Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
Inspire others to get more and to do more later in life.
Athena helps women achieve executive-level leadership expertise, polish their boardroom and executive knowledge, get closer to board seats, and make leaps in their careers.
Michele is the Executive Chairperson of Corelight, Inc., an emerging leader in the network detection and response market. She’s also a published musician, her music is featured in short snippets throughout this podcast. Michele served as the CEO and chairperson of several other Silicon Valley firms, but as “AB”—Anthony Bettencourt. After changing genders in 2017, Michele started the third act of her life as a woman.
On today’s episode, Liz Tinkham talks with Michele, or “MB” as she likes to be called, about her second act as a hard-charging Silicon Valley tech CEO, and her transition to her Third Act as the leading lady of her new life. She’s paving the way for transgender people in the workplace, building the Michele Bettencourt Foundation for Fair Transgender Employment.
Michele opens up about the challenges of a secret that is the “elephant in the room”, how it consumes one’s identity, and the empowerment that comes from opening up to people about it.
(01:10) Chairperson of Corelight
(02:18) A farewell email from Anthony
(03:11) Act One: college dropout
(05:10) Dad is an inspiration at Morton Salt
(06:49) Act Two: Anthony Bettencourt, CEO
(07:46) A deep, dark secret
(09:43) The Bettencourt family
(10:51) Leading a double life
(16:12) Bro culture and the surprising brotherly bond
(17:06) Choosing to be a shiny spectacle
(18:04) March to the beat of your own drum
(20:58) Act Three: The full transition to womanhood
(22:57) A film in the making
(25:37) Fearing change (a big one)
(31:44) What’s next for Michele Bettencourt?
(34:42) The Athena Alliance and its impact on women
You can find Michele on Facebook, Instagram @thecountessnyc, and by email at [email protected] You can also connect with her on LinkedIn. To hear about more Third Act stories, subscribe to and follow the Third Act podcast at thirdactpodcast.com.
Liz Tinkham (00:00):
Liz Tinkham (00:18):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham, and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends, but your show’s just not finished. On today’s episode, I talk with Michele Bettencourt, the elephant in the room. MB, as she likes to be called, is the Executive Chairperson of Corelight, Inc, an emerging leader in the Network Detection and Response market. She’s also a published musician, and we’re fortunate to hear her music throughout this podcast. Last, MB served as CEO and chairperson of several other Silicon Valley firms, but as AB, Anthony Bettencourt. MB changed genders in 2017, starting the third act of her life as a woman. MB, welcome to Third Act.
Michele Bettencourt (01:08):
Thank you so much. It’s nice to be here.
Liz Tinkham (01:10):
All right. There’s so much to say about you and your career, which has been amazing, but I wanted to get right to it and let you tell your story. First, and I’m going to start a little backwards from where I normally go with these podcasts, but congrats on the role of Chairperson of Corelight because you just got that, so tell us a little bit about that. What attracted you to the company and what, if anything, beyond the normal Chair role, are you going to do?
Michele Bettencourt (01:33):
Terrific. Thank you for the question. Great question. First of all, I’ve had a 37-year career in the Silicon Valley, running tech companies, sitting on a lot of boards of different tech companies. And what I’ve learned to look for is great product, a large market opportunity that has a lot of growth, and a market that has competitors in it because a single company does not make a market, and lastly, a world-class team, because that team can typically attract the requisite funding to make such a venture successful. Had all three for me, which I loved.
Liz Tinkham (02:06):
And how’d they find you?
Michele Bettencourt (02:07):
They found me through a headhunter and this was interesting. After I left my last role at Imperva as Chair in 2018, and I transitioned to whatever I am these days, I had given up hope on going back to work. I thought I sensed a bit of a boys network in the Valley and one does exist. And I played a role in that somewhat. I thought I would not be allowed to get back in. I was getting a series of emails into my old Anthony account, I’d return the calls and they’d be looking for Anthony Bettencourt. I grew weary of saying, “He’s no longer here, he’s left the building. I took his place.” And this one company, they knew, and it wasn’t a big deal. And I remember the first hour I spent on the phone with Greg Bell who was just stepping down as CEO to become Head of Strategy. Greg spent, of the hour of conversation, he spent 50 minutes talking about the company and the culture and why he doesn’t see diversity and inclusion as a tick box. He wanted to do something about it.
Liz Tinkham (03:11):
Most of my guests are sort of the straight-A gunning, straight-A students, and then the straight-A’s get them the job that gets them the career, but you’re a college dropout. You dropped out of Santa Clara, but that didn’t seem to impede you at all.
