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Camie Shelmire on making a successful career pivot

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Camie Shelmire, Chief People Officer of Coalfire

Leader Speak with Camie Shelmire

Rose Walsh, our Head of Research & Content, got a chance to interview Camie Shelmire, Chief People Officer of Coalfire to talk about her career journey, making career pivots, how companies can get more women in leadership, and much more. We were so inspired by willingness to try new things in her career and the clarity with which she approaches her work.

Camie Shelmire, Chief People Officer of Coalfire

Leader Speak with Camie Shelmire

Rose Walsh, our Head of Research & Content, got a chance to interview Camie Shelmire, Chief People Officer of Coalfire to talk about her career journey, making career pivots, how companies can get more women in leadership, and much more. We were so inspired by willingness to try new things in her career and the clarity with which she approaches her work.

"My understanding of the business issues helps me structure my HR teams to keep HR’s focus on supporting the business."

I’d love to start broad- could you tell me a little bit about who you are and how you came to be where you are now?


I started on the business side in consulting and spent the first part of my career in client focused roles. Ten years ago, an opportunity arose to move into an HR role. I was working in the capacity of Chief Client Officer and I became the Chief People Officer of that company. I didn't grow up in HR or talent acquisition, one of the main functions within HR that most CPOs come from, I came very much from the business. Since then, I’ve been focused on taking all of the knowledge I developed on the business side of things and building HR organizations that enable the business to grow. My understanding of the business issues helps me structure my HR teams to keep HR’s focus on supporting the business, particularly sales, to drive growth.


You’ve made several career pivots, from consulting to go-to-market to HR, how have you navigated these career pivots and how has your experience in different functions informed the work you do now?


I would say that the hardest transition was moving from consulting to an industry role. In consulting, you don’t own the outcomes, the client is in charge of implementation and results. It was a big pivot from consulting to industry and suddenly owning and driving the business outcomes and actually running the everyday operations. I had to get my head around the day-to-day people, processes and technology needs, it was a tough transition. The next pivot was from being client focused to a much more internal role as CPO. That pivot was a bit easier given my consulting background. My business knowledge helped me understand how to take the HR organization and apply it to what the business needed support wise.


You’ve worked at both Fortune 500s and smaller companies, what have been the differences between the two and what do you think they can learn from each other?


The best executive leadership teams and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies keep things as simple as possible. That means keeping your processes in check, giving your leaders full autonomy to run the business, and thinking like a much smaller company. When you build a battleship galactica, people get lost, you lose talent and you lose your ability to execute quickly. Keeping bureaucracy at a minimum can also help you be more intimate and in tune with your clients. Tapping into a small company mindset can serve big companies well. 


In terms of differences between large and small organizations, there are a few that stick out to me. I started in a big company and it was really good for the formative years of my career. In large companies, you get to see a lot, you get access to a lot of training and they have formalized mentorship programs. Working in a big company gives you a lot of exposure to decide what you like and what you want to focus on. For me, smaller companies are where you can hone your craft and develop your skill set more deeply. I think big companies are a great place to start and small companies are a great place to focus.

"Self awareness is everything, it makes you a better team member."

What do you think companies can be doing to better support women to make it to executive leadership roles like yourself?


First of all, there's nothing I like less than when I show up to a meeting about fostering diversity or supporting women in leadership and it’s all women in the room. This conversation needs to involve a diverse group of people. Secondly, since the COVID-19 pandemic, people are working in different ways. Worldwide, people working remote and hybrid. I think that flexibility is great for improving diversity. For women in their childbearing years, flexibility gives them more options returning to work after having a child. Flexible working doesn't mean less work, less quality, or less working hours, it means what it says, flexible working hours so you can balance the needs of your family and get your job done. Women are proven multitaskers, they’re up to the test, it’s just managers, leaders, executive teams who need to foster that flexibility. 


The other key to diversity is having a strong pipeline of diverse talent. Companies need to make sure that their talent acquisition organization has a strong focus on more female candidates and building the pipeline with qualified, diverse talent. From there, may the best, most qualified candidate win. Choosing a female candidate for the sake of choosing a woman sets women back.


Who helped you rise to this role?


One important mentor of mine is Frank Kern. He led IBM Global Services, then KKR brought him over to be CEO of Aricent. To me, he really embodied executive leadership, executive presence, and the confidence and empathy required to work at the top level of management. He really understood how to lead. He helped me polish my executive presence and strengthen my leadership skills. He demonstrated how to lead through tough times and keep your "cool" to create a positive environment but also infuse "realism" during tough times. It's a balancing act and he was world-class. He had this innate sense of leading by example and watching him lead taught me a lot.  


Any advice for your 25 year old self?


I’m going to contradict what I said earlier just a little bit. Big company experience is great, it gives you a taste for different things and a stronger understanding of what you want to do. But after a while of being in a big company or a company where you're more of a generalist, you need to be very conscious of your career focus and where your trajectory is taking you. You need to choose to focus and I feel that I could have focused sooner. Although I have no regrets, if I was giving advice to a 25 year old, I’d say go get your broad experience, get exposure to different things, but don’t spend too long being a generalist. Sooner or later you need to be very purposeful about how you pick your focus area to set up your career path. That doesn't mean you have to stay with what you chose, but pick something and start to build. If it doesn't work, choose another path, but focus.


How do you hire? What do you look for in people?

I look for a good sense of self awareness and a good sense of humor. Self awareness is everything, it makes you a better team member, it makes you more thoughtful, it helps leaders make better decisions. Your skillset is not as impactful without self-awareness to back it up. It is an absolute superpower!

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