Shellye Archambeau – Former CEO of MetricStream and Author of Unapologetically Ambitious

Episode 87

I'm so excited to have Shellye Archambeau, former CEO, Fortune 500 board member, and author of Unapologetically Ambitious on this episode. Shellye is the former CEO of MetricStream, a governance, risk and compliance software company based in Silicon Valley. During her time at MetricStream, she truly turned the company into a global leader. Shellye is one of high tech's first female African American CEOs, and before Metricstream, she was an executive at IMB. She has also been featured frequently in lots of publications, Forbes, New York Times, and Business Insider. Most recently, Shellye came out with a new book called *Unapologetically Ambitious*, which I high recommend reading. On this episode, Shellye talks about her new book, her secrets to succeeding as a CEO and executive and much more.

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Kara Goldin: Hi, everybody. It’s Kara Goldin from Unstoppable, and I am so excited for my next guest. Shellye Archambeau is a friend of mine and also coauthor, and we actually met through a great senior women’s group that we’re both a part of called C200 and I just greatly admire her, and so excited to have her on our show today.
So a little bit about Shellye. She’s one of high tech’s first female African American CEOs here in the Bay Area as well. And she’s been featured frequently in lots of publications, Forbes, New York Times, Business Insider, et cetera. Formally an executive at IBM and I just learned that your father was there as well through the book. Very, very cool. And CEO of one of my favorite former companies, Blockbuster. And so great. Shellye was recruited to be the CEO of the then-struggling Silicon Valley startup, which is now MetricStream. Very, very awesome. And she serves as a Fortune 500 board member and holds board seats at Verizon and Nordstrom and many more. Very, very cool.
Today we’re going to talk about her new book, which I was lucky enough to get a copy of prior to this interview. And it is so good. It’s so inspiring. And I learned so much more than I even knew about Shellye through this. Anyway, I’m going to let her talk to you a little bit about it, but I have to tell you, you guys have to get this book. It’s called Unapologetically Ambitious. And it offers a blueprint for how to achieve personal and professional goals drawn from her own compelling story of how she’s weathered life’s difficulties to build massive success. So welcome, welcome, welcome. Very excited to have you here. Thanks for co-
Shellye Archambeau: Well, thanks, Kara. I’m thrilled to be here. I’ve been looking forward to it.
Kara Goldin: Super, super exciting. So, let’s talk about the book, and we’ll go back in time because your book covers some of the stories as well, but you’ve had an extraordinary story, but let’s talk about Unapologetically Ambitious. What made you think now’s the time to write this book?
Shellye Archambeau: Yes. Actually, Kara, I had decided probably a decade ago that when I got to my phase two, which just meant I had passed the baton on my full-time always-on operating job and had more flexibility then I was going to write a book. I have tried throughout my entire career to be accessible. I respond to every email, LinkedIn, tweet, whatever might be. And I always have. But as I got more and more responsibilities, I couldn’t actually meet with people who wanted to meet with me. And part of the reason I was trying to be accessible is I wanted people to see that I was a real person. We could interact. And if you could interact with me, I’m a real person, then whatever I’ve done, you could do as well.
So I thought, I can’t meet with everybody that wants to meet, to hear the story or learn the lessons or et cetera, pick my brain. But what I will do is when I have the time I’m actually going to write it down. I’m going to write down what made Shellye, Shellye. The strategies, the approaches, the techniques, because I haven’t found a lot out there, frankly, that actually talks about just some of the very tactical things that you can do to push through, to actually overcome some obstacles, to handle bad bosses, to indeed overcome imposter syndrome, to… All these things that we deal with. But talking about it in a very practical, pragmatic way.