Michele Bettencourt (03:26):
Well, it was embarrassing. I was a great student in high school. I didn’t drink, I didn’t touch any substance at all, and I was one of the boring library kids. But I was quite ill-equipped for college. My parents, bless their hearts, they’re both deceased, but lovely, lovely parents. They wanted me to go to Santa Clara and I was kind of preordained, so when I went there, I was a day student. We couldn’t afford for me to stay on campus. And I had a hell of a time trying to figure out even how to study properly, so I stopped going as a senior, literally just stopped going to classes.
Liz Tinkham (03:59):
And then you drop out, you get a job that you like, which leads to some early career success as a VP of Sales. Tell us about that.
Michele Bettencourt (04:09):
Not being a sharpest tool in the shed at the time I was going to get an English degree because I figured I could use that to do technical documentation, become a tech 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.
Liz Tinkham (04:38):
Wow. Wow. And doing great, right?
Michele Bettencourt (04:39):
Yeah. And I didn’t see it coming, but I was doing fine, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And the good part about ignorance is bliss is, you don’t know what you don’t know. The bad part is, you don’t know what you don’t know either.
Liz Tinkham (04:50):
Michele Bettencourt (04:51):
If I go back and think about how ill-equipped I was at 24, it was probably about as ill-equipped as I was when I went to Santa Clara. Fortunately, I had the chance to work with really smart people and I observed how they operated, I observed how bad people operated, how decisions were made, and I tended to pattern match pretty early. And that helped.
Liz Tinkham (05:10):
Yeah. And you told me that even though you might not have been the best-equipped student, you had incredible drive. Say more. Where did that come from?
Michele Bettencourt (05:19):
Well, my father. My father worked at Morton Salt. He didn’t have a chance to go to university.
Liz Tinkham (05:25):
In California, or someplace else?
Michele Bettencourt (05:28):
Morton Salt… Yeah, in California. He stacked…a 75-pound bag of salt would come down a chute, he’d lift it with his 5’6″ frame, and stick it on a pallet. And then when the bags weren’t coming, he would sweep the floors. And that’s what he did. I had a chance to work with him for a week in a summer job doing this, but they also forced back x-rays and I realized that my back could not really withstand that kind of work. I think it could have, but obviously, I didn’t get the chance. But I saw him at work for a week, never complained, and I watched him all the years of his life. Even as he was dying of cancer, he never really complained, just the sweetest, dearest man, and my mother did the same thing. She cleaned houses to help us put bread on the table. And I thought, I could work as hard, I could work harder than everybody else. I might not be as smart, but I would outwork everyone. And that became my one claim to fame is, I would take the worst jobs, and outwork people.
Michele Bettencourt (06:23):
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. Yeah, I had the great fortune of getting my first VP of Sales job, then the VP of Sales at Veriti when we went public, and then the CEO role there. And then when I was able to sell the company, the better opportunities continued to present themselves.
Liz Tinkham (06:49):
Yeah. It’s amazing. So you’re CEO in your forties as Anthony Bettencourt. What were you like at that time and where did you think you were headed career-wise?
Michele Bettencourt (06:59):
I was confused because I had all these other things taking place in the back of my mind about trying to question my gender and what I really was. And I was trying to put on a bit of an act to be macho in the Valley.
Liz Tinkham (07:11):
Michele Bettencourt (07:11):
At the same time, I was successful. I would open the NASDAQ when I was 43, and I was feeling at the top of my game. I was earning untold amounts of money and it was quite shocking. I just thought I was going to keep going in this direction. I would just become… I would do the CEO thing, but I never understood how it would end. I didn’t really have a plan as to what it would look like 20 years out.
Liz Tinkham (07:32):
Michele Bettencourt (07:32):
I was just happy to be there, just happy to be there. But I was always afraid that somebody was going to tap me on the shoulder and say, you’re not qualified to do this job. I was always convinced. I was just never going to be the smartest person in the room. I was always going to be the least-equipped person in the company. And in a big role.
Liz Tinkham (07:46):
Well, that’s interesting because you’re 43, you rang the NASDAQ bell, you’ve clearly made it in the Valley. So you never really felt like you were part of the club?
Michele Bettencourt (07:57):
You know when you’re hiding something?
Liz Tinkham (07:59):
Michele Bettencourt (08:00):
And when you have this really terrible, deep, dark secret about yourself, it changes how you think about yourself. You compartmentalize things. And yeah, 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. Somehow, I think that affected my behavior a bit. It certainly didn’t make me… I was never cavalier. I was just a bit cautious, I think, is what I was.
Liz Tinkham (08:38):
It’s so funny because I was looking at your LinkedIn when I was preparing for this interview, I was thinking about you as a client, because I worked at Accenture for such a long time. And whenever I met a new client, I’d always look at their background and do a lot of research and try and figure out as much as I could about them. And I have to tell you MB, you would have intimidated the heck out of me in your forties.
