know, technology changes going on as well. And so when things are super dynamic, how can one, uh, either on an individual basis or a team basis or a company basis, figure out how do I make my next move and how do I innovate?
When should I soar? When should I sort of move to, into a different dynamic?
Sure. So I see swerve as back to give a goal and plans. Um, when you hit that wall. You need to swerve. You don’t want to completely crash. Right? A couple of dents are all right, it’s you try to push your way through, but you don’t want to actually completely wipe out.
So you need, you definitely need to swerve. And that happens. That can happen because the opportunities are longer available, right? It can happen because the economy changes and suddenly what was actually we thought was a great opportunity. No longer is right. Company dynamics, shape all those things. So swerving.
Basically means just that you’re heading down a plan and a path that something happens. It comes up, you want to swerve, but get around. Don’t let it stop you. Right? You want to actually get around it. And it’s interesting because even times like these, which are so challenging, my heart goes out, frankly, to families with younger kids.
My kids are older, but families with young kids that are trying to work right now, it is really, really hard. So as you think about. Where the challenges are coming from and what you can do, right. Now’s the time to think through. All right. How can I change? Adapt, right? My over situation to actually improve my odds of getting what I want.
so replanting and rethinking. The other thing that times like these bring is whenever you’re in a crisis, disruption. Actually is the opportunities for disruption are actually significant because everything’s changing business models are changing. Consumer behavior is changing technologies that we’re just getting underway are actually now accelerating because of crisis.
So it is a time actually to open up and that provides new opportunities. If you can keep your eyes open to them, right. And be having the right attitude when they come through.
Yeah, you’re so right. I mean, every, challenge within it contains the seeds of opportunity and those would be sort of the new opportunities, new businesses, new technologies that we’ll see in the wake of COVID and you know, things.
elly, you know, you, you talk so passionately about having a plan executing and you’ve. Live that example yourself, and you not only live that example for yourself, but also for others. It’s a great example for others, people of color, minority women who get, who get inspired by your work. And tell me, how do you maintain that sense of passion that, that excitement and that motivation and that urgency, what drives you?
Like give us, give us some of that.
Oh, goodness. You know, I, it’s funny and ambition, ambition is something I feel like I’ve just had for a long time. You know, once I, once I got through my very early formative years, et cetera, I wanted so badly to show that I was capable. Because so many people told me that I shouldn’t be right.
I wanted so much to please people and to get approval, you know, et cetera, because of how, how I grew up and the different things that were going on in the racially charged sixties, that, that in itself actually fostered the ambition because it was like, all right. One of the best ways to get visibility or recognition is when you do well.
So I learned that early and said, great, then I always want to do well. And you know, it’s interesting it think about career moves. A lot of people spend a great deal of time focused on what’s the next job. What’s the next step, you know, what’s the path, et cetera. And it’s important to spend that time and build your plan.
But once you’ve got it, you need to make sure you’re focusing your energy on doing your current job really well. Because that’s how opportunities come forward. You know, you can, you can move from one job to another, to another and not, you know, really Excel at each one for a little bit, but then you’re going to hit a wall.
You get out a wall because you haven’t actually gained all that you needed to gain to be able to truly make the leap frogs. So I tell people all the time, yes. Have your plan, have your mentors and supporters, and definitely think about what you need to be doing. But number one job is to really do an outstanding job at the job that you have.
Uh, and if I could just make one other comment on that, you don’t have to do it by yourself. You know, the other thing I learned early is just about every job you get, somebody else has done before. So go find them, talk to them, learn from them. So everything is not brand new. Why not start out on first base instead of home plate?
I actually listening and learning from others, it’ll help you Excel faster, which will then help everything else in terms of move faster. So, I
love it. And, um, I think a lot of those teams are also captured in the book, which is managing your reputation and also, you know, having mentors around you.
That’s, uh, that’s incredible insights. And thanks for sharing that, chatting that Shelly, because that inspires a lot of people around us and across the world. so now that we know a little bit more about you, it’s time for us to know even more about you and we’re going to play. Yeah, we’re going to play out a game of favorites.
And so we don’t ask you, I’ll ask you some questions. Okay. About your favorite things. Okay. Lancer. What’s your favorite King and why?
All right. Fair enough. All right, cool.
So the first question is Shelly, what’s your favorite app?
Actually Google maps. And let me explain why I have the absolute worst sense of direction in the world.
And Google maps was a lifesaver for me. So yes, I use a lot of different apps, but the last one that I would give up is Google maps.
Oh, my God. It’s ironic that you are providing others direction and you are using groups.
That’s right. That’s all right.
It’s so funny. Um, Shelly, do you have a favorite quote that you live by, or you’d like to see usual,
you know, I do.
And it’s Oprah’s quote and it is, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. Your ability to triumph begins with you. And that’s just something I live by. That’s brilliant.