Kara Goldin: I totally relate to that. And I feel like you have so many amazing experiences. You’ve done everything from working in startups to working in turnarounds. Definitely as an African American leader, also as a female leader, just so many experiences. And a mom. And all of those things that I think are so relatable, and so many people ask me or say to me I don’t know how you do it. And I’m sure you get that as well, along the way that it’s just trying to weather these storms along the way. So in your book, you mentioned taking risks and breaking barriers. What risks and barriers do you see today are the most challenging for female CEOs, female Black leaders? Wherever you want to take this I think that it’s a… And maybe it’s two different topics altogether.
Shellye Archambeau: I think as people are building their careers today, taking risks, it’s something that actually studies have even proven people who take risks and successfully achieve those different things they’re trying to handle and deal with actually move up faster in their careers than people who don’t. I’ve always said risk and opportunity, risk and reward. Two sides of the exact same coin. So you have to take risks in order to get those opportunities and to indeed leverage that going forward. So the kinds of risks are everything from taking the job that is not a sure bet, right? There’s a lot of hair on the ball if you will, that you’re going to have to work through. That’s taking risks.
When you look at the current environment, a lot of industries are being disrupted. A lot of business models are being challenged. So if you actually are in a space that’s experiencing that, staying in that space, figuring out how to actually overcome it. Are there new opportunities that actually exist in this time of disruption? Which, oh, by the way, I think there are more opportunities during time of disruption than not. So now is the time actually to take those risks because everybody already knows there’s a lot of change and a lot of turmoil. So even if you aren’t as successful as you want to be because there’s a lot of other things going on, you get the benefit of the doubt from what it is that you’re doing.
So my big advice on it is take risks because at the end of the day, unless you feel personally uncomfortable, which is what getting into a risky situation does, you literally feel uncomfortable when you’re taking risks, but that uncomfortable feeling, it means that you’re actually opening yourself up to learning. If you’re comfortable all the time, then honestly you’re not learning very much. So get uncomfortable. Take those risks and learn.
Kara Goldin: Yeah. And that’s a life lesson. That can be applied to your personal life. It can be applied to everything that you’re doing. One of the chapters in my book that I talk about is I face at least one fear every year. And I have a chapter about my journey. I’m terrified of heights. And so that one for me… I’ve done this multiple times, but the story I talk about in the book is I hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. And that was a lot.
And I figured out little things like coping mechanisms along the way. And I made rules to myself to be able to handle… And I’ve taught people, those things along the way too. And sometimes it’s not their journey to the Grand Canyon, but it’s sort of like oh, here’s how I dealt with something that I really feared. And how do you go and do that? So that’s what I got out of your book as well, but there’s a lot of similarities in that respect.
Shellye Archambeau: I fully agree. As a matter of fact, I personally believe that developing courage, it’s not something you’re born with. Matter of fact, I think human nature, the fight or flight is actually just the opposite. But courage to me is a muscle.
So for instance, Kara, the fact that every year you face a fear. What you’re doing is you’re building that muscle. So that the more times you face your fear and actually, oh my God, survive. You live. You don’t die. It actually strengthens your capability to actually take a risk and try something the next time. Not that it ever gets easy, but if you keep taking risks, if you build that courage muscle, it does make it easier to be courageous even if you’re still afraid.
Kara Goldin: Yeah. And something else that I’ve learned and I never would have thought this when I started to do this. And the Grand Canyon for me was probably one of the first times that I actually put a stake in the ground and I said it’s something that I feared for a long time and I’m not going to fear it anymore. But what I found as I was going through that journey was that I thought about a lot of other things that didn’t scare me.
It didn’t scare me to go and launch a company, but look, there’s good days and there’s bad days. And when I have those bad days, I don’t just go back and say, okay, these are the good things that I’ve done while I’ve been building this company. Instead, I go back and think about things that I accomplished and times when I felt really uncomfortable and really scared. And wasn’t sure that I could accomplish what I ultimately was setting out to do. And I thought, yeah, this is very similar to what I’m dealing with in my workplace right now and my business.