Michele Bettencourt (09:01):
That’s so funny. That’s so funny.
Liz Tinkham (09:04):
Because on paper… And your resume is incredible, and it was incredible in your thirties. You had so much career success. From the outside looking in, it’s just different, right?
Michele Bettencourt (09:18):
No one could have clocked me. I was driving, I had my new Bentleys, I loved cars, I loved Rolex watches. I clocked myself in everything I could to look like I was part of that boy culture. And maybe I’m giving myself too much credit about being too thoughtful about this. I just did it because I did it.
Liz Tinkham (09:38):
Michele Bettencourt (09:38):
And I tried to appear as that, but I really never was. I didn’t feel like it, for certain.
Liz Tinkham (09:43):
So along the way, you get married and you have children. Tell us a little bit about your family.
Michele Bettencourt (09:48):
I’ve been married twice. I got married at age 21, and it was my high school sweetheart. And she’s a dear friend still, we were married about 10 years.
Liz Tinkham (09:54):
Michele Bettencourt (09:55):
We had triplet daughters. Those daughters are now 33.
Liz Tinkham (09:58):
Michele Bettencourt (09:59):
Great girls, just wonderful girls. My first wife and I divorced when we were both, I think in our early thirties, and I remarried a few years later. And again, I had this gender thing in the background and I kept thinking, I can fix myself, I can make it go away, I’ll just do what normal people do. And I don’t want that to become, I don’t want that to sound like a pejorative comment, but “normal” do. And I married again, had another child. My wife and I have now been married 27 years, but she married a boy in a suit. And she was, I think, unhappily surprised some 20 years later, when I started to come out to her and try to explain what I was.
Liz Tinkham (10:38):
Mm-hmm (affirmative), Mm-hmm (affirmative). So you have four daughters.
Michele Bettencourt (10:42):
Yeah. I have one in Brooklyn, my youngest. I have another in… We have an apartment in Manhattan, so I have another who lives in that apartment.
Liz Tinkham (10:47):
Michele Bettencourt (10:48):
And I have two in San Francisco. Four wonderful, wonderful women.
Liz Tinkham (10:51):
That’s wonderful. You’re continuing your success, you’re in your forties, you’re rising through different Silicon Valley companies. You’re thriving, taking some public, being on different boards, but you’re leading a double life. Say more about that.
Michele Bettencourt (11:19):
I would say since I was about 46 or so, you know when I was 45, I weighed 235 pounds, I was traveling all the time, and I looked like a very typical, overweight tech company CEO.
Liz Tinkham (11:30):
Michele Bettencourt (11:31):
When I sold my first company Veriti at 46 and took a bit of a break, I put myself on a more rigorous diet. I actually caught pneumonia because of the travel craziness, but then used that, dropped 20 pounds quickly, and then figured, well if I could drop 20 that way, imagine if I exercise and watch my diet.
Liz Tinkham (11:48):
Michele Bettencourt (11:49):
And I went from 235 down to about 170, maybe four or five months, it was rapid. And then I thought that would probably be the limit. These days, I’m about 150, I exercise daily, I watch what I eat, and then that’s about all that takes place. But I would go out at night, and I would fly into a city, I would go up to my room, I would shower, I would get all of the body hair off my face and my body, and I would change, and I would get as lovely as I thought I was. And I would go sit at the bar and work at night.
Liz Tinkham (12:14):
Michele Bettencourt (12:14):
And what happens is, you begin to experiment where you’re safe, so New York was a great place for me to do that. I had a hotel that I loved and I would go there, and after a while everyone knew it was me because I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret.
Liz Tinkham (12:25):
Michele Bettencourt (12:25):
And then I moved to a different office… I would stay at the Ritz Carlton, then I realized, boy, the Ritz and Four Seasons treat me like gold. And I realized that the better the place, the better the protection. But that double life was, I would go out, I would meet people, I would talk, and I’d go back to my room and I’d take off the makeup and put the clothes away. And in the morning, I’d be back in a suit out at meetings again.
Liz Tinkham (12:45):
Mm. And did anybody know?
Michele Bettencourt (12:48):
Eventually of course, people find out because I became less protective of my privacy. I became a bit more reckless, if you will, on social media. And I remember when I had my company called Veriti, I was in an elevator in San Francisco, and I’d always asked my admins, never put me in the same hotel with our employees, which sounded really, really terrible to say, but I had to explain to her because I just didn’t want to be caught. And I saw one of my sales reps in the elevator and he did see me. He didn’t say anything until about six months later, but he did see me. Yeah, and that word gets out. And then of course, it becomes, no matter how good you feel about yourself, and again, in this situation, you feel very confused about yourself because you don’t know what you are. Even if you felt lovely about yourself, there’s still a tinge of embarrassment because all of a sudden, you put yourself in a situation that causes or forces some kind of explanation.
