Ep. 99: Unapologetically Ambitious

with Shellye Archambeau
Episode hosted by: Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.

January 25, 2023


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Shellye Archambeau
Former CEO, MetricStream, Advisor & Author

Meet Shellye Archambeau, an accomplished CEO and Board Director who has a history of success in building brands, leading high-performance teams and growing organizations. With her experience as the former CEO of MetricStream, Archambeau currently holds board positions at major companies such as Verizon, Roper Technologies and Okta. Additionally, she serves as a strategic advisor for Forbes Ignite and holds the position of President of Arizona State University. Archambeau also lends her expertise to non-profit organizations Catalyst and Braven as a board member. Her book, “Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers and Create Success on Your Own Terms” offers inspiration and practical tools to help readers navigate the challenges and trade-offs of creating the life they want.


The things that you learn and the challenges that you have along the way are really what gives you your strength and your resilience later.



Dr. Gary Bisbee: Good afternoon, Shelly, and welcome.

Shellye Archambeau: Thanks very much, Gary. I’ve been looking forward to this.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: We’re pleased to have you at this microphone. You’ve been so successful as a leader during your career at I B M at Blockbuster, c e metrics Stream Board member at Verizon and other companies. I’m just wondering, when did you have time to write your book? Unapologetically ambitious.

Shellye Archambeau: It actually does take time too. I actually waited until I passed the CEO baton and then I wrote the book

Dr. Gary Bisbee: I’m glad you did because it’s just a terrific book just packed full of tips and goodness and we’ll cover some of that today. But for any of our listeners it’s a good one to get for sure. The title is terrific. Now, did the title, did you always have that title in mind or did that come later,

Shellye Archambeau: Actually, I had the entire book written and I had no title I knew, it’s funny, I knew I wanted the word ambitious in the title. because I am ambitious, and many times I was told that I was, but it wasn’t meant as a compli. , which I always thought was ridiculous, which I always thought was ridiculous. And so I was like, all right, but I can’t just call it ambitious. So I was talking with friends and we were talking about how much women apologize, and I said, I feel like women were raised from the cradle to apologize because yes, we apologize and we do something wrong. You know that five, 10% of the time, but the other 90, 95% of the time, we apologize to make the world feel. To show we care to show empathy, ease tensions, right? Create relationship connection. We do it, we use it like people use salt, which just makes everything taste a little better. And I thought, we have to stop doing that. And that’s when it clicked. I said, that’s it. Unapologetically ambitious. Everyone has the right to be ambitious and no one should have to apologize.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: That’s terrific. Again, the title makes. Clearly. And I’ve referred the book of course to to all my daughters and sisters and

Shellye Archambeau: Oh, good.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: on. Yeah, that’s a good one. Any rate, let’s back up a bit and learn more about you, Shelly. What was your life like growing up?

Shellye Archambeau: Oh goodness. My life was one of a lot of challenges. My father didn’t have a college degree and he had four children. My parents had four kids in five years. Boom boom, boom, boom, boom. Right? And so to support his family, he was always taking on new opportunities. So we moved. I lived in seven different states before I got to high school, so you’re always right. So you’re always a new kid on the block. And oh, by the way, this happened to be in the sixties and early seventies. , and that was the time when a lot was going on in civil rights wise. And for as many people that felt there should be civil rights, you had just as many that didn’t. And they were, frankly, very willing and open to let a little black girl know that she wasn’t welcome and wasn’t wanted. I was bullied, I was abused. I was beat up by kids in my class. I mean, it was just not, it was not good.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: You’ve done a terrific job improving the odds and we’ll get to that a little bit later, but what did the young Shelly think about leadership? At what point did you begin to think about leadership?

Shellye Archambeau: I craved respect. I just wanted people to respect me because I wasn’t getting respect, and what I found is when I actually helped people, they then got to know me as a person. and they started to respect me. So I learned early that helping was actually a good thing. So it offered to help people. Then I figured out that I was really good at organizing and pulling things together, and people actually respected that too. So I was like, okay. So by the time I got to high school, I was joining all kinds of clubs and organizations. More than that, I was leading them. I was president of this vice president of that treasurer of this. I took positions and again, it was all about trying to be respect and show that I’m capable and all of that. And that’s really what sparked the leadership.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: There’s a point at which, and you talk about this very nicely in the book that you really wanted to be a C E O, not just a leader, but a C E O. When did that kind of work into your thinking, Shelly?