I love it. It’s super deep. I’m going to put that in the show notes for others as well. Shelley, um, favorite number three.
What is your favorite
book? Well, you know, I have a lot of books that I like, but the one that probably has the most emotional connection for me is trillion dollar coach. Trillion dollar coach is really the management leadership left lessons, by bill Campbell and bill Campbell, the late bill Campbell was a mentor and a sponsor of mine.
And so, you know, that book is just very special, um, because of all those, those memories, you know, in the stories and it just all brings it right back. So. Trillion dollar coach, amazing.
And bill Campbell, another legendary Silicon Valley leader and coach to so many leaders like yourself. Shelly, thanks for, thanks for sharing that.
Career Nation Show: Shelly, what’s your favorite food?
it’s salmon.
Nice. do you like it in a certain
way? Actually, I like salmon all kinds of ways. So, no, I mean, if I had a favorite, it’s probably, it’s probably grilled, you know, if you can get grilled salmon then just right. So it’s a little crispy on the outside and still nice, you know, not too overcooked in terms of on the inside anyway.
Career Nation Show: Nice. I love it. and next time somebody wants to treat you. They know exactly what you’re
getting. That’s all right.
Career Nation Show: Shelly, what about your favorite music?
Anything I can dance to? I love to dance. And so any, any music with a great beat I’m there.
Career Nation Show: Super Shelly, thank you for being such a great sport and playing the favorites game with us.
I really want to shift into sort of the career aspect of, of your work. And, uh, I would love to know a little bit of sort of the secret sauce. Of Shelly in terms of work, for example, you know, let’s say you were, you were in a work situation and you’re preparing for a big product launch or a major customer presentation, sort of, what is your, what is your approach towards making that presentation or that launch successful?
Career Nation Show: How do you ensure success? So feel free to sort of expand and provide us some of that Shelley secret sauce.
Shellya: Sure. But it’s going to come back to some of the themes we’ve already had. So, uh, first, you know, it’s, it’s all about doing your homework. So you understand what situation you’re walking into, who are you actually presenting to?
What’s the purpose and the point, et cetera. Um, then it’s putting together the right team. If you’re working with a team that can actually go get it done, staying focused, making sure there’s clarity right around the overall objective. And then working hard in terms of executing, executing on it. Um, and you know, what I found is as long as you stay focused on the objective, No a lot of times it’s easy to get lost in the actual act.
You know, the work itself, the creation itself and forget what the intention really is and what the objective of what you’re trying to accomplish is. So it’s really important to keep that objective in mind. I remember just a story. I was so, gosh, I was probably six years into my career and I just come, I just got to take on a new role relatively I’m in a new branch new office.
So I didn’t know a lot of people and I was still building my reputation, right. Knowledge, et cetera. And I was given this project wanted, I was asked to take basically all the different opportunities across this particular industry. Right. Let’s capture them, identify, prioritize what the elements are.
Perfect. So I did, and I, you know, I wanted this to really be nice. So I spent time on making this pretty and, you know, beautiful and easy to read and the whole bit, and I put it all together. It’s taken me a couple of days and I worked hard and when I delivered it and she was my boss, he looked at it and said, well, gosh, this is beautiful, but I just wanted a spreadsheet.
Well, you know, meaning I just wasted two days. Right? All we needed was a spreadsheet. Cause we just needed to be able to see and prioritize. Right. What’s important. I mean, all this extra stuff, it’s pretty, but it’s really not necessary. So you have to stay focused on what is the actual objective to make sure that your time is being spent in the right place.
And you’ll go waste two days on something that was worthless.
And in, in learning about that objective, is there a particular methodology, um, for example, um, how comfortable should one be for asking probing questions, whether you’re asking those questions to your manager, to their boss or to your customers?
Um, what are your thoughts on that?
So, listen, you’re asking a woman who started out in sales. You know, one of the biggest, one of the best things you learn in sales is, well, actually two things, but one of the best is how to qualify. It’s qualified, qualify, qualify, qualify. And, you know, I tell people all the time, everybody should start their careers in sales.
And the reason is you learn how to qualify, which means you can ask questions. You can probe, you make sure you get clarity right on what’s happening, what’s going on. What’s important. But the second thing you learn in sales is. How to handle no. And the fact that no doesn’t mean no, not ever. It just means no, not now because something’s not right.
And with you learn that early, then you learn that getting a no is actually a good thing because it allows you to come back and say, well, why not? Right. What we need to be different. Right? How do you know you can actually deal with it? If you actually don’t ask the question to get a no, then you never actually find out why something didn’t happen or why you didn’t get that promotion, or why.
Right. Et cetera. So asking and getting a no is a good thing. And you learn that you learned that in sales.
I love it. And you know, Thanks for sharing that because a lot of times, folks become so attuned to working in a vertical or environment, whether they’re working in a large company or mid-sized company, or even a startup that people get into a certain group and they stop asking questions and then they lose the ultimate goal.