Liz Tinkham (13:40):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And your wife, did she have any idea?
Michele Bettencourt (13:42):
She never did until I told her, and we tried to work through it, and I didn’t quite know where I was going to land. And if you think about trans individuals, trans women in my case, there’s a big continuum. You could be, on one side of the spectrum, you’re maybe a little bit androgynous, to the other side, you may decide to go through a full process, as did Caitlyn Jenner. And I didn’t know where I was going to land in that process, honestly. We ended up separating, and I moved to New York and bought an apartment, and then spent 18 months there trying to figure myself out, in fact.
Liz Tinkham (14:16):
While you’re the CEO at Imperva, you fly to Argentina, tell that story.
Michele Bettencourt (14:22):
We had an issue with the customer and we had to get a contract issue resolved. And if we didn’t, it could have caused a restatement for the company. In public companies, if a restatement takes place, it is awful.
Liz Tinkham (14:32):
Michele Bettencourt (14:33):
Companies sue, there’s class action lawsuits, people lose jobs and the investors take a bath. While I was dealing with a problem in Argentina, I had an activist investor who went to the board and said, “Your CEO is transgender. They’re confused. They’re not working hard. We’re watching him on social media.” An element of that was correct. I was a little bit confused, but I was working awfully hard and I was doing what I was supposed to do. At that point, the board was trying to figure me out and by the time I got back to New York, 48 hours later, I was having my phone blow up with messages from the board asking, “Why are you doing this? Why didn’t you tell us?” I just didn’t. I probably didn’t handle it well. They handled it as best they could, but it really upset me that my personal life had become a weapon against myself.
Liz Tinkham (15:23):
What happens to your role there?
Michele Bettencourt (15:26):
Once everyone got past the shock value, and there was surprise and an inability to know what to do, we all agreed that let’s just hire a President. I’ll be CEO, I’ll stay in my apartment in New York, I’ll go to Tel Aviv every month as I do, because we had 400 of our R&D staff there. But over time, I began to realize that’s probably not the best workable solution, so I was conducting a search. It’s a public company, you don’t want to… If you start conducting a search for a CEO, suddenly that’s disclosable. So instead, I kept searching for a President, which was not my replacement technically, but then I found a candidate that could replace me, and then I brought them in to replace me. Then, I took the Chair role and stepped back as Chairperson of the company, and stayed until February of ’18.
Liz Tinkham (16:09):
Oh, it’s a pretty gracious transition.
Michele Bettencourt (16:12):
I would say on each side, I think that the employees were lovely. I had so many moments with employees that were shocking to me because I was, in retrospect, I was really trying to sort myself out and it must have looked very clumsy on the outside. But they were all protective. I remember I was with a sales rep, a grizzled sales rep, tech sales reps can be real bro culture, if you will.
Liz Tinkham (16:39):
Michele Bettencourt (16:40):
And we’re in St. Louis doing a deal with the Enterprise, a car rental company. And we’ve finished, we have a drink, and this gentleman’s name is Mark. And Mark says, “So what are you going to do tonight?” I said, “I’m just going to go out to dinner.” He said, “Let’s go out.” And I said, “No, no, I’m fine.” And I kept trying to get him to not bother me, because I wanted to go out alone and I wanted to dress up and go. And he finally pulled me aside and was like, “I know what you’re going to do. I want to be with you to make sure you’re okay.”
Liz Tinkham (17:05):
Oh, my gosh. How lovely.
Michele Bettencourt (17:06):
And you’d never, ever, ever expect that to be said by him. But I had so many of those moments. And then on the flip side, I had the board putting subtle amounts of pressure on me, but my mantra inside became, I’m going to be a spectacle, and I shouldn’t use this shield of Imperva to do this, because that was the company at the time, I was CEO, because that’s just wrong. I can’t harm the company by wanting to be me. I had to draw my own line. So I stepped down, the company was wonderful, I stayed on the board until February ’18. It was my plan, my team, and the company was sold in a take-private transaction. It went for $2.1 billion in October of that year.
Liz Tinkham (17:47):
Michele Bettencourt (17:47):
So it was a wonderful, wonderful ending for the company and my stepping out of the company gave me a chance to figure myself out. And it did take a while and it probably had very ugly moments, which thankfully they’re gone now.
Liz Tinkham (18:04):
You’ve always been creative, you’ve been a musician, and it’s my sense that your ability to sort of write music, helped you through that period? Do I have that wrong? Tell us maybe a little bit about your creative side.