So anyway, I totally agree with that. And courage gives you… When you complete the time that you’re trying to be courageous, I think it also gives you an adrenaline boost. Where you’re like… Endorphins are just going crazy.
Shellye Archambeau: Totally agree.
Kara Goldin: And anything whether that’s solving a math problem or trying to hike the Grand Canyon or I don’t know, going public or turning a company around. There’s just so many different examples and you’ve been totally a part of that as well. So the readers… What would you say is the one message? Clearly courage is part of your book, but what else would you say are some of the main messages that people should really take away from Unapologetically Ambitious?
Shellye Archambeau: No problem. So I would say one is definitely the power of being intentional. The power of actually deciding what it is that you want to do and then how to make it happen and then actually doing the steps to make it happen. But it’s amazing to me how many people are actually not very intentional. A lot of people set plans or I should say goals. A lot of people set goals and some people put plans in place to achieve the goal, but where the magic lies is in making decisions every day that’s actually consistent with your plan so that you’re always setting yourself up for the opportunity to appear. So in the book, I talk about how to be intentional and how to think through what you’re doing and what you’re trying to achieve and then how to increase the odds of actually making it happen. So that’s definitely one of the key messages because frankly, that’s been one of my keys to success is that whole process of being intentional, staying focused.
Kara Goldin: Have you always had goals? Do you remember when you were little, were you always that girl that had these goals?
Shellye Archambeau: I was always competitive. I grew up in a family where my parents were crazy. They had four children in less than five years. So we were just like, boom, boom, boom, boom. And as a result, good news is we were close growing up, but we were also super competitive. And frankly, I think it’s that competitive nature of wanting to win, we played lots of games and all kinds of things, actually led to this whole process that I use in terms of setting goals. It was like, okay, I want to win. So what needs to happen? What’s the strategy because every game has a strategy? So what’s the strategy? What steps do I need to take? How do I make this happen? And then I just took the same thing frankly, into life.
All right. How do I make this happen? But it was also, Kara, I realized again, African American girls growing up in the ’60s which were fraught with lots of racial tension. We think there’s racial tension now. It was even stronger back then during the fight for civil rights. And it was very clear to me that the odds weren’t in my favor. So I used setting goals and planning and being intentional as a way to actually change the odds, to improve the odds that I could actually get what I wanted out of life because it was very clear that if I didn’t and I just did what everybody else did, that I wasn’t going to be able to achieve what I wanted to achieve.
Kara Goldin: You’ve faced and overcome not only being a female tech executive, senior tech executive, but also an African American female tech executive in Silicon Valley. What lessons do you think you’ve learned along the way? Because you’ve clearly just done so much more than… There’s very few women, there’s very few African women… What do you think are some of the things that you’ve done in order to accomplish that?
Shellye Archambeau: So one is an overall philosophy that I’ve lived by, which is you can’t control what people do or what people say, but you can control how you respond. And I say that because you’re right, as a woman and you know this, and then definitely as an African American woman, there are things that happen all the time. All these slights, little and big, all these microaggressions… Things that happen. And honestly, if I actually let myself absorb all those things, it could undermine my confidence and it could in essence become its own barrier.
But I’ve always looked at it when things like that happened as all right, that’s their problem. It’s not mine. Now, how am I going to respond to this? So I was able to manage it and put it in a bucket and see it for what it was and not take it so personally.
I think the other thing that was really helpful for me is I believe in cheerleaders and I mean, real cheerleaders. Rah rah, go go. I believe in surrounding myself with people who build me up, not tear me down because there’s enough going on in this world to tear me down. So I want people around me who will remind me that I’m a good person or remind me that I’m capable, that I have skills and strengths and the whole bit when the world is telling me that maybe I don’t, and that gives me confidence, power, courage. It helps support all those things as I face different challenges.
Kara Goldin: I’ve watched you. Especially just watching and listening through Black Lives Matter and learning so much along the way and certainly have so much more to learn, but I feel like the thing that I admire most about you is that you never shut down. You actually wanted to have the conversation, and you wanted to educate and also talk about the good and the bad and really talk about what your goals are. And how do we move forward, which I think is productive?
