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An interview with Shellye Archambeau, one of Silicon Valley's first female African American CEOs!


We at Her Expat Life were delighted to have the opportunity to talk to Shellye Archambeau recently. She is an inspiring leader who has achieved a great deal in her career, and it was a pleasure to hear her insights and perspectives on a wide range of topics. We hope you find her words as inspiring as we did!



1: Congratulations on being one of Silicon Valley's first female African American CEOs! This is an incredible achievement. Please tell us more of your journey to becoming a CEO.


I decided in high school that I wanted to become a CEO. So I created a plan to improve my odds for doing just that. I graduated from Wharton and took a job at IBM in sales, because my research showed that every CEO of IBM had started out in sales. I worked my way up to managing a business unit with full profit and loss responsibility and then took on global and international assignments becoming the first Black woman at IBM to get an international executive role. I was based in Japan.


After realising that I may not be seriously considered for the IBM CEO role, I worked my way to Silicon Valley where I was the Chief Marketing Officer and EVP of Sales for two public companies. I then got my CEO job by the time I was 40.


2: You currently serve as a ‘Fortune 500’ board member and hold many seats on other

Boards! How did you get started and what does it entail?


When I realised in my 30's that Boards of Directors hire and fire the CEOs, I decided I wanted that job too. So I did the research to understand who these people are and what their backgrounds are. I incorporated those learnings into my career plan. When I became a CEO and got the business under control, I then pursued my first public board seat. I became a director for Arbitron and sat on that board for 7 years until it was acquired by Neilson.


Board work is governance work. The board's responsibility is to ensure the company has the right strategy to deliver returns to the shareholder, the right team to execute the strategy and that the company's execution is in a manner consistent with rules, regulations and mandates, as well as shareholder and stakeholder expectations.


3: There are a lot of females working for startups or building their business right now, what advice do you have for them? How to get investment etc


My main advice for women building businesses is to focus on getting the product/market fit right. What I mean by that is ensure that you know exactly who your target audience is and the problem your product or offering is solving. When that is clear, you can focus on solving their problem better than anyone else. Then it is easier to build out the right strategy, identify the right resources and raise money when needed.


4: Your debut book - "Unapologetically ambitious" was rated one the best business books in 2020 by Fortune! Congratulations. Tell us what inspired you to write the book?


I've tried throughout my career to be accessible. However, as I took on more and more responsibility, I couldn't meet with all the people who wanted to meet with me. I'd still respond to notes and messages and I still do. However, it pained me not to be able to share and be helpful. So I decided that once I passed on my CEO baton, I was going to write down the lessons I've learned and the techniques and strategies that helped me attain the life I wanted professionally and personally. That is what "Unapologetically Ambitious" is. It's a book full of practical advice shared through story to help professionals attain their aspirations.


5: You have so many successes - what challenges have you faced along the road to all that you have achieved and how did you overcome them?


My biggest challenges were number one: being underestimated because I was a woman, a black woman and tended to be young for my roles, and two: operating in a very male dominated field - tech.


I overcame both by doing the work necessary to be good at my roles, asking for help and support along the way, adopting mentors, and being a good teammate.


6: What advice do you have for women who may feel stuck in their career, or feel they can’t progress due to sexism or discrimination?


Firstly, find allies and ask for help and support. Then ensure you are clear on the expectations of your role and check in regularly with your boss to make sure you are meeting and exceeding those expectations. If you are receiving confirmation of your strong performance and still not moving forward, don't just wait. Ask what you need to demonstrate to be promoted and then do it. If you are still not being developed or promoted then raise it with HR by asking them for feedback.


7: What is it like working in Silicon Valley?


Overall I enjoy working in Silicon Valley. The innovation, energy and resources in this region are phenomenal.


8: What do you do in your spare time?


I enjoy the performing arts, cooking, traveling and gathering with friends and family.


9: You have so much success building an effective high performing team in business - what would you say are key components to a prosperous team?


These are the three elements I believe are critical to high performing teams.

- Clarity on the team's goals and their own objectives

- A trusting and safe environment

- Open and respectful communications

- A leader who cares about the team


10: Finally, what do you think are the greatest challenges women face in the workplace, and how can we overcome them?


The greatest challenge isn't actually in the workplace. It is societal expectations of women, that we can and should "have it all", which means we should do it all. You never hear these phrases associated with men. Studies show that across life, work through home through community responsibilities, women carry more of the responsibility than men. Society wants us to believe that is the way it should be. We should do it all to have it all. Then we wonder why women burn out.


Don't do it all. Set boundaries, take help and say no.



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