What can we learn from one of the first black female CEOs in Silicon Valley? A lot

Within moments of reading the foreword, the importance of our protagonist begins to come to light. Ben Horowitz’s gracious words set the stage for the author’s presence; an unexpected strength that can move mountains, brought by the finesse and authority of years of inspirational work ethic.

A Fortune 500 board member, Shellye Archambeau is the former CEO of a Silicon Valley-based software company, with over 30 years leading various tech organizations.

Shellye was named the second most influential African American in IT by Business Insider, ranked one of the “100 Most Influential Business Leaders in America,” and received the NCWIT Symons Innovator Award from The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). Now, this tech titan has graced all of us with an insightful and goal-oriented read titled Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers, and Create Success on Your Own Terms.

Everything you need to know about Unapologetically Ambitious

Released on October 6, 2020, Unapologetically Ambitious is a beautifully written work of art, detailing Archambeau’s adventure to becoming one of Silicon Valley’s first African American CEOs. The book’s cover is just as striking as its title and full of fiery insight and beautiful prose that rivals it.

It is divided into five key sections:

  • Early Lessons
  • Strategize for Success
  • Living the Plan
  • Swerve
  • Improving Your Odds

Archambeau has created a blueprint more user friendly than much of the technology that surrounds her every day. For a mind to be both so analytical and so creative is a mind-bender, and serves as another level of pure encouragement.

Someone who learned empathy, grace, and resilience early in life, a number of her anecdotes take us back to childhood memories of her father’s days at IBM and all that that entailed and learning how to balance a tightrope as a black girl in a largely white environment.

As a girl growing up in the 1960s with a father who moved the family constantly for work, the anecdotes of being teased by her classmates, hollered at by passing cars on busy streets as she walked to and from school, and even physically assaulted by two schoolmates are absolutely heart-shattering.

Small bits of information from her adolescence gives the reader a glimpse into how aware she was of her surroundings even from a young age and then follow through to show the positive impact that an observant mind had on her climb to the top.

While many early readers of the book focus on the emotional draw and life lessons they took away, Archambeau makes sure to give practical advice to enact measurable goals on your way to success – in business, life, or otherwise. In fact, the first few pages tout high praise from other influential people in the tech sphere, including Lowell McAdam (former CEO of Verizon), Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), Eric Schmidt (former Google CEO and chairman), and John Thompson (chairman of Microsoft). So even at first glance, this book has had a mind-boggling impact on the business world already.

The third section of the book, “Swerve,” lends itself largely to the idea of success in pivoting, and is where many key takeaways are drawn from. Not only does it show her undeterred confidence and grace when making decisions — sometimes huge, life-changing decisions — but her leadership skills, the qualities that really draw the masses, come through so eloquently in this area of the book as she emphasizes important reactions to any changes that life may bring into the mix.

“I don’t deal in drama,” she so matter-of-factly states. “I deal in accepting reality and controlling what I can… We all come across roadblocks and major hazards–some of us more than others. But if you stick with it, if you keep moving forward, if you remain flexible and creative and dedicated, you will find your way.”

My takeaway

Unapologetically Ambitious does serve as quite the blueprint from the modern entrepreneur and is even more insightful for businesswomen. However, the way Archambeau touches on racial injustice – how it made her so acutely aware of her position in life, her privilege, and so largely dictated how she approached work – helps to echo just how layered racism is within our society.

Right now, during such a sensitive and crucial time in our country’s history — while we fight the resurgence of vocal white supremacy, systemic racism, war on empathy, and the ever-looming threat of sickness during a pandemic — we could all do with a lesson or two from this book, specifically. And, hands down, this is a crucial read for anyone with lofty career goals and life dreams.