Michele Bettencourt (18:15):
When I was 45, when I sold this company Veriti, 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. And in tech, we do a certain number. I remember I had the band assembled here at my house in Pleasanton, and we were starting to talk about what we’re going to do and what kind of projects, we do write our own music. And our lead singer was a member of the Grammy Academy and the Grammys were five months away. And I said, “Phillip, let’s do a record.” He said, “No, it doesn’t work that way. You got to write music.” I said, “Exactly, let’s count backward. How long does it take to press, mix, master, et cetera?” And we actually did an EP and then followed it up with an album. We ended up opening for Journey, Def Leppard, Foreigner, UFO, a bunch of bands.
Liz Tinkham (18:56):
Michele Bettencourt (18:57):
That was called Zen Vendetta. I love the name, Zen Vendetta.
Liz Tinkham (19:00):
Michele Bettencourt (19:01):
But very Stone Temple Pilots, harder rock sound. And I wasn’t that kind of a drummer, but I became that. And then in 2018, when I was in New York, I had all this angst about myself. I started writing poetry and my wife and I were trying to reconcile. We went on a trip together to Machu Picchu and it was, for the most part, good, but I was probably a bit moody there. And on the last couple of days, I just started writing. And I went back to New York and I’d taken one guitar lesson. I’m always good at ticking the box with one lesson, it seems. And my guitar instructor, Hendrik Helmer, he’d been teaching Rocco Ritchie, Guy Ritchie and Madonna’s child, guitar.
Liz Tinkham (19:37):
Michele Bettencourt (19:37):
And Henrik would do session work with Carly Simon and Bill Withers, and had a studio. And I remember playing him a recording of a song that I wrote, and I sang into my phone in Peru, and he got his guitar out and we went in the studio and recorded it and it turned out to be great. So we kept going. We wrote eight songs in four months in the studio, recorded them, mixed and mastered, and produced. And we had Tommy Mandel who was Bryan Adams’ keyboard player, on the music. Tommy’s phenomenal, he’s a wonderful human. Mike Visceglia, who was Suzanne Vega and Cindy Lauper’s bass player. We had the best world-class musicians on the record. I’m not a vocalist, so I did the drum tracks, I did the vocals.
Liz Tinkham (20:18):
Okay. If I want to put this in the show notes, where would we find that music?
Michele Bettencourt (20:22):
New Normal, Michele Bettencourt on YouTube. It’s on Spotify, It’s on YouTube.
Liz Tinkham (20:27):
Michele Bettencourt (20:29):
Eight songs, I really love it. It’s Tom Petty, Lou Reed kind of influences. And I don’t think I have any fuel in me to do another one because it was a very angsty period, but I’m glad I got it out.
Liz Tinkham (20:58):
When did you decide to fully transition genders and why? How does that come about to your Third Act, so to speak?
Michele Bettencourt (21:07):
I was 57. Yeah, boy, that was a big third act, wasn’t it?
Liz Tinkham (21:10):
Michele Bettencourt (21:10):
My first act of university was a failure for me. The second act of business was good.
Liz Tinkham (21:15):
Yeah, really good. Right.
Michele Bettencourt (21:17):
Transitioning. I never thought I would do it, first of all. I was terribly afraid of losing my career. I’m going to be blunt about this, career first, family second, marriage. And I probably thought about it in those terms. I would reverse it of course, today with the lights turned out, but I didn’t know what else to do. And I didn’t feel that I could go forward without doing that.
Liz Tinkham (21:40):
Michele Bettencourt (21:40):
And I rolled it out slowly and clumsily. I remember I would tell a daughter and I would wait a month and that was unfair, you’ve got four kids, they probably all want to talk about this at the same time.
Liz Tinkham (21:51):
Michele Bettencourt (21:51):
And I began to unfurl my flag, if you will, to friends and family slowly. But I was a mess at the time. I was probably overindulging in certain things I shouldn’t have been taking and drinking, to kind of numb my own frustration with myself. And I went off to New York and thank God I found a good psychiatrist who has been just…now he’s become more of a life coach than anything else in our discussions.
Michele Bettencourt (22:18):
My family, all they wanted for me was to be happy and to be healthy and to be connected. The daughters, their big question is, “What do we call you?” And I said, “I’m always your father. It doesn’t matter how I’m dressed. It doesn’t matter how I look. I’ll always protect you, you’re my daughters.” And my wife and I, we had this same discussion when we really got down to getting back together again, I said, “Look, I’m not your normal husband, and I am what I am, but I love you and I’ll be your life partner.” And candidly, we just opened our 27th year of marriage, and it’s very counterintuitive to me as well. We’ve had our best year of marriage in the past year.
Liz Tinkham (22:50):
You make a movie during this period, is that correct, called The Beautiful Lie?
Michele Bettencourt (22:54):
Liz Tinkham (22:54):
Tell us about that.