What am I actually doing? Where am I creating value? And if that doesn’t happen enough, Then basically you’re just a corporate drone and you’re just going about attending meetings and just doing your job, not creating real value. And one day, unfortunately, they find out that they no longer have that job.
And so Shelly, you know, one of the things we touched upon earlier was sort of creating your own luck, manufacturing your luck and preparing, um, for that opportunity. And, uh, As you know, opportunity, uh, happens in serendipitous ways, right? It could happen at any time. So tell us a little bit about preparation and, you know, a lot of folks that watch the show they’re really pumped and excited and really looking forward to a great career and they want to get into a place where they don’t think about.
Things as jobs, but as a continuum off a great career. And what are the things that you would advice them in terms of how can they prepare well for a great career? Are there some fundamental things that they should put in place?
So, yes. Uh, and I know I sound a bit repetitive, but you know, first you have to figure out what it is that you want to do.
You know, people come to me all the time for advice and say, gosh, here’s what I’m doing now. You know, what should I do next? What’s the right step. And my first question is always, well, where are you trying to go? And many times they say, I don’t know. And then I said, well, honestly, it doesn’t matter what step you take.
Cause it doesn’t, you know, if you don’t have a direction in which you’re heading right, then it really just doesn’t matter. Um, and I always find it so interesting because you personally need to own your career. You know, you would never go and spend a thousand dollars for an airplane ticket. Pack up, get on the plane, buckle in and sit down and then say, so where are we going?
Right. You never just leave it in the hands of the pilot to just take you someplace. But a lot of times we treat our careers that way we show up, we come, we do our jobs and we wait for somebody to tell us that, Oh, here’s the next opportunity or a home. Here’s something that’s happening. And we say, okay, that sounds good.
That sounds good. And we may wander around. And then we’re like in our late thirties, early forties, and we’re thinking. Gosh, I’m just not where I thought I would be. Right. Happens a lot. So you need to take responsibility for your career. Decide, what are you trying to do? And even if you don’t know exactly the title or the role, if you know an industry or, you know, skillsets, right.
Or, you know, how you want to contribute, then focus on that and look for opportunities that give you the ability to build those kinds of skills until you figure out what the next thing is. Um, but be intentional. The number one message that I’d like to leave people with as it relates to their careers is to be intentional because otherwise people, our age, and companies are able to make job opportunities.
Sound wonderful, absolutely wonderful. And you say, Oh, that sounds wonderful. And you go and take this job and then you’re in it for four or five months. And you’re kind of like, man, okay, this isn’t what I wanted to do. Um, so be intentional, decide what you want to do. And then figure out how you go make that happen.
And by the way, don’t keep it a secret. Sometimes they’ll ask people what they want to do and they’ll tell me, which is great. And then I’ll say fabulous. Who else knows that? Um, my husband, my wife, my sister, I mean, I don’t tell people. You have to tell people what you’re interested in doing. You know, I believe firmly that if you don’t tell the universe what you want, the universe can help you and believe it or not, a lot of people in the universe are happy to help if they just know how no I’ve seen jobs pass by people where somebody said, Oh man, so-and-so just got that job.
I wanted that job. Am I okay? Did they know you wanted that job? Well, no. You know you have to, you have to go after it. Now that means being vulnerable. Right? Because when you tell people what you want to do, that’s I think why a lot of people don’t, because if I tell you what I want to do, that it might sound like I’m either bragging or I think a lot of myself or worst, I feel that if it doesn’t happen, you know, on the timeline that then you’re gonna think of a failure, right?
So it’s, it feels risky to tell people. But risk and opportunity are two sides of the same coin. If you don’t take risks, you’re not going to get the same level of opportunity. You’ve got to take risks to get the opportunity. Wow,
Career Nation Show: Shelly, that was brilliant. Thank you so much.
What a great message. Be intentional.
Have a plan, make it happen. Build a brand and take risks.

Career Nation Show: Shelly. Thank you so much. You are a super busy leader and we are so thankful for you to be here with us and sharing your advice. Thank you for being so generous and for folks to know you better and follow you, should they, how should they get in touch with you?
LinkedIn Twitter.
Shellya: Absolutely. I am very active on LinkedIn. I’m also on Twitter, Instagram. So you can definitely find me. And with regards to the book, unapologetically, ambitious, take risks, break barriers, and create success on your own terms. It’s available for pre-order on and available generally on October 6th.
But I will tell you if you think you might want to read it. Please pre-order it means a lot to new authors because it tells the publisher, Oh, there’s interest. So maybe we should print more of these things. So anyway, so help me out. They got some value. There’s a lot more in the book.

Career Nation Show: Shelly, thank you so much.
And we’ll put down the links for the books so that people can pre-order the book and enjoy it. Thank you again. Have a wonderful day.