Shellye Archambeau: Yeah, actually that was thanks, believe it or not, to a guidance c. So picture this, right? You’re a junior in high school, we all remember this. You have that conversation with the guidance counselor that everybody has. Are you going to college? Are you not going to college? Yes, I’m going to college. What do you wanna do after college? And I was like, I don’t know. In my family it was all about get good grades so you can go to a good college so you can get a job. I just wanna be able to earn enough money to keep my thermostat at 72 degrees, eat outta restaurants and travel, right? That was what I wanted. And she said to her credit Shelly, what do you like to. And I said, oh, that’s easy. Clubs. I’m in all these organizations and I like leading them. And she said Shelly clubs are like business. You pull people together and you get things done. And I said, oh. Great. Then I wanna be in business and I like leading the clubs. So when I looked up, the people that led organizations were called CEOs. So this little naive 16 year old was like, you know what, I’m gonna go be a CEO and said, I know what that meant. No, I didn’t know what that meant. I now had a goal in something I was going after.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: I love it. So you talk in the book about core personal strength and just this whole discussion about a young person growing up and being involved in of gaining respect and so on. You have a core personal strength that seems to me to be really excellent. Did you recognize that as a differentiator from the beginning, Shelly?

Shellye Archambeau: No, I did. I personally didn’t recognize it from the beginning, but I do feel, I do feel that when people, ask you or ask me, Michelle, what are your superpowers? We talk about strengths. I believe my strengths are two things, really. Which is one courage. And to discipline. So it’s the courage to take risks and the courage to go after things when you’re not comfortable. And then it’s the discipline that’s required to actually follow through on the plan. A lot of people set goals scary, I find and some people actually take the time to write down a plan, right. Here’s my goal, here’s my. , but very few people make decisions every day consistent with that plan. And that’s where I believe the power is. And that’s really where my power came from because I took the time to build a plan, figure out what was required to achieve the goal, make the plan, and then every day it was like, all right, this is the plan. So what’s decision to support the. and that way the odds just improved because when opportunities came along, I was ready to go after ’em.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: Yeah, you’ve been fabulously successful man or woman, but if you look at the number of women CEOs not so many as there are men, did you feel that you had to do something special to because you were a woman?

Shellye Archambeau: Yes, probably this, the something special is to take more risk. . For instance, when it was, when I was ready to finally go after that CEO job, the market was in terrible shape. It was in the early two thousands. The original dot block dot com bubble had burst. And, but at the same time, I was ready. I’d done all the senior executive jobs. I asked people, yes, you have the skills, you’re ready. But there weren’t many jobs out there and there were a ton of people looking for. So it was clear to me that I wasn’t gonna get what I call an A play, right? A company that everybody thought, oh, this is a great company, it’s on the right track. Those were gonna go to the normal suspects, if you will. I knew I was gonna have to take something that was more like a C play, which is, ooh, company probably has some challenges. It has some potentials because what I’ve found in my career is that when things are challenged, people who are trying to solve those challenges tend to be a bit more open-minded to When things are going fine, then they do what’s normal and what’s comfortable and what’s easy. But when it’s challenged, it caused people to step back. It’s like, great, what we were doing isn’t working, so let me look at things differently. And I think that’s one of the reasons why then people open up their apertures of women to people of color, et cetera, when there are challenging environments. So at any rate, so I did, I took a problem child company for frankly, that was really struggling, and that’s the company that I became, the C E O.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: , you’re very organized, very disciplined, as you say. How do you handle un. Opportunities that crop.