Michele Bettencourt (22:57):
A lot of friends are in music and some friends in film…I knew a director who had done a really good documentary previously, it was called, This Is Not a Rodeo, about the Pro Bull Riders Association, and I love that movie. And I sat with him, and he’d known me for about eight years, he knew Anthony, he didn’t know anything about me at the time. And I sat with him at The Ritz with his cameraman and talked about this project, or I pulled out my phone and showed a picture. And I said, “This is really me.” And he was dumbfounded. And I tried to explain what it was. And I said, “Look, bring your wife tonight to dinner, and the three of us will sit here at The Ritz, upstate at the time in Manhattan, and you’ll hopefully understand.” They showed up, I was dressed, we had dinner, he and his wife and I, Jody, talked the entire night. Joe, his name is Joe Lavero, could not get a word in edgewise.
Michele Bettencourt (23:38):
And it dawned on him that there was something that was different. He didn’t know how to package it, and we didn’t even know what it was at the time. And I thought I would just valiantly get the company going in the right direction, I would sell it, and then I’d run off, I’d ride off into the sunset victoriously. I didn’t think it would turn into the sloppiness of me that it was. But ultimately, the initial impetus for the film was, I was convinced that it will be 30 years or so before you’ll see the regular occurrence of trans individuals being able to serve as CEOs of companies, when it will not be a big deal. And I wanted to at least put something out that explained what that felt like in the process, not to delay that evolution, but to maybe be an accelerant and maybe demystify what takes place in someone’s head and what happens.
Liz Tinkham (24:27):
Oh, that’s so cool.
Liz Tinkham (24:31):
You have this production company, He Said, She Said, that produced the movie. Are you doing anything else with that?
Michele Bettencourt (24:39):
Right now I’m working with two production companies in Southern California. We’ve got the actors lined up and we’re looking for a showrunner, and we’re hopefully going to get it funded as a scripted TV series. I like to think of it as, if you could take the best of Succession, a little bit of the Civilians, and want it to be a bit like Transparent. I want it to be kind of the compendium of those three.
Liz Tinkham (24:59):
Are you working to write that show or you’ve written it?
Michele Bettencourt (25:03):
We’ve got the pilot written and we’ve got the treatment for the first year. If anything, I serve right now as a technical consultant on the project.
Liz Tinkham (25:10):
Michele Bettencourt (25:10):
It’s my life rights story, but I’m very much involved with the actors and the producers, which is nice. We’ll see where that goes. I know nothing about that piece of business. I’m much better when I go back to tech, because at least I know how to do stuff there.
Liz Tinkham (25:21):
Okay. Well, I’m going to come back to that in a second, but one last question. Are you allowed to say who’s playing you in the show?
Michele Bettencourt (25:26):
I shouldn’t, because it would preempt. I’m going to pass.
Liz Tinkham (25:31):
We’ll come back. We’ll come back for your fourth act and we’ll talk about that. How’s that? Oh, I can’t wait.
Michele Bettencourt (25:36):
You’ve got a deal. That sounds good. You’ve got a deal.
Liz Tinkham (25:37):
Can’t wait. I want to go back to tech and your second act and your professional fears about transitioning genders. Did those fears pan out?
Michele Bettencourt (25:49):
I was used to a Silicon Valley where I remember being in meetings and one of my boards, I wore a black t-shirt, a little vest, wearing black, skinny jeans, women’s jeans, typically Red’s, Tod’s, patent leather women’s shoes, and it was just me.
Liz Tinkham (26:06):
Michele Bettencourt (26:07):
And I came into a board meeting, and one of the investors, really well-known person in the Valley, I will not say his name, made a comment, and it was, “Anthony, you’re not turning gay on us, are you?”
Liz Tinkham (26:16):
Michele Bettencourt (26:18):
That was said a decade ago in a board meeting.
Liz Tinkham (26:20):
A decade ago.
Michele Bettencourt (26:21):
A decade ago.
Liz Tinkham (26:22):
Michele Bettencourt (26:24):
And everything was going great, but I was hearing those kinds of things.
Liz Tinkham (26:28):
So you were Anthony when this happened?
Michele Bettencourt (26:30):
I was, and I just kind of brushed it off and left it for what it was. But at night, I would go out as Michele. And I remember another, maybe four years ago, of being at the Four Seasons in Palo Alto at the bar. And I was dressed as I wanted to be, I was me. I had a board meeting at Imperva, so I spent the night on that side. I went down to the bar and there are these three folks in suits, a woman, and two men. And I sat down and within 30 seconds, they’re telling transgender jokes, and I don’t know how to react to that stuff. I used to react with anger and anger didn’t mean me responding to anyone, but I would just walk away. So I went up and I showered, and I slicked my hair back and came down in my jeans and black t-shirt, and had a drink, and got on with my night. But I was expecting that.