And it’s something that I know a lot of people, especially in C200, have learned just from you which I think is awesome on so many levels. But how do you think a woman today, an African American woman, female executive today, what advice would you give her? 25 years old and you’re living in this world today and trying to work, maybe in Silicon Valley, maybe not in Silicon Valley. What do you think are the important things that you’ve learned along the way, again, living through different periods of time?
I always feel like we get wisdom whether or not those times worked in our favor or not. History doesn’t lie. And I think that there’s a lot to be learned, especially when you live it. So I’d be so curious to hear what you would say to your own self when you were 25 and how do you weather the storm? How do you progress?
Shellye Archambeau: So a few things. One, and by the way, this really applies to everybody but I would definitely put the focus in terms of women and people of color. Which is number one, realize that you control your career. Not your boss. Not your manager. Not your mentor. You do. So be intentional. You wouldn’t spend a thousand dollars for a plane ticket, get on a plane, buckle in and then say, so where are we going? You wouldn’t do that. So you’ve just invested in yourself, college and learning and education and training what have you, so don’t just show up and say what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to take? Just don’t put that in somebody else’s hands. You need to control that. That’s number one.
Number two is make sure people know what you do. We are told, I think wrongly, to work hard, put your head down and good things will happen. And that is just not true. It’s just not true. Everyone’s busy. So if you don’t take the effort and the time to make sure people actually know what you do, then it’s hard for them to actually know what skills you’re developing and therefore how to use you going forward.
Third, I would say is make sure people know what you want. I like to say, the universe cannot help you if the universe doesn’t know what you want. So you have to tell it because there may be opportunities. There may be new jobs, new promotions that if people just knew you were actually interested in, they might consider you for. But if they don’t, it’s just the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice whether or not you get tapped or somebody else gets tapped.
Kara Goldin: I think that’s absolutely critical. In fact, I was having a conversation with a member of our team that’s working with me on a project inside of Hint, and I was saying the same thing to her that… Just yesterday, I said, you should write just a couple of paragraphs really telling people where it’s at because some of these people will be in your team meetings. Some people, what I find a lot of times, people don’t actually read giant reports, these weekly updates, especially executives, if there’s links attached or attachments, forget it.
They’re not going to read this, but instead just say, hey, I just wanted everybody to know what’s going on with this project that I’m working on and send a couple of paragraphs. So many people don’t do those types of things that you stand out. And I think, once in a while you’ll probably have an executive say I really don’t want to see these, but I think for the most part, people really respond exactly how you said. They like to hear what you’re working on, and they like to see the people that are really going above and beyond to communicate.
And I think so much of the time we just don’t… I don’t know, I feel like through education we learn how to follow rules. And here’s the assignment. You do it and give it back and maybe you have some conversation about it, but in general, be quiet. And then they come into the workforce and then it’s like, you have to almost retrain to say speak up, summarize, talk to us. And I think those are all really great points that you talked about. And I feel like in so many ways you talk about this in the book too, and some of your experiences along the way.
So being a parent and you have how many boys?
Shellye Archambeau: Two children. A daughter and a son.
Kara Goldin: A daughter and a son. That’s right. And so you’re a working mother along the way. What lessons, if I were to call your son and your daughter up, what would they say about their mom and working along the way? What kind of comments would they say about Shellye?
Shellye Archambeau: Oh, gosh. So I think they would tell you that I worked hard. I traveled a lot, especially at different times, but I believe they would tell you that I was there for their important moments and that I was always accessible. That same accessibility that I talked about giving to others, LinkedIn, remember, answering, responding to emails. I actually gave that to my kids. As cell phones were there and out, et cetera, I said listen, you can call me anytime. Anytime. If I’m in a meeting or I’m busy, then I may not answer. And if it’s really important to you call right back and I will answer. So just knowing that that was true, I think actually helped despite all that was going on.