Shellye Archambeau: Ah, great question. When something I expected come comes up, first of all, I look to see whether or not it’s an opportunity or it’s a risk, right? If it’s an opportunity, then it’s just reflecting on do we have, do I have, do we as a team have what’s required to actually take advantage of it? And if I don’t, can I get it? and if I can get it or if I have it, then I’ll go after it. Understanding what potential downside could be and vice versa. If something comes along and it’s actually a risk, it’s the same thing. Okay, what do we know about this? How are we gonna handle it? Do we have the right skills, capability, knowledge, whatever it might be, and then put the plan in place to be able to handle that risk.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: Many people talk about a work-life balance. You talk about work-life. Which is an interesting point. Can you tell us more about your thinking of that, Shelly?

Shellye Archambeau: I actually hate the term work-life balance, Gary. I hate it. And the reason I hate it is when you think about a balance, it’s a thick structure, right? Thick structure, a bar, another bar on top, two weights on each side that are static. If it’s in balance, they never move. . I don’t know about you, but my life goes like this up and down and around and curves, and if I’m gonna be judged on a fixed static, am I holding this in balance while life is going crazy? I mean, I have enough to be felt guilty about. I don’t need this artificial picture right in my head. No, I don’t believe in work-life balance. What I believe in is work life integration, which means I’m one person. I’m one person. I got a lot of stuff to do personally, professionally. I take my personal priorities, my professional priorities. I put those two together and then I reprioritize Ruth Leslie, which is the key, so that I get done what’s important across my life. And what that means is there’re gonna be some things personally and professionally that aren’t gonna get done. So you either have to find somebody else to do them or learn how to live without them being done. And. . I find that the only way to do that is for you to decide what you’re willing to be judged on. Because if you feel like you’re being judged on everything which the world is trying to do, they’ll judge us on everything. Quality of our job, what we look like, who we married, where we live, our car. I mean everything, right? Then you go crazy trying to be quote perfect at everything. No. Decide what you’re willing to be judged on and just let go of the.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: You make the point in the book that you have to tell people what. On to let them know. Can you give us an example of how that’s worked for you?

Shellye Archambeau: Oh, definitely. And you’re right, I believe tell the universe what you want and need so the universe can help you. When I was at I B M, I wanted to, I was working towards being a CEO and I’d done the research and all of the people who reported to the CEO that were line executives in Iran, p and Ls had all the international assignments. But more importantly, most had done it went in Japan. I didn’t know what was special about Japan, but I knew that’s what I needed to do. So I started telling people, Hey, by the way, I’m interested in doing an opportunity in Japan. By the way, I love Right? When people say, what are you interested in, what you wanna do? I told everybody, and certainly two years later, I got a call from a guy, Tim Mcg aggression. He said she. I remember you saying you were interested in Japan. Is that still true? Because I’ve got a job that fits your skillset and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And next thing I know, my family was moving to.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: In your book you talk about managing your career and again, you’re a very disciplined, organized person. You’re willing to take risks. How do you think about managing your career? At what point did that start and what does that look like to you managing your career?

Shellye Archambeau: it started right from the. . Again, it goes back to I knew the yards weren’t in my favor. I mean, here I am, I land at IBM and I’m all excited, right? I’m getting my career going and I look around and IBM’s got like 110,000 employees and I’m thinking all these people probably wanna be CEO of ibm. So I had to figure out how was I going to stand out, get the skills, do whatever. It’s a competition. So you way to, how I do that, I do the research. I set a goal, I wanna be ceo. Figure out who they are, what their skillsets are, what their backgrounds, what path, and that’s why I started out in sales. Cuz trust me, coming out of Wharton, nobody starts out their career in sales. Definitely not selling computers, right. My friends thought I was crazy. You’re gonna do what?

Dr. Gary Bisbee: Yep. Yep.

Shellye Archambeau: But every single CEO at IBM started out in sales. So I figured it had to be the path to power. So managing your career. Is doing the work to figure out what skills are required, what experiences required, what have other people done, and trying to find what I call the current that will lead you there. Because if you swim with the current, you go a whole lot faster than if you’re swimming against the current. So same thing is true in business. Find the current.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: There’s a great chapter. Called challenges are our strength. Can you give us an example of how that’s worked? Shelly?