Michele Bettencourt (27:20):
I was so convinced that any return I had to the Valley would be met with snickering and jokes behind my back. And I’m sure that takes place, I don’t look for it. I think a part of this is, you find what you’re looking for. If you’re convinced people are making fun of you, then you’re going to find that. And if you’re convinced that people are going to take you seriously and treat you for how you want to be treated, you’re going to find that too.
Michele Bettencourt (27:42):
I’m finding the latter. I find it with my board, I find it with my employees, I find it with other investors of which I’m talking to other board opportunities that are coming my way. I’m very fortunate because I’ve got this great CV in my back. I feel like, okay, Anthony…I took Anthony’s career, I took his resume, I took his bank account, and took his family, that’s what I ended up with. And I’m very lucky to be able to do that. And I think in an odd sort of way, people kind of understand that. They get past the long hair, bit of makeup, whatever I do. But after a few minutes of conversation, I think whatever preconceived notions they had coming in, tend to melt away pretty quickly.
Liz Tinkham (28:22):
You would be the only person that I’ve ever talked to, who would have a perspective on whether you get treated differently, being a woman in the boardroom, or as a CEO, than being a man.
Michele Bettencourt (28:34):
I think I’m treated a little bit differently. I think people are more gentle with me, only because everyone really does try to lean in and use… I prefer the pronouns of she and her.
Liz Tinkham (28:47):
Michele Bettencourt (28:47):
And everyone at work is trying to do that. And the few times as Exec Chair I had taken an interim role to help shore up a gap in the company, we needed someone to run sales and worldwide revenue, I stepped in for two months to take on that role and I’ll be out of that role in November. But it’s been great, we’re having the best quarter in the company’s history. But this again, the response from the sales reps are, they’re really trying hard. And the couple of times that the people have referred to me as he, and I don’t really care as I’ve explained, I’m my daughters’ father and my wife’s husband. People, they’re so harsh on themselves, and they try to backpedal so quickly. And I keep saying, “Look, it doesn’t really matter.” My dear friends I’ve known for ages, I’ve got a grandfather clause. If they want to call me Anthony, fine. If they want to call me AB, that’s fine. I prefer MB because it’s an easy lift and shift in one letter for me. But no, everyone’s been wonderful.
Liz Tinkham (29:40):
That’s great. That is very good to hear. One of the things I find so remarkable about your story is, your courage to transition genders after such a high-profile and successful career. And one of the things I think about is, so many of us fret about exposing our personal lives at work. I think about my own, when I decided that, this was a while ago, when I decided to have the third kid. I was so nervous that people were like, “Well, wait a minute. How can you have three kids and still do your job? Two was really pushing it and now you’re having three.”
Liz Tinkham (30:17):
Or even recently, I was following the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court hearings, and not to make any comment about her, but all the rhetoric about, “Oh my God, she has seven kids. How can she possibly do that?” Right? And just this narrative of the personal, and yet you’ve told me, people have been really accepting of all of it. And I think it’s a lesson for all of us that your worst fears, yes, people might be telling jokes about it, but you’re always going to find that about anything you do, your haircut, your clothes, whatever.
Michele Bettencourt (30:51):
I think you’re right. I think everyone’s hiding something. It might not be as big as what I was hiding, hopefully not everyone has that because it’s a drag on your mental wellbeing. And I was probably spending 25% of my day thinking, trying to figure out when my next opportunity to go out might be, or how I was afraid of being exposed for something. I was spending a surprising amount of my time doing that, which means that time was being sucked off and my ability to work at my top peak performance or, be a better family member. That was all being eroded. I feel at this point, my command of work is as good as it’s ever been. I think it’s better. My thoughts are clear, I’m not trying to be what I’m not. So it gives me time to focus on what’s most important.
Liz Tinkham (31:44):
Yeah. And with tech, you’re the Chairperson of Corelight. What else do you see yourself doing, going forward with your career?
Michele Bettencourt (31:54):
I don’t think I’m going to go back in and become a CEO again, although I’ve had calls and I know I could do it. And maybe that was one of the most important things of coming into Corelight, is that it changed my perception of what my limitations might be, which is nice. I will definitely stay on the Corelight board. I think this is what gets us to an IPO in probably four or five years. And I think there’s other board opportunities that’ll take advantage of it as well. I don’t see myself doing a whole lot more music, that’s kind of not my thing.
Liz Tinkham (32:21):
Michele Bettencourt (32:22):
I travel 300,000 miles a year on United. My wife and I have discovered the enjoyment of binge-watching television late at night.
Liz Tinkham (32:30):
I think we all have, right?
