Michele Bettencourt is former CEO, current Chairperson, Athena member – and self-declared “Elephant in the Room”. Formerly known as Anthony Bettencourt, Michele’s struggled with gender identity issues her entire life, all while enjoying wild career success from a young age. In the latest episode of The Third Act Podcast on Athena Radio, Michele and Third Act host Liz Tinkham talk about Michele’s greatest career lessons, life reflections, and where she’s headed now, in the ultimate display of a Third Act and discover of identity and happiness.
Today, Michele serves as Chairperson of Corelight, the provider of the first open network detection and response (NDR) platform. Previously, Michele has held multiple CEO and board positions at companies such as Coverity, Imperva, and Proofpoint. She has a history of skyrocketing sales, dominating markets, and building great cultures wherever she goes. As Michele embraces and defines her life’s Third Act, she shares leadership insights and bold career reflections. Listen to the podcast to hear them all and read on to learn five key takeaways from Michele.
Michele stopped attending University classes as a senior, feeling ill-equipped for the college experience. Yet, she grew up witnessing her father’s work ethic. He didn’t have the opportunity to attend University. His job at Morton Salt Company required long days, physical labor, yet Michele’s father never complained.
Michele started her career as a technical writer. But she realized she was talented in observing others and learning what worked (and what didn’t work). She was also quick to embrace the hard or uncomfortable jobs that others seemed to push away.
In the podcast, she reflects on her first job as a technical writer: “And I thought, well, if I could ever make $40,000 a year doing that, how great. I took the job, and then I was promoted over and over, and then finally ended up, at age 23, as a sales rep in a great tech company that had just gone public. I was recruited by a competitor, and then after that, I was a VP of Sales at a startup by age 24.”
Michele’s early career success does not limit her humility and appreciation for the teams she’s led along the way. Surround yourself with those who are smart and capable, smarter than you are, and as a leader you’ll be well-positioned to thrive.
“At some point, you’ve been fortunate enough to be put into a role where you can thrive and you’ve surrounded yourself with really great people that are smarter than you, and then you build that team, and then you get better deal flow.”
Imposter Syndrome, or the feeling that you don’t quite belong or that you’ll be “found out,” affects women leaders at all levels. Michele personally reflects on feeling out of place, despite her fast-tracked career and demonstrated success in scaling multiple companies.
“I never felt part of the club. I’ve been in so many different mediums with incredible individuals. And I always felt so subservient, even when I got to the point where I didn’t have to be, I felt less than equal. And it was a combination, I dropped out of college, I grew up poor, the gender stuff. I had all these different layers of what I perceived to be failures in the back of my mind.”
“Transitioning. I never thought I would do it, first of all. I was terribly afraid of losing my career.”
Michele’s ultimate career and life risk was taking the steps toward gender transition — in the tech “bro” culture of her powerful Silicon Valley network. A physical, mental, and public transition, a move to accepting the angst and confusion she felt for so many years.
In between CEO roles and career transitions, Michele’s embraced creative pursuits including creating a music album and a film. The lead singer in his band was a member of the Grammy Academy and together they created an EP in five months, including writing their own music. Later, they opened for notable groups such as Journey, Def Leppard, and others.
“When I was 45, when I sold this company Verity, I had always been a drummer. Took one lesson, so I wasn’t that good, but I decided I could be good if I worked harder, and I formed a band.”
Hear about Michele’s career and life transitions in detail on the Third Act Podcast. Listen to the latest episode now.
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