Shellye Archambeau: Oh, definitely. So I just mentioned that I’d gone to Japan, right? I got this opportunity to go to Japan. The only challenge with going to Japan, I say the only challenge going to Japan is. , the conversation that I had with my boss really illuminated it. So the boss I was leaving had worked in Asia for a long time, and he said, Shelly, how much do you know about Confucius? And I said, all right, Peter, you’re trying to give me a message, so just gimme the message. He said, all right, there are three things that are important in Japan to be successful in business. The first is wisdom. Wisdom is age. I’m all of about 34 or 35 at the time. I don’t have wisdom or age. Okay, fine. Zero for three so far. Right now the second thing is being male. I’m not male now. I’m zero for two. I’m like, okay, so what’s the third? I’m thinking, there’s only three things and I’m already zero for two. And he says The third is inte. . He said, Shelly, you only have one going for you, so you better figure out how to maximize it. I was just like, okay, this is myrah rah. Go off and be successful. What I learned is that the fact that I’d been a minority in business my entire life in the US when I went over to Japan, I was still a minority. So all the skills that I had learned about how to operate as a minority, actually were strengths in Japan, cuz most people came over and they’d never been an environment in which their reputation didn’t come with them. In which, what’s, because they said something people would do it. Right. That was, that didn’t exist.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: So in the book, there’s a section about five tips that you’re. With us, all of which are good ones and I’d love to cover them now. The first one was is about mentoring. Do mentors find you or do you find mentors? How do you think about that?

Shellye Archambeau: I’ve always been proactive, so I’m a big believer in adopting mentors and this I talk about, as Gary, a lot in the book. I don’t believe in asking people to be my mentor. because I find, and when you ask people to be your mentor, they have the opportunity to say no. And a lot of people say no because they’re busy. Right? And they don’t know if you’re worth the investment. I mean, mentoring and all that takes time and energy. And people are always like, Ooh, not sure, right? So I don’t ask them. I basically just start treating people like a mentor. I start Lite N Easy, I ask questions that they don’t even have to think. Like if I had seen you speak Gary, I might come up to you and say, oh Gary, I saw you speak. You did a fabulous job. I was speech coming up in 30 days. Can you just gimme one tip? Right. You wouldn’t even have to think about it. You’d say, oh, add some humor. Look people in the eye. Right. Whatever it might be fine. Here’s the key. The key is I take the advice. I’m amazed how many people don’t take take the advice, and then, right, and then once you take the. Let you know. I can write you a little note. Gary, thank you so much for that tip. That was the best speech I’ve ever given, and I give you a lot of credit. Now, here’s what happens when you do that. You probably don’t even remember the conversation because you didn’t have to invest, right? It was just a quick response. You may not remember, but now you got this note from this person who really got some value from you. You feel good, right? You feel good. . As Maya Angelou says, people won’t remember what you say. They won’t remember what you do. They’ll remember how you make them feel. Odds are when I ask the next little tip, you’ll actually respond.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: The next tip is about building a network, and I’ll say that, we hear that a lot. In your case, you seem to be an exceptionally outgoing person. You’re also very relationship oriented. Do you have an edge in building a network because of that, do you think? Or what do people do if they’re not quite as outgoing? Thoughtful as you are.

Shellye Archambeau: Yes. I think out. Being outgoing helps, but it’s not required. So the key is, again, it’s to be intentional. There are a lot of outgoing people that don’t necessarily have a big network, all right? So it’s not, they’re not necessarily connected, and being intentional means creating relationships. A network to me is not how many people I have in my phone database. A real network to me are the number of people that would do something for you when it’s not convenient, all right? That’s how I define a network. , that’s only gonna happen if they feel like they have a relationship with you. So you have to create a relationship and that’s just not a high, how are you? Shake hands and gone. And the way I create relationships goes back to helping. I learned early in my life, when you help people, it gives ’em a chance to get to know you the person versus the Prada, right? And therefore, it gives people a chance to create a relationship. So I try to create relationships by helping people. and you can help people by actually doing things. You can help people by sharing information. You can help people by including them, right? In activities. There are a lot of ways in which you can quote help, right? And work those relationships. So do what’s comfortable for you. It could be sharing articles, right? That you read. If you’re, let’s say you’re an introvert in which you actually like to do a whole lot of reading, fine leverage that. If you read an in article that you think, Hey, Gary O liked this, great, send an article. Hey Gary, I was reading the thought of you. You might look at chapter two. , all that does is let Gary know, one you were thinking about him, and two, that you are trying to actually be helpful. It doesn’t actually matter whether or not it was helpful, it’s the intent.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: Yep.

