Overcoming Challenges to Get to the Top
Welcome back and we hope your 2015 is off to a great start. Over the holidays we had a chance to spend some time getting to know Shellye Archambeau, CEO of MetricStream. She has had a distinguished career as an executive and CEO and she shared some of her key lessons learned and thoughts about leadership and development.
How did you get into the world of technology?
Coming out of Wharton in the mid 1980s, PCs were the new technology wave. I wanted to be part of this high-growth industry that had the opportunity to disrupt so many aspects of business.
I believe in adopting mentors to not only help you think through career choices, but more importantly, to help you do the job you currently have exceptionally well.
Who has been your most important professional mentor and why?
I have had many mentors during my career and each has helped me in different ways. I believe in adopting mentors to not only help you think through career choices, but more importantly, to help you do the job you currently have exceptionally well. Just about any job you have, someone else has done before you. Find those people and learn from them so you can succeed and position yourself well for the next opportunity.
What has been the most meaningful professional experience you’ve had and why?
I was promoted by IBM to VP and GM of their Asia Pacific public sector industry. It was close to a $2B business based in Japan, the regional HQ. This division was not performing well and my directive was to grow revenue. It was a significant challenge and learning opportunity working with many different business cultures, especially those that didn’t have women in leadership roles. I had to hone my skills of persuasion, communication, and leadership. Ultimately we were indeed able to grow revenue and achieve our targets.
What is the most difficult professional or personal challenge you’ve had to overcome?
My most difficult professional challenge was being hired as CEO of Zaplet, a very challenged company who had great software technology, but was burning cash and not able to sign up new customers. I had to downsize the company significantly and ultimately merge with another company called MetricStream. With the new team we re-positioned the company to focus on compliance and risk management. Today the company is an analyst confirmed leader in Governance, Risk and Compliance with hundreds of customers and over 1,200 employees around the world.
A leader’s job is to develop more leaders.
What advice do you have for young people of color who are looking to get into technology?
Major or minor in a technical or mathematical field – such as Engineering, Science, or Mathematics. This will provide you with a technical base of understanding and analysis that will enable you to compete well for roles.
You got involved with MetricStream when the business was in the process of a pretty significant transition. What attracted you to the opportunity and what are some of the key lessons you’ve learned as CEO?
My career goal was always to run a company. Although the company was in distress when I joined, they had strong technology, strong investors and a quality team. My key learnings were as follows: Cash management is critical; the best strategy, technology and team doesn’t matter if you don’t have cash. The company is only as good as the team; Hiring the best talent is everyone’s job. A leader’s job is to develop more leaders.
You have been involved with both public and private company boards. What differences have you observed between the two?
The primary difference between public and private board of directors is that public corporate boards are responsible to the shareholders for the overall direction of the company. A private corporation is one that does not issue general stock for public purchase and maintains all duties and responsibilities in-house. With this sort of arrangement, the board of directors is the ultimate governing body of the company.
Given your tremendous professional accomplishments, I’m sure you are regularly approached by prospective mentees. What do you look for in the people you choose to mentor or advise?
I look for people who are highly motivated, listen, and will invest in themselves.