In celebration of Black History Month, below is a Q&A with Shellye Archambeau, one of Silicon Valley’s first black CEO’s and black female executive at IBM. Archambeau has over 25 years of experience handling business and consumer relations, turned her failed businesses into overnight successes, and is a sought after speaker, coach and board member to Verizon and Nordstrom. Here, she shares her words of wisdom to other black businesspeople looking to climb to the top to achieve personal, professional and financial success.
Q&A WITH SHELLYE ARCHAMBEAU
How did you break barriers and ceilings as a black woman in a white male dominated industry?
I’m very goal oriented and disciplined. I decided I wanted to run a business before I even started my career. Ignorance helped, in that I wasn’t constrained by the reality of the challenge when I set my goal. Once I set it, I was determined to achieve it. I focused on excelling at each role I had, and looking for constant opportunities to demonstrate my leadership capabilities. I practiced servant leadership, focusing on supporting my teams and people around me to be successful.
I took risky jobs, cultivated allies, mentors and ultimately sponsors. I let people know what I wanted each step of the way. I made many, many trade-offs, moving my family numerous times, commuting long distance, and ultimately taking on the sole financial support for my family. Ultimately, I turned being an outsider into an advantage. I built a strong reputation and because I was different, people remembered me.
What was your biggest challenge you faced in your career growth?
I was a senior sales exec for IBM and was ready for a management role. I was a top performer and my boss knew my aspirations. But IBM was going through financial challenges and roles were being consolidated and eliminated. Whenever I asked about. Promotion I was told I had the talent, track record and performance, but there just weren’t jobs available. I was frustrated because I was doing what I was supposed to do and yet I was stuck.
After a year of this, I knew I was going to be off track with my personal career plan if I didn’t get the promotion soon. So I decided to look for the job I wanted outside of IBM. I interviewed and received a good offer. However, when I resigned my boss was shocked. Senior management rallied and found a promotion for me within the company. I stayed. The big lesson was goals aren’t good enough by themselves. They need to be time defined to truly drive your behavior.
What are your top tips on building your network and developing financial literacy?
Building a strong network isn’t collecting the most business cards. It’s creating relationships. My approach to building relationships is through giving. There are many ways to give. You can help people, inspire people, or educate people through advice. Now, you need to have people to give to. There are many ways to meet and interact with others. Get involved in areas of interest to you. Local alumni groups, professional organizations, book clubs, church committees, etc., you can also start your own.
When I moved to Silicon Valley, I didn’t have a network. I also didn’t have a lot of free time to pursue many different paths to creating my network. I was a CEO facing a major turnaround effort. So I created my own club by combing what I like to do. I enjoy entertaining, cooking, and wine. So I started a gourmet dinner club. As I encountered interesting people, I’d ask them if they liked to cook. If they did I’d describe the club I was creating and ask if they were interested. We had our first dinner with 12 people 9 months after we moved into our home. That club is now 16 years old with 50 members. It was the core of my initial network.
We don’t talk enough about money and I’m not referring to discussions about salary. I mean how to approach your finances. Research, commissioned by GuideVine — a service matching people with financial advisers — revealed over half of those polled (55 percent) feel lost when it comes to a long-term and stable financial plan. We have to personally educate ourselves with at least the basics: creating a budget, understanding the time value of money and compounding. Why? This understanding will help you make better choices.
I’ve always strived to create financial flexibility so that I’d have money for the important things in life. I worked all through college to pay for the portion of my expenses my parents didn’t cover and to build savings for a wedding that I would want one day. My parents helped with college, but let us know that wedding costs were on us. I ended up marrying soon after college graduation and was able to pay for the entire event.