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CEO Spotlight: Shellye Archambeau, MetricStream, Inc.

By Angel Mehta, Managing Director, Sterling-Hoffman Executive Search

Ever wonder how to get to the top of mammoth technology companies like IBM? Volunteer for the assignments nobody wants – and find a way to hit a home run. Angel Mehta, Managing Director of Sterling-Hoffman, chats with one of IBM’s highest ever ranking female executives, Shellye Archambeau (currently CEO of MetricStream) about the glass ceiling conspiracy myth, the ever blurry line between work and home, and solving the compliance issue for corporate America.

Angel Mehta: A venture capitalist told me recently that he insists on his CEOs having a deep competitive streak. Do you think this is necessary? Where does it come from?

Shellye Archambeau: I grew up as the oldest of four children; my parents had four kids in five years. I can't imagine having four kids in five years but, as a result, we grew up very competitive. It did bode well for me in terms of the future, so I agree that competitiveness is key. Where does it come from? In my case, I was very athletic growing up but grew too fast… by the time I hit high school (about 9th grade), I was 5'10". The ligaments in my knees weren't supporting that so I had to wear a brace which kept me out of sports. So instead of doing sports, I got involved in every club and organization I could because of this need in me to compete.

Angel Mehta: Over compensating a little?

Shellye Archambeau: Exactly. I basically ran every group I could get into, and when I joined IBM out of school, I had my heart set on being CEO some day.

Angel Mehta: When did you know you were not going to be CEO of IBM?

Shellye Archambeau: I don't think I ever realized that I was NOT going to be CEO… IBM has their special 'list" of people they plan to develop, and I was targeted as somebody who could have ended up at least in the CEO circle if not a direct report.

Angel Mehta: What got you onto IBM's 'high potential" list, if that's a fair way to describe it?

Shellye Archambeau: Probably, the types of assignments I volunteered to take. They were always high risk or turnaround jobs. Some were jobs that didn't exist before, which in a big company is always a major risk.

Angel Mehta: Did you make that choice consciously or were those high-risk opportunities forced at you?

Shellye Archambeau: Conscious choice. I learned that if you take high-risk jobs and do well, there's a lot of visibility that comes with that. You get a chance to show people what you can do. As a result, I actually moved fairly quickly through IBM. I was one of the youngest female executives named, and when I left the company, I was the highest-ranking African American female from what I know. It was a great career… I learned a lot. The only problem was that I was spending more time being internally focused than externally focused as I got higher and higher in the corporation.

Angel Mehta: Is it true that being externally focused is always better? The world needs operational experts, doesn't it?

Shellye Archambeau: Yes, for sure; you have to know how to work within the organization to make things happen, and that takes a lot of time and energy. The problem is it's easy to make the 'inside" your specialty, which helps you in IBM or the company you're with, but it's not necessarily valuable outside once you leave the company you're with. Maintaining focus on what is happening outside your four walls is critical.

Angel Mehta: IBM is obviously a great company… but could you point to something that you did NOT like about it?

Shellye Archambeau: The amount of time it took to change things was very frustrating. If you had a new initiative that you wanted to launch, it could take 12 or 16 months to get it internally sold. You know what I mean Angel? When I was with the company – and I think it still operates this way – things were very matrixed. For example: I was in Japan, based out of Tokyo running IBM's Asia Pacific business for the public sector. That was a $1.6-billion business and when you look at my P&L, which I was responsible for, about 80% of it had co-owners at different line items. If part of that $1.6 billion was to drive 'X" amount of hardware revenue into my customer set, then I had an executive responsible for hardware that also had the same number. So, as part of my overall Asia Pacific number, there's also someone in Japan that owns that number. When you wanted to make trade-offs… let's say, I felt that I could get $1.6 billion by doing less hardware but more services… that becomes a problem because the hardware guy needs me to generate that amount of hardware for his plan. So working through all that and being able to actually optimize the market was tough.

Angel Mehta: I noticed you had done a stint at Loudcloud, which is now Opsware… I've never quite figured out: what exactly was Loudcloud doing at the time?

Shellye Archambeau: Loudcloud was doing outsourced mission critical website management; essentially a software infrastructure provider, but at that time, nobody knew what that meant. If you're going to create a category, you need a few hundred million to do it so positioning was a challenge for us. The other challenge Loudcloud faced was that they were getting most of their business from small startup companies... these were the easiest sells during the boom days of late 1990s, because they needed reliable scaleable websites fast. But, of course, when the bubble burst, these dotcoms started to disappear and so did a good portion of Loudcloud's business. In order to survive, Loudcloud changed its focus from start-up companies to the enterprise. This was not easy, let me tell you, because aside from re-orienting our entire sales organization, big companies just aren't a green field where they take your product or offering the way it is: they have existing systems that must be integrated.

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CEO: Shellye Archambeau
MetricStream, Inc.

  • Favorite movie: Steel Magnolias
  • Favorite place on earth: Home with my family... wherever home happens to be
  • Favorite game: Any card game
  • Favorite food: Salmon with lemon dill sauce
  • Least liked food: Fast food
  • Most admired person: My grandmother
  • Favorite color: Black
  • Academic background: BS degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business
About MetricStream, Inc.
  • Founded: 1999
  • Office: Redwood Shores, CA; Atlanta, GA, and Bangalore, India
  • Focus: Enterprise Performance Management
  • Competitors: EduNeering, Openpages, Sparta Systems
  • Symbol: Privately held company
  • Venture finance: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, QuestMark Partners, Amerindo Investment Advisors, Sands Brothers, Azure Capital, Integral Capital Partners

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