Michele Bettencourt (32:32):
Yeah. And I’ll be at home with the dog, and my desire to always be out and enjoying the nightlife, that’s gone away. And I wake up in the morning and be me. I don’t have to go out to be me, I don’t have to change a darn thing in the morning. I just wake up, and I’m me. And that’s just shifted everything and I have an amazing amount of contentment these days, the best days of my life.
Liz Tinkham (33:02):
That’s wonderful. I’ve always thought about naming this podcast or titling it, I’m Not Done Yet. What aren’t you done with yet?
Michele Bettencourt (33:10):
I don’t want to spend the next 20 years of my life, I just turned 60, and I figure I’ve got 15 years of decent mental power left ahead of me. I’m trying to sort that. I love what I’m doing with work. My big fear about not being able to go back in was, I have 37 years of experience, I’ve opened the NASDAQ twice, I’ve opened the NYSC once, I’ve bought and sold companies. I’ve made a small fortune for myself, which I’ve always punched it by my weight, thankfully. And I didn’t want that to go to waste. I would like to be on some boards so I can continue to help organizations navigate things they haven’t seen before, because at my age, I’ve seen a lot of stuff running companies. And the other side, my wife and I are forming a family foundation, it’s called the Michele Bettencourt Foundation For Fair Transgender Employment.
Michele Bettencourt (33:55):
It’ll be kind of our own personal money we put to work with organizations who are helping to get transgender individuals working. Because 25% of trans folks in the marketplace have been fired over bias, in 39 states. 39 states allow that, which is shocking. And then at least half have been threatened with other physical or sexual violence in the workplace, so I’d like to help. I’d like to help at least educate the community on what’s taking place. I’m also on the board of the Sam & Devorah Foundation, which provides safe spaces for trans youth. For me, it’s a brand new world for me. The first part of my life, I was in the White Boys Club, if you will, in the Silicon Valley. Now they’ve let me back in as an adjunct member.
Liz Tinkham (34:39):
The white woman’s adjunct.
Michele Bettencourt (34:42):
But kind of crazy. And there’s something called the Athena Alliance. I was invited to join that, which I love. And I’m doing salons, I’ve got one coming up in November. You parachute as the new CEO of a company, what do you do first? I’m teaching those.
Liz Tinkham (34:56):
Oh, I’m going to listen to that because we’re sponsored through Athena Podcast or Athena Radio, so fantastic.
Michele Bettencourt (35:02):
And I love that organization. And I was shocked that I was embraced in that group. I don’t know how it would be viewed. And last, there was an article that came out recently in Reuters, on LGBTQ investing. I’m in a group called Gaingels, which is a New York-based organization, does a lot of tech investing. And I was kind of featured in a pretty decent article on Reuters so I’m now straddling three communities. I’ve got the White Boy community, which I’m not really a part of anymore.
Liz Tinkham (35:31):
Michele Bettencourt (35:31):
But I’ve got the women’s organizations, which I’m so happy. Yeah. But women’s organizations, I’m so happy to be an LGBTQ. So these are all new things for me. And I don’t know the plan yet as how it will all tie together. But these days I’m really, really happy and I’m nice to be focused on doing the right things for once.
Liz Tinkham (35:45):
I have to say, your energy is coming through my earphones, it’s so palpable, it’s wonderful. My sense is, you’re going to pack your 37 years as the white guy, into the next 20 years as MB, and probably deliver even better results. It’s just such a great story and if I can put a pin on, can we have you back in season two with your next act, because I can’t wait to see what else and hear more about what you’re going to do.
Michele Bettencourt (36:12):
I would so love that.
Liz Tinkham (36:13):
Oh yeah, we’ll have to. Tell me, tell our listeners, where can we find you online MB?
Michele Bettencourt (36:18):
I’m on Facebook.
Liz Tinkham (36:19):
Michele Bettencourt (36:20):
Just Michele Bettencourt.
Liz Tinkham (36:26):
Yep, and we’ll put this in the show notes. Okay.
Michele Bettencourt (36:28):
Terrific. I’m on Instagram, it’s thecountessnyc because I’ve lived in the Upper East Side there and I do look like a very proper Upside female.
Liz Tinkham (36:38):
Michele Bettencourt (36:38):
And that’s thecountessnyc on Instagram. And then the email address if anyone wants it is [email protected]
Liz Tinkham (36:48):
Great. Okay. Well, thanks so much for being on Third Act and we look forward to keeping up with you.
Michele Bettencourt (36:54):
Thank you so much for your time. Have a good day.
Liz Tinkham (36:55):
You too. Bye-bye. Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios, and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham, I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
Want to share the story of your own Third Act on our podcast? We welcome stories from executives who pivoted their careers to find their passion and purpose later in their lives. Tell us more about yourself to be considered as a guest.