What else? I think they would tell you that I had high expectations. That I’m really organized and that I enjoy entertaining, having people over, that kind of thing.
Kara Goldin: I love it.
Shellye Archambeau: What else would they tell you? Those would be some of the things. Oh, and they’d tell you I’m a klutz. That I can hurt myself in the simplest ways.
Kara Goldin: That’s hysterical. Well, I love it because my parents were both working parents and I feel like the thing that I, of course, didn’t tell my mom when I was a little girl, but once I got older, I told her that I watched her juggle a lot of different things. She was there when I needed her to be there. She wasn’t at every gymnastics meet, or every cross country meet that I was a part of, but she was definitely there when I needed her to be there.
But then in addition to that, you look back and all the things that you learned. I feel like it’s such a benefit to have, and I’m sure your kids actually understood Silicon Valley maybe in some way, just by watching you in there and have opinions, right and wrong, as to what was going on and… My kid’s growing up in a startup and actually my husband’s our chief operating officer and watching two parents work together.
Another story I talk about in the book. I remember my son, when he was 12, saw something on television talking, I think they were interviewing Cheryl Sandberg about Lean In and they were talking to her about the importance of Lean In and that there aren’t very many female executives and he looked at me and he said, “Mom, I just realized that you’re one of the few.” And I was like, “Where are we going with this conversation right now?” And he’s like, “Why is that?” And frankly, I didn’t have a great answer for a minute.
We had that conversation and we tell that story all the time about our relationship that he’s like, I just don’t really understand this. And today he plays on tennis teams with girls. And he doesn’t understand why the schools haven’t adapted coed tennis teams in general because he enjoys playing with the girls. He thinks that they’re great athletes and why shouldn’t it be that way? And I’m like, I don’t have a great answer, but you should say that. And he has. And so I think also teaching your kids as they’re in your home is the best opportunity. And I’m sure you’re teaching your kids to actually be better leaders, better spouses, better all of those things too, which I think is really great.
So what makes you unstoppable? I always ask this question of all of our guests. We’ve heard a few things, but tell me a little bit about what you think about when you hear that word.
Shellye Archambeau: Sure. So when I think of unstoppable, I think about being able to break through whatever challenges are happening or in front of you. And I think bottom line, I’m driven. I’m ambitious. It’s in the title, it’s there. I own it. I admit it and I absolutely am. So because I’m ambitious, I’m going to figure out how to get something done, how to overcome a hurdle, how to fix the problem, whatever it happens be I’m going to try to figure out how to do that. I have courage and I have discipline and lastly, I’m resilient, so I’ll keep at it. So it takes a lot to totally stop me.
Kara Goldin: You’re so motivating Shellye. It’s so great to read the book and hear you talk about this a little bit more. I have so many more questions, but everybody needs to get this book. How do people find you, Shellye? And what’s the best way to actually pre-order the book as well?
Shellye Archambeau: So you can find me at shellye, S-H-E-L-L-Y-E. Little different, And even on that site, you can actually click to go find the book or you can go to and all the book information will be there for preorder. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, but also try to support your local bookstores so you can preorder it there as well.
Kara Goldin: I love it. And on social, what’s your social channel that you’re most-?
Shellye Archambeau: Absolutely. I’m active on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, and I’m S-H-E-L and then Archambeau are my handles. So please follow me, connect.
Kara Goldin: Wonderful. Well, thanks everybody. And thanks for listening. And if you guys liked today’s episode, please go in and give us a great review and also subscribe and all that kind of stuff. And we’re really excited for everybody to get their hands on this book.
And thank you so much, Shellye. I really appreciate you just coming on and Unapologetically Ambitious. I did it. I was able to get it out. The words all out. Thanks everybody.
Shellye Archambeau: Thank you, Kara. This was fabulous. Lots of fun.