Shellye Archambeau: building a network takes intention.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: Yeah. The intent part is really important. And that’s well said. Another point that you mentioned earlier is find the current. So how do you find the current if you’re maybe not sure yourself or if you’re not quite attuned to.

Shellye Archambeau: You do the research. I found the current, not because somebody told me that’s what it was. I did by doing the research. I looked at. All right, who were the executives in running businesses? Who are the CEOs? What were their backgrounds? And by the way, this is so much easier today than when I was coming up. There was no internet, there was no LinkedIn. Today, it’s really easy to see what career paths. So just go do the research and you’ll start to see some similar themes, and when you see the themes, it’s like, oh, okay. I need to find jobs or experiences that give me this because 70% of the people that I’ve looked who have the job that I wanna have that actually had this kind of experience, odds are that’s part of the current. So it’s really just doing the research. Nobody, trust me, nobody just comes out and tells you what the.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: One of the tips is risk, which you’ve mentioned several times, and in the context of women leaders sometimes don’t take or aren’t as prepared to take risks as. Men, how do you advise women that may not be all that conversant with taking risks? How do you advise them to up the risk quotient?

Shellye Archambeau: Yeah. Taking risks is all about putting yourself in a position where you’re not comfortable, right? Because when you face a risk you’re just not comfortable. And so some people shy away from being uncomfortable. The only way you learn is to do things that you haven’t done before, and that is being uncomfortable. So what I tell people is building courage, take risks. It’s just like building a muscle. It’s just like doing the arm curls, right? You keep doing ’em and your muscles grow. Doesn’t mean that the first time you do 10, it’s not gonna be a little painful. Right? Afterwards it might be a little uncomfortable. Yeah, it’s okay. Keep doing them and you’ll be fine. So taking risks is really about building that courage muscle. So start small, taking risks might. ask me a question in a meeting stepping forward to say, yes I’ll lead this or I’ll speak or I’ll do whatever. But start taking little risks. Realize that, oh, I actually spoken in front of a group and I didn’t die

Dr. Gary Bisbee: It worked

Shellye Archambeau: Right? Okay. Maybe I can do this again. But seriously, it’s all about that. It starts taking the little. Learning that you know what? You survived it. It wasn’t terrible. You learned next time it’s a little easier. And then that set you up for taking larger risks. Now, I don’t mean just take any risk, right? You wanna take calculated risks, but honestly, risk and opportunity, Gary, are two sides of the same coin. If you aren’t taking risks, you just aren’t gonna get the opportunities and you’re not gonna get the.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: Shelly, this has been an. Interview as expected. I have one last question if I could, and that is for young women who are aspiring leaders and on their way up and so on other than handing them a copy of your book and saying, read it , what advice do you give them?

Shellye Archambeau: My biggest advice to people who are building their careers, this is true for men or women. Pick a goal, and if you don’t have one, oh, I don’t know what I wanna do. I hear all the time, I don’t know what I wanna do. Great. If you don’t know what you wanna do, then it doesn’t matter what you do. So just pick something. But you wanna pick something so that you can actually start working forward. You can start building skills that you can leverage, and even if you decide to pivot, oh, I’m doing this, but I don’t like it, I wanna do something else. You’ve now built skills that you can now leverage into something. And when you pick it, if you really don’t know what you wanna do, you just pick it. Just pick something in demand. Pick something in demand. Cause then you’ll build skills that are in demand and you can use those in a broad set of ways, but move forward. Too many people just move side to side because they don’t know what they wanna do. No move forward. Build skills that you can leverage.

Dr. Gary Bisbee: Terrific. Thank you so much, Shelly. We very much appreciate your time.

Shellye Archambeau: Very welcome. Thanks so much for having me.

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