An Exclusive Interview by Dakotah Jennifer
Image courtesy of Smith Publicity
BOLDBoss Question (1): The title says a lot! When/how did you decide to create the phrase “Unapologetically Ambitious”, and why did you choose this title for the book?
S.A: I knew I wanted Ambition in the title. I was ambitious, yet at times when people referred to me as being ambitious, it wasn’t meant as a compliment. That’s ridiculous. Yet, I had the book written and still hadn’t settled on a title. When having conversations with other women, we would discuss how much women apologize. I shared my view that it’s almost as if women are conditioned from birth to apologize. About 5% of the time we apologize it is because we have done something wrong. The other 95% is to make everyone feel better: to show empathy, smooth feathers, ease tension, demonstrate caring, etc… At that moment, I knew what the title should be: Unapologetically Ambitious. Everyone has the right to be ambitious and we shouldn’t have to apologize for it.
BOLDBoss Question (2): You have a sort of step by step, self-help-esque style of the book, but you integrate a lot of personal advice and some narrative (especially in the beginning), why did you decide to write this book in this way, who was your audience?
S.A: Interesting that you should ask. I was discouraged and told not to write in this manner. But I believe telling stories and reinforcing messages through a story is much more interesting and memorable. I wrote this book for professionals. My original target was professionals in their 20s-30s because most people make the most major decision of their life in this period: where to live, who to marry, have kids or not, industry, career, etc… Yet, most don’t approach it strategically. However, I’ve found that anyone with ambition, at any career stage, enjoys and gets valuable takeaways from the book.
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BOLDBoss Question (3): As a CEO, you have a lot of experience climbing the proverbial “ladder.” How much of your personal experience did you use in the book, and how much came from research and outside sources?
S.A: Frankly, I didn’t assess it that way. I’d say 85% from personal experience and 15% research that backed up my conclusions.
BOLDBoss Question (4): As a black woman, you are sort of a unicorn in your field. How do you think this gives you a specific viewpoint and/or specific access?
S.A: Very few people have walked in my shoes. Have I had obstacles and challenges as a result of being a Black female in tech? Absolutely. We all carry an invisible backpack. In that backpack are all the challenges, obstacles, and issues you’ve faced and dealt with. Being successful with my backpack has taught me a lot of lessons that I share in the book. I’m not trying to tell people to follow in my footsteps. I’m trying to share the tools that will help them create their own, as they work to achieve their goals and aspirations. It’s all about executing in a way that helps you improve the odds of achieving your ambitions.
BOLDBoss Question (5): You put a lot of emphasis on planning and choices. How do you think power played a role in your ascent?
S.A: Power is an interesting element. I believe that each of us has more power than we realize. I utilized the power of intention. Many people set goals. Some people create plans to achieve their goals. But very few people intentionally make decisions every day that are consistent with their plans. That is where the power comes from.
BOLDBoss Question (6): What would you advise someone who wishes to go into a field not yet created or one that does not have the defined borders that fields like medicine, business, and tech have?
S.A: I did that when MetricStream went into the field of Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC), four years before it was established by the analysts. Do the work to ensure that the field is focused on solving a real and painful problem. Be ready to take real risks and stand up to naysayers. It’s a much harder path but can yield great rewards when you are successful.
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BOLDBoss Question (7): Would you do anything differently if you could?
S.A: I wouldn’t. I’m not trying to be trite. But I fundamentally believe that every decision, every action, every challenge, every tragedy leads to the next step. If I changed one thing, then the outcome would be different. I am happy with my life overall and believe if I changed anything in the past, then I wouldn’t be where I am. I’d be someplace different. Could be better, could be worse, but different.
BOLDBoss Question (8): How do you think being a woman has impacted your success and/or your choices?
S.A: I believe my experience as a Black woman was different than if I had been a white man. But it is a hard question to answer because I am a Black woman. I don’t know what it is like not to be a Black woman. I don’t know if many of my experiences happened because I was Black or because I was a woman or because I was young for the role.
BOLDBoss Question (9): How does someone address the lack of choices that can be made? What kinds of choices do you think are most important?
S.A: Frankly, every choice is important. Saying yes to one thing is in essence saying no to something else because we have finite time. So many little choices are just as important as the seemingly big ones. The key is developing a framework based on your collective goals for making the choices.
BOLDBoss Question (10): Is there anything about the book you’d like to emphasize and/or point out that is very important to you?
S.A: Yes. People need to own their career! No one knows you better than you. So you are the only one that can optimize for you. You would never spend a few thousand dollars for an airline ticket, pack your bags, head to the airport, board the plane, strap on the seatbelt, and then ask the pilot, “So, where are we going anyway?” Yet people do that with their career every day. They’ve spent tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on their education and training and then let the management or the company or others decide their career steps. Take control, be intentional, and own your career.